Monday, July 15, 2024

Women’s Wins: Her Journey

By Sarah Madison Repollo | March 21, 2024

On the second floor of Ausejo Hall, an office stands centerstage to the large corridors. In the seemingly unassuming faculty room, the heart of the Psychology Department lay inside. Teachers flit in and out the door, zooming off to classes and back to grade papers. Students often poke their heads inside, brimming with inquiries and academic concerns. But on a sunny Thursday afternoon, all office chatter ceased as Ma’am Bing—Silliman’s resident gender studies specialist—shared her two cents on women’s rights and female empowerment in light of the National Women’s Month celebration. 

Where it all began

Associate Professor Michele Joan Valbuena, lovingly dubbed “Maam Bing” by the department, is an activist in every sense of the word. Having graduated with a degree in women’s studies, being affiliated with organizations such as the Gender Watch Against Violence and Exploitation (GWAVE), and continuing to arrange events such as Gender Consciousness Week, she is one of the most active advocates for women’s rights on campus. In the past decade, her office has become a safe space for students, especially of the psychology department, to come to with their gender-based issues. 

Although getting a degree at St. Scholastica’s College in the early 2000s was the concrete beginning of her journey for women’s empowerment, Ma’am Bing mentioned her childhood as a more accurate starting point. Stuck inside the home with piles of chores to do, while boys her age were allowed to play to their heart’s content outside, she began to question why she couldn’t do the same. These thoughts would later manifest into a stark desire to change women’s worlds. 

An uphill climb

Ma’am Bing’s determination was further cultivated by her supportive father, other teachers, and mentors such as her then-professor in educational psychology. That professor is now the university president, Dr. Betty Cernol-Mccann. 

After majoring in Industrial/Organizational Psychology at Silliman, she got her degree in women’s studies, and even took her learning on sports psychology to an Australian university—more and more opportunities continued to steer in her direction.

But as most paths come with rough patches, her women empowerment journey has been no different. With a sigh, she described it by saying, “…We move forward one step, but so many times, we move backward five steps.” 

Misunderstandings of the concept of feminism, band-aid solutions to deeply rooted misogyny, and continued gender-based harassment against women have made things all the more difficult for activists like her. 

Big wins

Her fight for women’s rights has not been easy, but Ma’am Bing acknowledges how far society has come in the last century in terms of female empowerment. In this day and age, the right to education, voting, and even something as mundane as driving is available to many women around the world. Even with consistent backlash from those in opposition to gender equality, things are slowly getting better.

When asked what she considers to be her biggest achievement, it was her students who immediately came to mind.

“Our students have fully grasped what the women’s movement is,” she said, proving her teachings effective. Even students who have long since left the halls of the College of Arts and Sciences have checked in from time to time, always eager to converse with Ma’am Bing about women’s rights. 

In her own words, she deems the classroom a “very powerful venue [for learning].”

Far from the end

As Ma’am Bing has continued to educate generations of psychology students on the importance of women’s rights, her journey is far from over. In the present day, she walks her talk by bringing her education to the home—even teaching her young son basic concepts of gender equality.

With care and respect emanating from the professor, she emphasized the importance of treating others well. Although she acknowledged the fact that not everyone shares the same opinions she does, with some parents even frowning upon the way she teaches her child, she never failed to emphasize respect as the key to her women empowerment journey.

“The bottom line is we need to be able to support, care, and offer opportunities for everybody,” she stated, expounding on the solution.

Regardless of gender, race, sexual orientation, opinions, and other differences, Ma’am Bing believed that respecting others despite these factors and offering them equal chances would be the best way to go about achieving gender equality. After all, this was how she achieved her small and big wins for women.

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