Grassroots organizer named to Harvard post

The new assistant dean of Student Life

By Cristina DC Pastor

Harvard students, meet Emelyn dela Pena, Filipina.

Emelyn was recently named assistant dean of Student Life, which means she will be the go-to person as you come face to face with campus irritants – from sexual harassment to housing.

“I will be responsible for all campus initiatives regarding gender and sexuality,” said Emelyn when interviewed by The FilAm. “In addition, I will be advising the student government, serving as a liaison to unrecognized student organizations, and coordinating residential staff training and orientation.”

Emelyn came to the position highly prepared. She is a seasoned community organizer and educator, well-versed in the intricacies of gender & LGBTQ issues. She was the diversity officer and director of UC-San Diego’s Women’s Center from 2002 up until the Harvard post came along.

Within the FilAm community, Emelyn was national campaigns director for AF3IRM/GabNet. She helped organize the group’s significant projects, including the Purple Rose Campaign Against the Trafficking of Women and Children, and the annual Stop the Traffick Jam event in San Diego.

“The appointment marks Dr. dela Pena as the first woman of Philippine origins to hold such a position of authority at an Ivy League school,” said AF3IRM in a statement.

In her new capacity, Emelyn said she will be working “primarily” with what are considered “unrecognized” student organizations. These include fraternities and sororities as well as the Final Clubs for Harvard undergrads.

Emelyn as a GABNet member

“I hope to provide some good leadership development for these student organizations and to incorporate a social justice framework to their training and development,” she said. Her appointment also includes staff supervision of the school’s Women’s Center and BGLTQ Student Life.

The L.A.-born Emelyn marks many firsts for her immigrant family: She is the first in her family to get a college education in the U.S., the first to receive a master’s degree and a doctorate.

“My mother was the first to come to the U.S. in the late 1960s. My father followed, and they were married here. They were the first in their families to emigrate and were responsible for sponsoring most of the rest of my extended family,” said Emelyn of her family’s journey to the U.S.

Feminist novelist Ninotchka Rosca who worked with Emelyn in the women’s movement noted her remarkable traits as a leader.

“She’s even-tempered, doesn’t take umbrage over unimportant things and always ready to pitch in when the going gets tough,” she said. “She is smart, intelligent and a quick study.”

At UC-San Diego where she was director of the Women’s Center, Emelyn argued for the commonsense approach to women’s personal security and the prevention of sexual assault on campus. A woman projecting an image of self-assertiveness would be a good start, she said, considering that 80 percent to 90 percent of sexual assaults are of people who know each other.

“Awareness is important in both the dark parking lot or the park where you’re jogging as well as in your personal surroundings, in your residence hall, in a crowded party, and that your attitude matters,” she would caution students. “Let people know that you are setting boundaries around what’s okay and what’s not okay to do with your body and around you.”

Cristina DC Pastor is the founding editor of The FilAm.

One Comment

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