The ocean is the school: How Pacific Islanders transform higher-education

Meet Pacific Islanders who are transforming higher education and advancing the field of Critical Pacific Islands and Oceania Studies, driven by the belief that the ocean is the school. Terisa Siagatonu, an award-winning poet, returns to her alma mater, U.C. Santa Cruz, to perform poems that speak to each of the interviewees’ experiences. She wrote her first poem in her dorm room in the opening scenes back in 2006 when she was 18 years old.

Dr. Rick Bonus at the University of Washington authored “The Ocean in the School,” which chronicles the vast experiences of Pacific Islander students in his decades-long career pushing for more resources, courses and support. Dr. David Vika Palaita invites us into his home in Lacey, Washington, and reflects on his deeply personal journey to grow Critical Pacific Islands and Oceania Studies at the City College of San Francisco and across the Bay Area. Wynntn Miner Kemedukl Hindenburg is a student at Chabot College in California who shares how his island’s political relationship with the United States under the Compact of Free Association impacts his life as a student. Kehaulani Folau is a Ph.D. student at the University of Utah, where she became the first to graduate with a bachelor’s degree in Ethnic Studies. She continues her advocacy for all regions of Oceania — Melanesia, Micronesia and Polynesia.

These stories represent the different canoes in the sea of change within in higher education, where underrepresented communities strive to be seen, heard and included.


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