By Margaretta Soehendro
"We want to encourage studies that transcend the conventional divide between scholarship and activism, between scholarship pure and simple and social or political engagement," said Geoffrey Robinson, a UCLA associate professor of history, in introductory remarks at the first UCLA Indonesian Studies Graduate Student Conference April 17–18, 2009. Sixteen graduate students from the United States and Indonesia presented papers at the two-day event on the themes of community, identity and change.
Stanford Professor Donald Emmerson (left) discusses papers with UCLA's Kimberly Twarog and Nuning Purwaningrum Hallett of the State University of New York at Buffalo
UCLA graduate students Gustav Brown of the sociology department and Kimberly Twarog of the women's studies department served with Robinson as organizing committee members for the conference, which was sponsored by the UCLA Indonesian Studies Program. The Center for Southeast Asian Studies launched the program in 2008 with a gift from UCLA alumnus Dr. Robert Lemelson, a research anthropologist at the Semel Institute for Neuroscience and Human Behavior. At the conference Lemelson screened his new documentary film, "40 Years of Silence: an Indonesian Tragedy," which tells the stories of survivors of the 1965–66 communist purge and massacre of at least 500,000 Indonesians.
Keynote speaker Livia Iskandar, co-founder of the PULIH Center for Trauma and Recovery and Psychological Intervention Indonesia, addressed the need to repair misconceptions within the United States about Indonesia and said the UCLA program could play an important role in documenting the parts of Indonesia's history that are rarely discussed.
"The current U.S. ambassador to Indonesia, Ambassador Hume, … spoke about Indonesia being the largest country the U.S. knows the least about, which I think many of you would agree," Iskandar said.
The students' research papers looked at topics including electoral politics and ethnic identity in the post-Suharto era and contemporary meanings for traditional dance.
One graduate student from the State University of New York at Buffalo, Nuning Purwaningrum Hallett, talked about the role of transborder citizenship among Indonesian women in transnational families. The topic stemmed from an advocacy paper on dual citizenship for Indonesian women married to foreign husbands.
"I am activist," Hallett said, and an academic "by accident."
UCLA graduate student Risa Toha presented a paper on the politicization of Indonesian ethnic identity after the fall of Suharto in 1998, arguing that electoral districts with low competition—where one political party would win by large margins—were the most susceptible to politicization of ethnicity.
Twarog discussed traditional dance programs offered in post-tsunami Aceh to illustrate the role of dance in healing and building communities. The traditional dances allowed Acehnese to connect past and present and included religious components, since many of the movements mimicked prayers, she said.
Gyda Sindre, a graduate student at UCLA and the University of Oslo, explained the rise of the Free Aceh Movement (Gerakan Aceh Merdeka, GAM) from a minor rebel group to a legitimate and major political force.
Moderating the conference panels were Robinson; Donald K. Emmerson, director of the Southeast Asia Forum at Stanford University’s Shorenstein Asia-Pacific Research Center; Tom Boellstorff, associate professor of anthropology at the University of California, Irvine; Laurie Sears, professor of history at the University of Washington; and Julie Romain, a UCLA graduate student in art history. The graduate students who presented papers were, in addition to those mentioned above, Tuti Alawiyah from the University of Texas at Austin, Magfirah Dahlan-Taylor from Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University, Sophie Dewayani from the University of Illinoi at Urbana-Champaign, Maria Dona from the Institute of Women and Child Protection, Senia Febrica from the University of Indonesia, Kartika Gondoboentoro from DDH Quality Surveyor, Brent Luvaas (UCLA), Saiful Mahdi from Cornell University, Steve Rodriguez (UCLA), Alexander Supartono from Jakarta Art Institute, and Herry Yogaswara from the University of Indonesia.