isang bagsak

25 years of building a community

by cher padua

“The recruitment and retention of Pilipinos into higher education” is the mission statement of UC Berkeley’s Pilipino Academic Student Services (PASS).

On March 13, 2010, 25 years after its inception, PASS celebrated its achievements throughout the years and looked ahead to what the future holds.

The theme of PASS’s 25th anniversary was “Lifted as One,” highlighting the ability of the Pilipino community to extend an open hand to their members and achieve their goals together. This name is an extension of the phrase “isang bagsak,” which translates to “one down, one fall.” When one from the community falls, all fall with him.

At a time when it’s easy to take a student organization like PASS for granted, this celebration reminded the Pilipino community and beyond what a strong coalition of bright, confident students is capable of.

PASS Executive Director Kaegy Pabulos put it best: “From its conception, PASS actively endeavored to recruit and retain Pilipinos into higher education. Facing countless struggles in advancing through the intricacies of the educational system, PASS, with its communities, flourished and evolved. Today, without the motivated members that revitalize and foster the organization, PASS would not exist to celebrate its 25th year.”

I have been in and out of PASS for the past few years. I can’t say that I know all the goals of this student organization, nor can I accurately describe how they are all executed. What I can do, however, is recount the ways in which I have witnessed PASS contribute to the advancement of Pilipinos in and around the UC Berkeley campus.

I first encountered PASS in my senior year of high school. A student organization from Berkeley contacted me and a number of Pilipino students to participate in something called Senior Weekend, during which prospective Berkeley students of color spend a weekend in Berkeley and discover what it has to offer. PASS participates in this event along with other student organizations under the Bridges coalition, such as the Black Recruitment and Retention Center (BRRC), the Native American Recruitment and Retention Center (NARRC), the Raza Recruitment and Retention Center (RRRC), and the Asian/Pacific Islander Recruitment and Retention Center (REACH!). During that weekend, high school seniors across California were exposed to a variety of political and resource workshops, as well as campus tours.

“We’re giving them the opportunity to see and experience Berkeley so they can see what is the right choice for them,” said third year and 2007 Senior Weekend attendee, Precious Guan. “What college to go to is one of the most important decision[s] a high school student has to make; Senior Weekend helps them make that decision.”

Many students have been positively impacted by Senior Weekend, not only in their decision to attend Cal, but also in getting involved with student organizations. Current PASS Executive Director Kaegy Pabulos was one of them.

“What made me want to get involved [in PASS] was the empowerment and inspiration it can provide to others,” said Pabulos.

PASS intern Arjunels Ducusin has experienced the type of empowerment Pabulos mentioned.

“My first semester, I was struggling academically with the transition from high school to college,” explained Ducusin, “but PASS showed me that that’s normal and not only gave me the resources to fix that, but also gave me comfort and support when I felt like I didn’t have any.”

PASS achieves its goals through three separate components of the organization: internal, retention and recruitment. The internal component works on the internal structure of the organization, including but not limited to finance, public relations, internal support and oversight. The recruitment component is in charge of reaching out to potential students, ranging from elementary to community college students, through events such as the aforementioned Senior Weekend. Finally, there’s the retention committee, which fosters social, political, and academic awareness amongst individuals and the community as a whole.

“PASS’s mission statement would forever be bigger than our roles as students,” said Pabulos, “The organization plays a major role in attempting to challenge the educational system and the structures it imposes on students of color.”

And this is only scratching the surface. There is still so much more to learn about PASS and how to contribute to its mission. With just a year left in my college career, there seems to be very little time to do so. But this isn’t the case. My commitment to PASS doesn’t have to end when I receive my diploma, or when I leave the Berkeley campus to pursue a career.

This is exactly what the 25th anniversary celebration showed. Cal alumni and past PASS participants reunited to illustrate the mission statement set down for this organization a couple of decades ago: to recruit and retain Pilipinos into higher education, and to keep an unbroken dialogue about issues that pertain to such.

“In an effort to reconnect the lines that bound each of us to the overarching purpose of the organization, we hope that this occasion served as a testament to the colorful stories and experiences each of us have gone through,” Pabulos said. “Pilipinos, alongside [other] communities of color, have faced inequities that were rarely acknowledged by the institutions around us. However, we unite and channel our energies to support and carry each other. With our collective voices, we are lifted as one!”

I may not constantly voice it, but PASS played a major role in my final decision to attend Cal. Senior Weekend allowed me to physically place myself on campus and was the final push for me to sign my SIR. This is why I give back. This is why many give back. There are students and kids out there in the same position as I was, and having PASS as a resource may just be the catalyst they need to reach for Berkeley, and more importantly, higher education.

“For my part, seeing the inequalities happening in under-resourced schools, [such as] lack of resources and counselors telling students they do not deserve to be in a UC, motivates me to give these students a voice,” stated Pabulos. “Though there are times when programming can be stressful, knowing that we as community members can impact lives [of people from] children to college students makes the experience priceless.”

Which is why a mere month after celebrating its 25th year, PASS geared up for one of its most important yearly events: Senior Weekend. This year, PASS organized countless members of the Pilipino community from PASS, PAHC (Pilipino Association for Health Careers), and other PilOrgs around campus. These volunteers worked round the clock to ensure an exemplary experience for the high school seniors visiting Cal.

“Every year we are able to put out these big programs like Senior/Transfer Weekend through careful planning and mobilizing volunteers and interns,” said PASS Youth Mentorship Coordinator Gil Navarro, “These programs can’t be done unless we are able to motivate the community that we serve to give back and help out.”

That’s what makes an organization like PASS, and the Pilipino community in general, so extraordinary. While each organization has its own separate mission statements, activities, and events, the community as a whole is able to marshal enough energy and drive to work towards the same goal and exemplify “isang bagsak.”

Pabulos notes, “‘Isang Bagsak’ underlines our efforts to ensure that each student is given the opportunity and recognition to achieve higher education and succeed.”

“Programs such as Senior Weekend and Transfer Weekend directly tie into everything that all the other PilOrgs do,” said Guan. “These transfers and freshmen are going to be the future members and leaders of the Pilipino community. It’s only right that we invest in them.”

This year’s Senior Weekend theme declares “i AM the UNIVERSITY,” reaffirming the sense of unity and cooperation the Bridges coalition hopes to symbolize. According to Navarro, each year’s theme is open to the interpretation of attendees and volunteers alike. One interpretation of “i AM the UNIVERSITY” is to provide high school seniors with a sense of belonging and entitlement to a community, sharing both struggles and accomplishments.

Navarro states, “What I make of it is that students are claiming their stake here in UC Berkeley. Despite the economic crisis and all the budget cuts that have been happening, the essence of UC Berkeley is still the students.”

After 25 years of hard work and dedication, PASS is proud of its current members and past alumni’s commitment, while future attendees demonstrate that PASS’s continued efforts are both valuable and necessary.

“The point of PASS is to meet the needs of the community and to [increase] the representation of Pilipinos in higher education,” Ducusin said. “Hopefully, one day these goals will be met and then there would be no more need to have PASS.”