The realities and the should-be’s of UP organizations

Words by Reignne Francisco

Organizing is a long-standing culture in the university. It encourages the students from all sorts of degree programs to come together through their own shared interests, experiences, and beliefs. Throughout the UP community’s rich history, students established organizations that mirrored the image of UP’s identity. This then became one of the binding factors in building unities among students within the university’s spaces.

However, as the mode of education abruptly shifted to the online setup, organizations also shifted to cater semestral/yearly activities and their application process online. In parallel with the education system, long-existing harsh realities have been exposed once again because of these adjustments. It is therefore a must to challenge these systemic barriers, not only for the sake of preserving the university’s identity but also for the essence of organizing. 

What they are originally for

Some may wonder – academic work is already a burden and organizations have their own share of responsibilities, so why do organizations still thrive despite the added workload? An answer I can provide is this: it serves as a channel to step back and take a breather from the stressful condition of our academic life. Org duties are not only work, they are avenues for the interests and hobbies we are so passionate about outside of our courses. Apart from the people, it becomes our support system in navigating our way through our academics.

During pre-pandemic, organizations usually hosted “free dinners” for freshmen. Freshies got to meet new people as organizations welcomed them into the university. In our current setup, on the other hand, this small event is translated into welcome statements posted in their FB pages, and a DP blast with an Iskolar-ng-Bayan themed caption. Sometimes, an academic org may hold an online orientation for its course and may even give out a personalized invitation for an online e-numan. Whatever the circumstances are, organizations always try to reach out to freshmen for them to feel “at home” on campus. This particular org culture mirrors Filipino hospitality, a prominent tradition in every Filipino household.

Aside from this, organizations can also educate us in concepts and realities that are previously unexamined by us. Orgs become unofficial and alternative sources of education. They introduce us to issues in society, and concepts of discourse or critical thinking. It may be a member from an art-, academic-, a culture-, hobby-, or mass-oriented org—anyone can be someone we can converse about such issues alongside the little bit of chikahan here and there. Before going into lockdown, org members would conduct physical educational discussions (EDs) or focus group discussions (FGDs) that enabled students within and outside the org to share their insights on a certain issue. Nowadays, online EDs through Facebook Live and/or video conferencing platforms like Zoom are conducted to educate fellow students in the realities beyond the confinement of our rooms.

In addition to conducting these discussions, organizations eventually bring their internal discourse into actuality. National Democratic Mass Organizations (NDMOs) and other socio-civic orgs go to the streets to do community work. They also conduct BMIs (basic mass integration) for members to better understand the experiences of marginalized communities. Like the informal chismis within our own communities, we can only sympathize with others when we fully grasp their situation and sentiments. Though limited by the militaristic lockdown, these orgs occasionally conduct BMIs or do relief work such as setting up community pantries or mobile kitchens in compliance with quarantine protocols.

Lastly, through the existence of organizations, it is easier to raise demands of the university’s constituents to the Office of the Chancellor, and even to the Board of Regents. Organizations would call on the university administration to heed the demands of its constituents through mobilizations or walk-outs. In the present time, students who live far from campus can participate in petitions that are promptly disseminated through the statements released by organizations, mass sharing of links in class group chats, and changing their Zoom backgrounds. Students also continue to unite with other sectors in continuing the practice of conducting on-ground mobilizations while observing social distancing to assert their demands. This is our own way of bayanihan as we often lift the concerns of the less privileged students in our university to the university’s administration. Student organizations, whether these students are part of them or not, are their collective voices.

What they were, what they are

The aforementioned purposes of organizations sound upright, don’t they? But as they say, “if it is too good to be true, then we should reevaluate it.” As mentioned, the experiences of  students differ from one another. Students have their own encounter with campus’ organizations that may be in a separate light. Because for others, some of them are walking through a row of red-flags.

It was only in recent years that open discussions about “kupal culture” in traditional UP organizations (across all campuses) had started. Pangungupal acts are done by some organizations to their applicants. It includes, but is not limited to, derogatory remarks and humiliating orders from its senior members, often leading to trauma affecting the applicants’ mental health. It was an old culture for some, but it is still an ongoing one for others. Some organizations try to rationalize this action by claiming that it can help in the labor world to strengthen their emotional aptitude. But it is just a glorified form of abuse and violence hidden behind such a nonsensical reason. As they condemn violence, they ironically propagate it  themselves. What’s worse, given the online setup, there is no certainty that the kupal era of these orgs have ended. 

This “kupal culture,” in a wider lens, does not only destroy the well-being of the students but also tampers with every original functions and intentions of the organizations, especially that there is a huge discrepancy in what orgs ought to be and what they have become.

What they should be

Universities are but microcosms of their country. As traditions of abuse are ingrained in our society, the very same culture is quietly being promoted inside the university, whatever campus it may be. What some organizations are and what they were originally for overlap with each other. Thus, the fundamental reasons for organizing have been tainted.

It is not the fault of students who experienced pangungupal to be distant, afraid, and hesitant when it comes to organizations. Their narratives are valid. The blame and the corresponding liability should be in this violent culture of abuse and the ones who contribute to it.

If they extremely denounce this long-standing, alarming tradition, organizations should truly condemn such acts and practice this conviction within their own spaces and, ultimately, within the university’s premises. Statements and words should not be enough in this transformation. Equivalent actions should also be seen. They should take time to reassess themselves and wonder why their organizations were established in the first place. What is their purpose?

It may take a long time, even years, to reconstruct this type of organization completely—be it through transforming existing traditional organizations or establishing new ones. We should be reminded that we owe the power of organizations to student mobilization, not kupal tradition. [P]

Graphics and Layout by Justine Fuentes

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