Lexi Stephenson’s mother likes to say, “No one can take your education.” But after Stephenson switched from community studies after it was cut last winter, only to see the suspension of her current major, American studies, it seems like someone is trying very hard to do so.
Stephenson fell in love with community studies as a second-year when she took an introductory course taught by Sean Burns. Although a self-proclaimed science and math student by nature, she said she felt inspired by that class to make a difference.
“Walking out of the classroom, I felt like change really could happen and that I could be a part of it,” Stephenson said. “That was one of the greatest feelings I have ever felt in my entire life.”
Stephenson decided that she wanted to provide educational opportunities for immigrants and the children of immigrants. So after declaring the community studies major, Stephenson focused her courses in education.
Studying abroad in Barcelona, Spain during her third year, Stephenson met a fellow community studies major from UCSC in a dive bar. Learning of her peer’s field study orchestrating a needle exchange program for sex workers, Stephenson became increasingly excited about her own field study. However, when she returned to UCSC for winter quarter last year, she found her major had been cut and the courses she intended to take were no longer offered.
“It was just sad,” Stephenson said. “When you believe in something and [the university] decides it isn’t valuable, it’s very disheartening.”
She scrambled to redefine her interests to fit course offerings, but eventually decided she was unwilling to compromise her education to remain in the major.
“I was trying to change what I wanted to do just to get into classes,” Stephenson said. “That defeated the purpose for me. Community studies is supposed to be about finding a passion and then figuring out a way to use it to make a difference.”
After debating her options, Stephenson declared the American studies major. In January, faculty in the American studies department voted to suspend admission to the major starting July 1. They cited as the primary reason for suspension the dwindling resources that significantly reduced the capability of the program to provide a quality educational experience for students.
Stephenson said programs like American studies are the reason many students come to UCSC, and eliminating these options degrades the value of the university.
“Santa Cruz attracts a certain type of student,” Stephenson said. “A lot of us come here to get the alternative education offered at UCSC. Unfortunately [budget cuts] are changing that.”
Stephenson said she and fellow American studies majors are angry about what is happening, but are unsure of how to act. For a while Stephenson had been considering utilizing public art to make her frustrations heard, but decided that might not accomplish anything.
“I wanted to make signs that say, ‘Fuck UC’ really big and put them all over campus. But that is not very mature,” Stephenson said. “If you do that, no one is going to listen.”
Stephenson says American studies majors should not be left to fight for social sciences and humanities programs.
“I think it is the responsibility of students and teachers to do something about this,” Stephenson said. “A lot of students come here with the false notion that they will be able to take these classes.”
Despite her frustrations, Stephenson feels lucky to have been a part of the program before it was suspended.
“I think the [American studies] major is the best education I could have gotten at this school,” she said.