“I have a pretty boring life and career so my answers might bore you,” Anne Frances Sangil warns me before the interview. But I beg to disagree—nobody who wears a pair of Wonder Woman Chuck Taylor trainers could possibly be such a mundane figure. And I was right. For the entire duration of our one-and-half hour conversation, she talks excitedly; personifying the very spirit that propels mere professors into the wise, learned mentors we look up to and rely on.
A love for literature
Like many DLSU professors, Sangil is herself an alumna of the University, initially earning a bachelor’s degree in Communication Arts—Block L19, as far as she can remember. She laughs off the prospect of disclosing the exact date of her graduation, as it might be indicative of her age, but she does hint at the mid-1990s to give a vague idea as to how her collegiate days might’ve looked like.
Despite her communication background, Sangil has always had a fondness for literature. In fact, it was actually her second choice in her application form. “I always loved the idea of telling stories. However, I was more into the visual arts back then so literature had to take [a] back seat,” she explains. She eventually decided to take an MA in literature, although she still dabbles in media from time to time—she teaches floating courses, and even her current doctoral dissertation is media-oriented: the entire filmography of Mike De Leon.
One of the factors that cemented Sangil’s decision to pursue literature, she explains, was her childhood fantasy. Like a lot of kids her age, her initial ambitions were primarily shaped by what she saw on screen. From admiring the sleuthing skills of Nancy Drew to being in awe of Indiana Jones’ adventures, Sangil had developed a deep reservoir of curiosity and interests. “I was heavily influenced by those things as a kid, so I thought, why not go with literature so I could be all of them?”
Guide on the side, sage on the stage
As a professor, Sangil tries to maintain a balance between traditional teaching methods and more contemporary practices. She prefers to foster an informal atmosphere in class, remarking that a professor should be more of a “guide on the side”, as she refers to it. “I don’t really think that students come to me with nothing, and that my job is to fill that void. I like to think that they come to me with many things in mind from the get go,” she says.
That’s why she believes that technological advancements will never eclipse the presence of a real teacher. For her, a professor’s goal is not to simply hand out information—Google can do that just as easily. She argues: “As a teacher, the challenge is all the more real. Because how do you encourage the students to think more critically? How do you utilize that information to make it meaningful in their lives?”
Despite this, she believes that there are certain students who require more thorough guidance from their professors. Hence, they’re better off with the rigid format of what she calls the “sage on the stage”. However, she mentions how this approach shouldn’t be considered the more negative of the two—several of the teachers she idolized used this conventional method themselves. “I’ve been educated by Dr. Isagani Cruz, Dr. Emerita Quito, whose straight three hour lectures were always impressive, Dr. Bienvenido Lumbera. And I’ve learned so much from them [using] the lecture method, so I also like using that as a strategy.”
One of the classes that Sangil is most known for is her Harry Potter elective, something that she offers only once a year, normally held during the third term of every year, but most recently held on the second.
The class was founded 11 years ago, back in 2005. At that time, the last book in the series, The Deathly Hallows, had yet to come out. Same goes with the film franchise; the Alfonso Cuaron-directed The Prisoner of Azkaban was the last movie released. It was during this period that Sangil was the Literature Department’s vice-chair. Since she and then-chair Dr. David Bayot shared a common interest in Rowling’s series, the latter suggested that she start teaching an elective (then called LITELEC) on the matter. It was a difficult venture to start given that it was the first time any university in the world had offered such a course, meaning the syllabus would have no preexisting format to follow.
But that was not the only problem that Sangil had to face. “Students at that time enrolled [in the subject] not knowing that it was Harry Potter. And then I remember Kurt Kiwhako, [a former student]. He was sitting in front and he told me that he hadn’t even touched any Harry Potter book before,” she recalls. Yet, cases like that of Kiwhako’s didn’t deter Sangil. She made him head boy, because that’s how her classes are modeled: thoroughly Hogwartsian, complete with prefects and houses. By the end of the term, Kiwhako had become a converted Potter fan, even earning a 4.0.
Behind all that is projected in class, though, Sangil finds the process of spearheading Hogwarts-DLSU extremely draining. Aside from the pressure of being the only professor for the course, she notes that there’s much emotional investment involved in the preparation of the class. “HUMAART, I can teach with my eyes closed, but this elective, the effort is just too much… I’m more passionate with it. At the end of the day I’m so exhausted because I give it my all,” she says. At the end of the day, she retains the same level of passion that she had when she first started. “Even though I’ve read the books countless times, I still try to update myself by attending conferences and workshops on the work… you’d be surprised to meet PhD holderstalking about Harry Potter as if they were talking about Shakespeare.”
Accidents and epiphanies
The prospect of tackling last year’s accident is unavoidable, especially after posts related to it spread through social media like wildfire, with the Lasallian community fervently searching for possible blood donors. Several versions of the story may have been told, so Sangil recounts the true sequence of events. She recalls that she was coming from her class in Miguel Building, passing through William Hall to get to the Faculty Center. It was raining at that time, and she slipped as she was walking down the ramp. It wasn’t a graceful fall, as she put it, landing flat on her back with no outstretched hands to reduce the impact. For a couple of minutes after slipping, she couldn’t utter a word, although some students were trying to help her. She describes a certain tingling sensation, much like a tuning fork, reach up to her head.
Eventually, she was able to stand. But by the time she reached the Faculty Center, she felt a wave of dizziness come over her. She tried to compose herself by holding onto the wall and closing her eyes—next thing she knew, she was already lying on the ground, with a woman instructing her not to move. The impact of her second fall caused a huge lump to form at the back of her head. She was rushed to the clinic, and later to the hospital, where she was diagnosed with a fractured skull and epidural hematoma. Due to the severity of the injury, she underwent surgery later that same night.
The hapless event didn’t elicit a filmic personal epiphany in Sangil. Her guess is that maybe she’s always been an optimist to begin with. Life didn’t appear brighter nor did it seem more precious all of a sudden—she’s viewed life as such ever since. But what it did make her realize is the value of friends and family. “I’ve always seen myself as independent so dun nagkasbukan eh. Yun yung realization ko. In clutch time, real friends are gonna be there, not just the fair weather friends.”
It maybe important to note that Sangil is wearing the exact same Wonder Woman Chucks she did when the accident happened. Her sister warned her against it, but she pushed through with it regardless. It’s become a perennial favorite of hers—former students would even deem it as iconic. Perhaps the wearer has grown to be one with the object. Perhaps the relentless spirit of the etched character on the canvas upper has slowly become a trait of the person donning it. And in the case of Anne Frances Sangil, that thought isn’t very far-fetched.