Cultivating Kuleana: Graduate Student Agency at The University of Hawaiʻi at Mānoa and Beyond

Zabala, Sonya Florencia
Winter, Jenifer S.
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ABSTRACT Despite the “Hawaiian place of learning” commitment outlined in the 2016 UHM Strategic Plan, students, faculty, and staff can study and work at UHM with little or no introduction to the Hawaiian corpus of knowledge unless they are involved in emerging fields that deliberately integrate Hawaiian knowledge systems alongside Western intellectual thought. Hawaiian knowledge systems embody a socio-ecological kinship within the natural world – inseparable from the land, culture, and governance. Without such knowledge, academic programs reinforce a hierarchy of Western intellectual thought and values. This research used Hecht’s (1993) Communication Theory of Identity (CTI), and Mezirow’s (1991) Transformative Learning Theory (TLT) as frameworks to explore graduate students’ perceptions about learning in a non- credit, six-week course focusing on Hawaiian epistemology and ontology, Ka Uʻi o Mānoa (“beautiful Mānoa”). Ka Uʻi o Mānoa used Hawaiian knowledge and methods, namely one’s moʻokūʻauhau (genealogy), as a means to foster reflection about Hawaiʻi and students’ kuleana (responsibilities), fostering a reciprocal relationship between the student and the natural world. Intensive interviews were conducted with 11 participants recruited from two class cohorts of Ka Uʻi o Mānoa. Data were analyzed using descriptive and in vivo coding. Several major themes emerged from this analysis in alignment with the theoretical frameworks of CTI and TLT. Notably, Hawaiian knowledge systems and Hawaiian methods for sharing knowledge were identified as drivers of identity formation and transformative learning irrespective of ethnicity, academic discipline, work, experience, or location. Graduate students expressed that they felt a deeper sense of community and felt connected to the natural world, to Hawaiian culture, and to their own culture. Calling upon elements of Mānoa and the natural world also strengthened participant perceptions of identity, community, culture, and social justice, thus expanding participant notions of personal kuleana as enacted in their research, teaching, and life practices. Additionally, this work highlighted the lack of agency graduate students feel they have in confronting various power differentials, such as the systemic power systems that disenfranchise already marginalized communities, including Native Hawaiian faculty, staff, and students. This research adds to an emergent body of literature regarding a Hawaiian place of learning. This is the first academic work that explores how graduate students employ Hawaiian knowledge in their research practices. Additionally, this research illustrates that the Hawaiian worldview and Hawaiian knowledge systems are beneficial to non-Hawaiians across disciplines, no matter where one is physically located. Finally, this analysis further develops the theories of CTI and TLT, addressing gaps related to personal responsibility to research, others, and the natural world. In doing so, this research not only describes, but cultivates, the processes of identity formation and transformative learning. This research also provides empirical evidence to help shape the direction of the revised UHM Strategic Plan, moving UHM towards recognition as a “premier student-centered, community-serving Carnegie Research 1 university grounded in a Hawaiian place of learning that summons the rich knowledge systems of our many genealogies to help mālama Hawai‘i and the world for future generations” (“Defining our Kuleana to Hawai‘i and the World,” 2019, p.2). Keywords: Kuleana; Hawaiian place of learning; Mānoa; Ka Uʻi o Mānoa; Communication Theory of Identity; Transformative Learning
Communication, Educational leadership, Education policy, Communication Theory of Identity, Hawaiian place of learning, Identity, Kuleana, Transformational Leadership, Transformative Learning
93 pages
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