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WCC Commits to Progress for Hawaiian Cultural Education

Hōkū Akana
December 2012

Windward Community College (WCC) is nestled quietly within Kāneʻohe, graced by the beauty of Puʻu Keahiakahoe peaking over the steep ridges of Koʻolaupoko. Here, in this quiet sanctuary, faculty and staff at Windward Community College have been working hard towards providing a broader variety of opportunities for various stakeholders to learn and share the ‘ike of our Native Hawaiian culture in so many different ways. By partnering in events such as ʻAha Wahine, ʻAha Kāne, Lā Kūkahekahe, and offering a new Associate Degree with a focus on Hawaiian Studies WCC is striving to provide access to culture-based education for more of the students that they serve.

For instance, at the start of 2012, WCC hosted the first ‘Aha Wahine: Hoʻomālamalama o Nā Wāhine Kapu in February. According to event organizer and WCC faculty, Mehanaokalā Hind, this event gathered wahine to inspire, inquire, invest and invigorate each other with ʻike, aloha, and kuleana. The conference focused on health, economic and financial well-being, culture, education, and leadership for Hawaiian women.  

Next, the annual Lā Kūkahekahe occurred on the campus in April and plans on returning to this campus as frequently as several times a year. This event focuses on using Hawaiian language in settings away from the classroom. Lā Kūkahekahe allows Hawaiian language students and speakers to come together to compete and converse in the Hawaiian language outside of the academic setting, where many speakers first engage in Hawaiian language education. One of the goals of this event is to allow students and speakers to celebrate, talk-story, and make new friends with other speakers. Event participants to the on-going annual event reaffirm that the Hawaiian language is living, thriving, and growing.

Additionally, over the summer the 2012 Native Hawaiian Men’s Health Conference (‘Aha Kāne 2012) was hosted at WCC. According to organizers, the goal of this annual event is to address the issues of Native Hawaiian male leadership and community involvement. Planned breakout sessions will focused cultural history and the role of Native Hawaiian men in the past, present, and future. Activities also included a Hawaiian Language speech competition and other competitive activities that pertain to the kuleana of kāne. Workshops featured a wide range of topics like lomilomi, cultural athletic competitions, chanting, hula, and traditional warrior art demonstration.  

To top off a spectacular year, educators across the UH Community College system are most excited about the long-awaited, recent, system-wide rollout of an Associate’s Degree in Hawaiian Studies. Although the idea of a Hawaiian Studies Associates in Arts is not a new concept, WCC was able to lead the charge in bringing this accomplishment to fruition. With the collaborative support of faculty and staff across all UH Community Colleges, each campus will now be able to offer another choice separate from the traditionally offered Associates’ degree in Liberal Arts. Students can now choose to follow a degree plan leading to an Associate of Arts in Hawaiian Studies. This option will allow participants to take in the breadth of knowledge offered in a Hawaiian Studies focus before moving onto their specializations within their baccalaureate programs. According to WCC faculty member Mehanaokalā Hind, the degree will give graduates who plan to serve those who live in Hawaiʻi a broad understanding of the unique Hawaiian cultural component that has become a major focus in Hawaiʻi today. Additionally, for students wishing to continue on to a Bachelor’s in Hawaiian Studies or Hawaiian Language, the degree sets students up to be strong candidates for their respective programs.

Across the island, Leeward Community College faculty member Genai Uʻilani Keliʻikuli says the new AA will be a great incentive for her haumāna.

“I am excited about the AA in Hawaiian Studies. A growing number of our Hawaiian AND non-Hawaiian students are interested in and taking our Hawaiian Studies courses but the most they could get out of it was an Academic Subject Certificate. Now students can choose from two Associate in Arts degrees for their efforts and still go on to get a Bachelor’s from the University of Hawaiʻi in Hawaiian Studies or Hawaiian Language if they wish, either here, at home, or away. What I really like about the degree is that there’s further incentive to pursue their Bachelor’s degree with a strong grounding in awareness of the islands and their kuleana.”


As with all UH campuses that will offer the new degree, WCC will be offering a variety of new classes and workshops in various modes. These will include topics of weaving, uhi (tattoo), carving, and Hawaiian language learning in the community. As a result, we see that students who attend classes in the community, such as the Hawaiian Language courses offered off-campus in communities such as Waimānalo and Hauʻula, will be able to experience college course work right in their own backyards. These experiences are intended to make such educational opportunities more accessible than ever. Areas with a high population of Hawaiians, who may be least likely to step onto a community college campus, are now able to begin their journeys towards higher education from within their community settings.

Finally, to bring it all together, WCC has brought the commitment of being a campus that specializes in Hawaiian Studies back home to their campus. WCC is definitely making headway with new, innovative course offerings that haven’t been recently offered elsewhere. According to Mehanaokalā Hind, unique courses offered at WCC lead directly into a Hawaiian Studies or Hawaiian Language degree at the UH Mānoa campus.

“We will be offering classes that are normally only found at UH Mānoa through the Hawaiian Studies program there but in a community college setting. Classes will include Introduction to Hawaiian Studies (107), Mythology (270), Lāʻau Lapaʻau (285), Carving or Māʻawe Noʻeau (220), Hawaiian language kamaʻīlio classes from native speakers, as well as third year Hawaiian language being taught by professors hailing from the Mānoa on the community college campus are features unique to WCC.”

This positive collaborative movement is being felt across all UH community college campuses. The same sentiment is also being emulated by  Ke Kumu Pali Council. Windward Community College is a community college with one of the highest percentage of Native Hawaiian students within the University of Hawai‘i System. Ke Kumu Pali was made a formal council to address the needs of these students by the chancellor in 2005. The purpose of Ke Kumu Pali is to provide a voice and organization through which the Native Hawaiian faculty, staff, students and administrators of WCC can participate in the development and interpretation of campus policy and practice. Stakeholders are already seeing the beneifts of this approach as it relates to Native Hawaiian programs, activities, initiatives, and issues. Through a balance of collaboration between many campus programs and a team approach that is occurring amongst key permanent faculty at WCC, the effects of this campus’ movements will be felt across all campuses!

While faculty, staff, and students are excited about the developments at WCC and other campuses within the University of Hawaiʻi system; the potential for this progress to trickle out to the graduates, careers, and the communities that they will affect, is huge. Mehanaokalā is especially excited about how these developments will cause a broader awareness of Hawaiian culture, language, and thinking.

“I think Windward (Community College) has matured to that state where now our faculty can actually do the things that we want to do. We are at that time right now, where it is time to move and push!”