The Spirit of ’76 – Ateneo Style

September 01, 2013
By Gina Garcia-Atienza, AB Economics 1976, The Women of Ateneo (photos from the Ateneo Archives)

The Spirit of ’76 – Ateneo Style
By Gina Garcia-Atienza, AB Economics 1976, The Women of Ateneo (photos from Ateneo Archives)
Following on the heels of the 60’s Flower Power Revolution, when societal, class and gender barriers were breaking down across the country, Ateneo de Manila University in 1973 seemed stolid and staid by comparison.  Other school campuses were turning into sizzling hotbeds of student activism and Philippine President Ferdinand Marcos declared martial law on September 21, 1972, throwing human rights violations into the smoldering brew of issues on poverty, inequality, and injustice, but the Ateneo’s Loyola Heights campus appeared unruffled, calm and quiet. 
The long, tree-lined drive to the Ateneo Admissions Office symbolized all that was grand in this centuries-old institution, which raised heroes, presidents, and prestigious national and international figures.   Activist placards, posters, and radical militants were nowhere to be found.  Instead, rolling hills of soft grass and leafy trees surrounded time-honored school buildings with foreign names like Kostka and Bellarmine, and male student dormitories named Cervini and Eliazo.
To the outsider, the Ateneo in the 70’s was the epitome of an old school establishment, a traditionalist educational institution caught in a bourgeois-capitalist time warp.  But to the courageous young women enrolled in the College of Arts and Sciences in June 1973, nothing could be farther from the truth. 
The decision taken by the University Board of Trustees to accept full-fledged coeds for the first time ever in Ateneo’s 114 years of existence was in itself groundbreaking; although a few years earlier, the university had wisely taken steps to introduce coeds on campus by accepting cross-enrollees from the all-girls Maryknoll College next door.  Notwithstanding, 1973 remains the hallmark year when Ateneo accepted full-fledged coeds into its edifying portals. 
It was a mixed group of ladies who came in:  127 fresh graduates from high schools all over the country and 35 transferees from other schools who came in as second-year and third-year college students.  I was one of the 35 transferees. As all coeds gathered that fateful day at the Ateneo Covered Courts for the University Orientation, however, I felt one with a unique group of 162 women thrown into the midst of a long-standing male stronghold – all 1,800 (more or less) of them! 
Males literally surrounded us in the classrooms, along the hallways and from all angles of the school quadrangle. The only concession showing Ateneo had gone coed was an increased number of ladies’ toilets on campus.  We had to petition Administration to provide us with a Ladies Lounge where we could relax, away from the eagle eyes of the “blue” boys.
It was even worse in my case.  As a solo transferee enrolled in the second-year AB Economics program, I was the only female in all my Economics-major classes.
It should have been frightening, really. 
It never occurred to me then, that teenage boys could turn mean at the flick of a wrist and could have heckled us, outnumbering the coeds, as had happened in another university in Manila which turned coed around the same time Ateneo did.
But indeed, if as mentioned earlier, it was a courageous group of women who entered Ateneo in 1973, it was an honorable and praiseworthy group of gentlemen who greeted us at the campus.  They treated us with kindness and respect, albeit at a cautionary distance. 

My next three years flew by.  The all-male classmate contingent eventually got used to my being the only female in class, and generally left me alone.  Perhaps it was my geeky eyeglasses or perhaps it was all the studying and papers we had to do.  But I always felt comfortable and accepted by everyone - not as “one of the boys” – but as a co-equal coed. To this day, that remains one of my best memories of studying at the Ateneo de Manila.
The value of a reminiscential treatise, like this, is that it always comes with 20/20 hindsight. 
Beyond the fashion craze for Bang Bang jeans and Budji haircuts in the 70’s, beyond foodie outings to Magnolia Ice Cream House and Italian Village (now, unfortunately both gone), yes, beyond copious tears shed watching Ali McGraw die in the 1970s hit movie  “Love Story”, there was always the Ateneo.
Not a staid, time-warped institution like many outsiders believed it to be, but a university that dared to embrace change without placards and protest rallies.
Looking back, it was clear to us that the issues of poverty, inequality and injustice stemmed from man’s natural tendency towards self-centeredness and greed.   And so we were schooled in the Jesuit philosophy of being “a man or woman for others,” a call to conversion to put into practice the pursuit of justice and equality within our own lives, to put an end to poverty by sharing.
Before Filipinization became a battle cry across the nation, the university had already put into action major modifications rooted in Filipino values.  In 1969, the Ateneo de Manila University elected its first Filipino President, Fr. Pacifico Ortiz, S.J.  Its spanking-new modern library was named the Rizal Library, marking a distinct departure from its foreign-sounding old school buildings.  Being a Cebuana, I remember agonizing through two grueling semesters of Pilipino Panitikan and Literatura, both as foreign to me as Cervini and Eliazo.
It was clearly a time for change and a time for moving forward in mind and spirit.
And so it came to pass that the Coed Class of 1975 (a group of 6) became the first group to graduate from the Ateneo de Manila University with a certificate, the Coed Class of 1976 (a group of 14) the first to get a full Ateneo diploma with the required residency and the Coed Class of 1977 (a group of a little over 100) the first batch to graduate from a full four-year college course.
Forty years hence and countless coeds thereafter, The Women of Ateneo (or TWA as Fr. Joseph A. Galdon, SJ named the alumnae) are known to excel in their chosen fields of endeavor, at home and in civil society.  Despite each person’s individual and unique situation, the women of Ateneo are inextricably bound together by common values and shared ideals to strive for excellence and serve others.  
That takes a certain kind of confidence in mind and spirit that only an Atenean education can instill.   Animo Ateneo!
Source:  From The Women of Ateneo file – “Listen to the voices of coeds”; Photos from Aegis 76. Poster – layout provided by Gina Garcia-Atienza (Note:  Some of the “coeds batch’76” finished college on May 1976 while some on October 1976, and therefore they graduated on March 1977 and were included also in the list of coeds batch’77)