Three Brigham Young University–Hawaii students had the opportunity to present at the 25th Biennial Conference of the Pacific History Association (PHA) held at Deakin University’s Warrnambool Campus from October 31 to November 4 in Warrnambool, Australia. Students were given the opportunity to showcase their proud Pacific Islander heritage and engage with diverse narratives of the Pacific amidst the conference’s theme, “Tracking the Kooyang: Truth Telling in the History of Oceania.”
Attended by over 150 people from 15 different nations, the conference was populated with artists, historians, researchers, and performers who gave profound insights on topics ranging from the decolonization of the Pacific to contemporary Pacific issues. Kruse noted that despite the numerous things all happening at once, the three BYU–Hawaii students were able to present and shine in their respective research topics.
Students Arania Campbell, Lynice Fesolai, and Heimuli Paletua each presented their individual research at the conference, aided by professor Line-Noue Kruse from the Faculty of Culture, Language & Performing Arts. The participating students were instilled with a passion for their research as they identify with Pacific Islander cultures and practices, which adds a more committed tone to the hard work they put into each of their projects.
Paletua, a business management junior from Tonga, delivered a presentation on her research entitled "Tongan Land Rights, Inheritance, and Inequality." Her study looks into the significant issue of advocating for women's rights to own land and assume leadership roles in churches in Tonga. The aim is to promote equal opportunities for women, paralleling the privileges afforded to their male counterparts.
Fesolai, a junior double majoring in political science and Pacific studies from Samoa, presented her research—co-authored with students Noel Fulumua and Falatapuita Matthes—titled, “Mental Health and Culture from the Perspective of Tamaitai Samoa.” Their research focuses on Samoan women’s (tamaitai Samoa) struggles and efforts in promoting the importance of mental health and combating the cultural stigmas that surround the topic.
Campbell, a senior majoring in Pacific Studies and Laie, Hawaii native, shared her research titled “Poisoning Kānaka Maoli and Medical Catastrophes.” Her study centers on Red Hill, a military installation situated in Moanalua, Hawaii, on the island of Oahu. It investigates the contamination of water sources in the area, exploring the consequential impact on the city's local population.
Overall, all three students and Professor Kruse share that their identity as disciples of Jesus Christ remained the most important thing during the tenure of their research and the conference.
“Part of being a BYU–Hawaii alumna is understanding what being ‘genuine gold’ means. To me, it means being a peacemaker who requires thoughtfulness in the research they are doing.” Kruse says, commenting on the uniqueness of the university’s values. She continues, “It’s always about the outcome of what you are building, how you are helping others, and how you are improving humanity. That’s why I enjoy taking students to conferences like these because we build a great deal of mana and respect as faiths and creeds come together to improve humanity.”
Paletua reflected on the long and difficult journey to the conference, saying, “I was humbled throughout all of it. Believing that everything will work out is basically the mission and vision of BYU–Hawaii in action, not just in me but in all of us.”
Fesolai shared her experience testifying about God’s capacity to answer inquiries, saying, “Throughout our journey, prayer was a source of strength for us. Our scripture studies with Dr. Kruse after the conference helped me realize that despite the challenges I faced, putting my faith in God—like Nephi, overcoming his struggles with his older brothers through prayer—was essential.”
Campbell also reflected on God’s teachings in her life, relating her favorite scripture verse to the research she had done, saying, “It says in the Book of Mormon that ‘when ye are in the service of [others]… ye are… in the service of… God.’ (Mosiah 2:17) As a half-Hawaiian woman, my cultural heritage allowed me to understand that doing this research is a service to my people. Showcasing and raising awareness to everyone about what we’re going through helps me to be more Christlike.”
Through their efforts to share the value of the people of Oceania and their close relationship to the Savior, these BYU–Hawaii students showed that the combination of knowledge, compassion, and unity on a global stage exemplifies the university’s ethos of becoming ‘genuine gold.’