It was a rocky road to coeducation for Ateneo de Manila, a Catholic university founded by Jesuits in 1859.
The university welcomed female students in 1973—more than a century after three Jesuit priests and a brother began operating the school—but only after a long and winding discourse.
The Jesuit Educational Convention tackled the integrated education of male and female students in 1966, unsuccessfully, although Ateneo started conducting joint classes with girls’ colleges.
In 1968, Dean Thomas Steinbugler, SJ reported that 150 out of 400 freshmen might drop out of the university and admitting qualified females could improve the student profile.
The Student Council and the University Senate voted against mixed-gender education. An article in the Guidon, the university’s official student publication, said, “What about the sons of alumni who may have the same amount of brains [as girls] but less inclination to work themselves to the bone studying the way many girls do?”
But in January 1969, Guidon managing editor Antonio Carpio (now associate justice of the Supreme Court) cited Yale University, where female undergraduates had become an asset.
In December 1969, a committee headed by Joseph O’ Hare, SJ issued a report in favor of coeducation. In a schoolwide survey in 1972, 80 percent voted “yes” and only 11 percent voted “no.” The Academic Council had already approved coeducation months earlier, and the University Senate finally bowed to the inevitable.
In June 1973, 127 women out of 580 freshmen entered Ateneo College of Arts and Sciences (now Loyola Schools).
Thirty-five women transferees enrolled in the upper years. Among them were the following, who left exclusive girls’ colleges in Manila: Filinvest Land president and chief executive officer Lourdes Josephine “Joji” Gotianun-Yap; former Peace Commission executive director Ma. Lorenza Dalupan-Palm; former Philippine News and Features editor Sophie Lizares-Bodegon; software engineer Vivian Dy-Gordon; realty executive Nina Picache-King; and Sacred Heart-Ateneo de Cebu administrative assistant Barbara Jacinto-Pineda.
In 1975, they became the first women to complete undergraduate studies at Ateneo. In 1977, the first batch of coeds to start out as freshmen graduated from Ateneo.
“I have always admired the Ateneo,” said Malayan Insurance Company Inc. president Yvonne S. Yuchengco, a freshman in 1973. “I liked the campus and the ‘man for others’ motto.”
Quality Jesuit education
“I was searching for a great education,” said her batchmate, Planters Development Bank executive vice president Ma. Agnes Angeles. “Ateneo offered the opportunity to open my eyes to a bigger arena.”
Family ties were also key. Palm’s father, brother, and all the men on her mother’s side were Ateneans, and so were Yap’s brothers, Pineda’s future husband and Bodegon’s father.
Bodegon said, “For my dad, Ateneo was the best place for a well-rounded education, where the humanities, science, philosophy, theology are celebrated, long before multidisciplinary studies became the rage.”
Ateneo gallantly welcomed the women pioneers. “Hello Guys” waved women to the front at registration. But while women had their own room in the infirmary and their own physical education program, they expected—and received—no special treatment in class.
“Clad in our microminis, bell-bottoms and clogs, we dissected Salinger with Fr. Joseph Galdon, conjugated Spanish with Señorita Chita Rosales and pondered ‘being’ with Fr. Roque Ferriols,” recalled vice president for Ateneo Professional Schools Antonette Palma-Angeles, who was among the first batch of women freshmen.
“Ateneo opened my mind,” said Yap. “The Civilization class of Fr. Bartholomew Lahiff, the philosophy orals of Fr. Vitaliano Gorospe, the theology classes of Fr. Ruben Tanseco—they have had a profound effect on how I view the world.”
Yap and Palm graduated with departmental honors—the first women to do so. The former made it to one of the top three MBA schools in the United States, while the latter got a Fulbright scholarship for her doctorate work.
Gordon got a master’s in computer science in the United States, where she now works for a government defense contractor.
“My work environment reminds me of Ateneo days,” she said. “I work with intelligent, mostly male coworkers solving nontrivial problems, proving that women can hold their own or even do better.”
In 1978, Ateneo Institute of Sustainability director Ma. Assunta Caoile-Cuyegkeng, together with Ma. Natividad Ozaeta-Lebron, became the first female summa cum laudes. A year after, former Finance Undersecretary, magna cum laude Maria Cecilia Gonzales-Soriano, became the first female valedictorian.
In 1977, women made up only 28 percent of the graduating class, but in 1996, slightly more women graduated than men. This ratio has held steady up to now, where women comprise 51 percent of the population.
To date Ateneo has produced 18,217 female graduates, 2,421 of them with honors.
‘Women for others’
Palm found Ateneo “spiritually stimulating, infused with the ethos of being ‘a person for others’ and the challenge of liberation theology to be a witness for social justice.”
She headed the Peace Commission and worked for the passage of the Indigenous Peoples Rights Act.
Among 1,000 women from 150 countries nominated as a group for the 2005 Nobel Peace Prize, she said, “Having experienced respect for diversity in Ateneo allows me to emphasize that this is desirable and critical for peace.”
Ateneo made Yuchengco “search for balance in life,” while Angeles describes “the heightened social awareness” in the workplace, where “there is no dichotomy between body and spirit, but synchronicity in all we do, particularly in authentically serving others.”
The “robust skills in social-theological analysis and people skills in extracurriculars” prepared Bodegon to work with the Catholic Bishops’ Conference during martial law.
She recalled mentor Emma Porio’s advice (“You are in the driver’s seat”). “The sense of agency has enriched how I do theology and intercultural lay education. My dad would be proud. I think the Ateneo would be, too!”
Yap said: “The greatest proof of how I value the Ateneo? All my children are Ateneans, so is my husband.”
Pineda said, “The spirit of Magis [“more”] and Ignatian spirituality [after Jesuit founder St. Ignatius] guided husband Tony and me in imparting values to our four Ateneo daughters. An all-Ateneo family means we are all on the same page.”
Women hold up half the sky, or so the Chinese say. Female Ateneans are public servants: Chief Justice Ma. Lourdes P. A. Sereno; former Akbayan Party Rep. Risa Hontiveros-Baraquel; Dipolog City Mayor Evelyn Tang-Uy; Postmaster General Josie dela Cruz; and Quezon City Vice Mayor Joy Belmonte-Alimurung.
Scholars and educators: University of Cebu chancellor Yvette Candice Gotianuy; University of Chicago astrophysicist Reinabelle Reyes; and Philippine Wildlife Conservation Society president Angela Nina Ann Ingle.
Executives and social entrepreneurs: Sunstar president Gina Garcia-Atienza; Rags2Riches founder Reese Fernandez-Ruiz; GotHeart founder Mel Yeung; and Human Nature founder Anna Meloto-Wilk.
Media movers: Summit Media president Liza Gokongwei-Cheng; investigative journalist Chay Florentino-Hofileña; ABS-CBN executive Cory Vidanes; host-actress Kris Aquino; GMA anchors Vicky Morales-Reyno, Pia Arcangel-Halili and Suzie Entrata-Abrera; and Solar News anchor Pia Hontiveros-Pagkalinawan.
Artists: School of Fashion and the Arts cofounder Amina Aranaz-Alunan; painters Elaine Roberto-Navas and Mia Herbosa; actress Ina Feleo; designer Mich Dulce; novelist Samantha Sotto; and poet Fatima Lim-Wilson.
Athletes, advocates and religious: equestriennes Toni Leviste and Mikee Cojuangco-Jaworski; cancer warrior Kara Magsanoc-Alikpala; and Cenacle Sisters regional superior Sr. Nerissa Bandojo, RC.
“Most of us did not intend to consciously break gender barriers,” says Angeles. “It was the Ateneo formation that we wanted, the growth and opportunities it promised. We have never regretted our decision—and neither, I believe, has the Ateneo.”
Ateneo de Manila University celebrates “Half the Sky: Coed@40” starting Sept. 7, with exhibits and lectures at Rizal Library. For more information, contact Liza Maramag at 426-6001 loc. 4081 or e-mail email@example.com.
(Editor’s Note: Queena N. Lee-Chua [Ateneo, 1987] is the first of two summa cum laude math majors in the period 1975-2013. The other is advocate for the visually impaired Roselle Ambubuyog in 2001).