University of Santo Tomas

[Rappler’s Best] España’s medieval lords

Glenda M. Gloria

This is AI generated summarization, which may have errors. For context, always refer to the full article.

[Rappler’s Best] España’s medieval lords

Guia Abogado/Rappler

'Why college students need to be color-coded and segregated according to uniform styles to this day beats me – and that probably is one conversation the university’s college students can begin to hold and sustain and bring to fruitful action'

I hope you had a restful weekend. Let me start this Monday’s newsletter with a bygone era that rankles to this day. 

The length of my blue uniform skirt, the collar of my white blouse, the way I tucked it in, the width of its blue ribbon – these were my everyday concerns as a journalism student at the University of Santo Tomas (UST) from 1981 to 1985. I remember mornings of standing behind girls who would be refused entry at the college building’s gate because their uniform skirts showed a teeny-weeny sight of their knees. There would be endless chatter about it in class all day. At some point, we girls did a workaround: we would wear knee-length skirts for a smooth entry through the gate but as soon as we got inside our rooms, we’d fold our skirts upward, pushing them above the knee, and sashayed on the corridors with glee. We did this for vanity, yes, but also to rebel against an archaic rule that did not make sense. 

Then sometime in 1983, it was the boys’ turn to rage. UST’s Faculty of Arts and Letters suddenly banned maong (jeans) for the boys and ordered them to wear only slacks. As for us girls, we should stick to pleated skirts and not play with other designs, the Faculty added. We would all look more decent in them, we were told. 

The gods of España thought this was just one of those regimented things that students would eventually get used to. But, oh boy, did they get it wrong! Our seniors organized massive protests against the maong ban, went room to room to gather signatures for a petition against it, and used the issue to recruit members to an activist group, the Youth for the Advancement of Faith and Justice (YAFJ). Thousands signed the petition, which upset the Dean who told the organizers they would be dropped from the rolls and not graduate. Unperturbed, the organizers upped the ante and called on students to boycott their classes for two days, which culminated in a massive and noisy rally that saw the boys burning slacks in between fiery speeches against “clerico-fascists.”

The gods blinked. The Dean withdrew the new uniform policy. As for the YAFJ organizers, they went on to win the student council elections months later.

I can’t think of a better context for today’s furor in UST. Asia’s oldest university is caught in a battle with students over its fixation with school uniforms – a fixation that is deeply embedded in the DNA of the sprawling campus along España in Manila since Spanish colonial masters founded it 400-plus years ago.

On February 15, UST’s Office of Student Affairs (OSA) ordered a campus organization’s news site, TomasinoWeb, to take down a photo that showed students from the College of Information and Computing Sciences in one frame with staffers of a 7-Eleven store. Their uniforms looked the same, but an ordinary reader would not even notice it – nor care. The OSA believed otherwise, saying it subjected UST and its students to “public ridicule.”

TOMASINOWEB PHOTO. The Flame, the official student publication of the UST Faculty of Arts and Letters, continues to carry the photo taken down by TomasinoWeb on its site up to February 26, 2024. Screenshot from The Flame

TomasinoWeb stood by its editorial judgment to use the photo but OSA forced them to remove it from the site. After the takedown, TomasinoWeb’s adviser, journalist Leo Laparan II, resigned. Why would he not? As the Varsitarian’s editor in chief pointed out in this piece, the appointment of a practicing journalist as adviser of TomasinoWeb indicated the university’s acknowledgment that it should be run as an independent media organization.

That photo takedown has taken a life of its own.

  • Hundreds of UST alumni started an online petition that takes UST to task for a “systemic problem of campus repression” and calls on the university to remove those who mishandled the situation – “people without competence to properly handle organizations, compassion for the welfare of students, and commitment to ensure that UST is a space where students’ democratic rights are protected and upheld.” 
  • As of posting, the petition has gathered close to a thousand signatures. If you want to sign and #StandWithTomasinoWeb, here is the link.
  • The Flame, which is the Faculty of Arts and Letters’ official publication (of which I’m its proud former news editor), continued to carry the photo on its site up to Monday morning, February 26. I checked the site at 9 am and it was still up; by 9:38 am, it’s been replaced with some logo. The resigned TomasinoWeb adviser earlier told The Flame he was forced to remove the photo from the Tomasino website and as such, “my being a journalist was trampled upon.” The order was a “glaring illustration of censorship,” he added. 
  • Rappler’s community lead Pia Ranada-Robles sat down with Leo, who said that this was the fifth time that OSA tried to censor TomasinoWeb and that administrators apparently have not been pleased with the site for quite sometime now (without an adviser, TomasinoWeb cannot operate, per UST rules). Watch this episode of the Be The Good show here.
  • The editor in chief of The Varsitarian, UST’s official publication, lambasted OSA’s takedown order, describing it as “heavy-handed” and an “embarrassment” to the university. “Ordering the organization not only to take down the harmless photo but also to issue a public apology was unnecessary” as it pushed OSA to the “center of the very public ridicule it sought to avoid,” John Ezekiel Hirro wrote.

This has been completely blown out of proportion by OSA. As Leo said, that photo was just one of many in an album for a light Valentine’s Day story on summer uniforms (Type B) of UST college students. “It’s humor, not humiliation.” 

Censorship issues and this uniform brouhaha smack of vestiges of control and conservatism, which have characterized UST’s culture for decades. 

Why college students need to be color-coded and segregated according to uniform styles to this day beats me – and that probably is one conversation the university’s college students can begin to hold and sustain and bring to fruitful action. 

UST should know that the times have not only radically changed, they have also already made top-down controls practically irrelevant especially to the youth. That The Flame was able to use the photo on its site up to this morning is one baby proof of that. Read its “thank you” note to OSA, too. Kudos, Flamers! –

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Glenda M. Gloria

Glenda Gloria co-founded Rappler in July 2011 and is currently its executive editor.