Illuminating Education

Creating a center for student agency and activism

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Illustration by Owen Thomas
Illustration by Owen Thomas

After two hate crimes against Filipino students at UC Santa Cruz, students of color unified and mobilized to create Engaging Education (e2).

In spring 2000, a Stevenson affiliate threw empty alcohol bottles at prospective UCSC students during A Step Forward, now one of e2’s student-initiated outreach (SIO) programs. A separate assault in December ended with the hospitalization of a Filipino student who was attacked by two white students.

“People were angry and upset,” said Kimi Mojica, a UC Santa Cruz alumna was an active member of the Filipino Student Association (FSA) and Rainbow Theatre. “We really wanted to direct that energy in a way that would be proactive and positive, and not replicate the same kind of violence or attitude that led to that kind of act on campus.”

e2 was created out of the frustration felt by the Big Five ethnic organizations ­— FSA, Afrikan/Black Student Alliance (A/BSA), Asian Pacific Islander Student Alliance (APISA), Movimiento Estudiantil Chicana y Chicano de Aztlán (MEChA) and Student Alliance of Native American Indians (SANAI) — about the university’s slow response and failure to address the incidents.

FSA organized a peace vigil, inviting other students of color across the ethnic organizations to stand in solidarity. There Mojica said she envisioned e2 as a “bat call” or symbol of students’ ownership of their education and lives.

“The immediate response I saw to instances of injustice in my college experience came from students themselves,” said Rocky Armenta, one of e2’s founding members. “It didn’t come from administration at all until much later, and it came only because students pressed them to take a stand on it.”

Armenta was a student at the time of the incidents and remembers the impact they had.

“Some students felt like it was just a misunderstanding,” Armenta said, “… But from a student of color perspective, getting bottles thrown at you on a college campus where you don’t see a lot of people who look like you can feel very disempowering.”

In 2000, more than half of the UCSC student body was white. Armenta said students of color wanted to make sure there was an umbrella ethnic organization on campus for “anybody who wanted to be a part of challenging injustices and promoting education.”

The Need for e2

Today, e2 is a hub for student agency, activism and mentorship. Part of the mission statement is to be “a supportive and dynamic space for programming that addresses the low rates of recruitment, retention and graduation that historically under-resourced communities face within higher education.”

e2 has two primary focuses — outreach and retention. Outreach works to get underrepresented students to the university and retention ensures those students graduate.

As part of e2’s outreach efforts, A/BSA, FSA and MEChA host their annual SIO weekend, where newly-admitted students are introduced to the campus community through workshops and cultural performances.

For the last five years, e2 has garnered a 65 percent statement of intent to register rate for the high school students brought up through SIO — more than three times UCSC’s average rate. The enrollment of Asian and Latinx identifying students has nearly doubled and tripled, respectively, since 1994. But black students represent about 2 percent of the student body, and Pacific Islander and American Indian students each hover around less than 0.5 percent.

The retention programs consist of Ch.A.L.E. (Chican@s and Latin@s Educandose), Umoja (in Swahili, Umoja means “Unity”), C.U.S.N. (Community Unified Student Network) a Pacific Islander program and K.A.M.P. (Kuya/Ate Mentorship Program) a Filipino program — collectively known as Ch.U.C.K.

Ch.U.C.K. is an alliance of peer mentorship programs aiming to foster community and provide students with support to graduate. They provide academic resources, host social events and encourage cultural identity.

To engage with the broader campus community, e2 hosts notable speakers to promote dialogue among students. In November 2014, Dr. Cornel West, a prominent author and social activist, gave a keynote sponsored by e2, Student Media and A/BSA in response to the Ferguson unrest and Black Lives Matter Movement. West’s keynote was the first formal venue on campus to discuss these issues after Michael Brown’s murder in August 2014.

Challenges, Victories and Legacies

Despite e2’s major impact on increasing diversity on campus, it faces threats to its permanent location and funding.

The tenants of the Redwood Building, home of e2’s office, faced potential relocation due to seismic retrofitting. The plan was to move the tenants of their office and the Student Union to the largely inaccessible Crown College parking lot, known as the “Crown Pit.” It took over 1,500 signed petitions and campaigning to “Resist the Pit,” for e2 and other residents to be granted space in the Cowell apartments.

“It wasn’t only a push to keep our resources available for students,” said former e2 co-chair Adlemy Garcia, “but also almost having to prove that we are valuable to the university when we have continuously shown that our dedication is to make sure that students are being successful at UCSC.”

This success is short-lived, as student-governed spaces, including the Redwood Building, face uncertainty as the student fee that funds the maintenance and operation of these spaces expires in fall 2017. Without the passage of Measure 66, e2 is one of the several centers that could lose its space on campus.

“It’s hard to do work when your home is being threatened,” said current e2 chair Guillermo Carrillo. “It’s challenging to think about the future when you have to think about the now. And when the now is very urgent, you’re thinking about, are we going to have a place to live? Are we going to have a home?”

Securing adequate funding is one of e2’s majors concerns, especially for its SIO programs. While e2 and SIO are funded by permanent student fees under Measure 10 and Measure 15, the amount of money restricts the number of students the programs are able to host.

As part of a Memorandum of Understanding from Chancellor George Blumenthal, SIO receives a $1.25 match for every $1 raised by the fee, although a $2 match was originally promised in 2005.

“The reason e2 has been successful and the reason why e2 is here is because it’s student-run and led and it was student-created,” Garcia said. “We embody the model of student agency for students to feel like they have the power to empower other students.”

*Latinx is used to be inclusive of both males and females, as well as those who do not identify within the gender binary.