Wearing a bright yellow hat with antennae poking out of the top, Santa Cruz mayor Don Lane stood next to a 10-foot balloon banana slug and officially proclaimed Oct. 25 “Banana Slug Day.” About 200 Santa Cruz community members, alumni and students walked down Pacific Ave., and circulated through Abbott Square for the first Banana Slug Parade and Expo.
After a warm welcome and a few excited words, Lane invited Assemblymember Mark Stone and Sen. Bill Monning up to the stage, who presented a legislative resolution to Student Union Assembly President Julie Foster honoring UC Santa Cruz’s 50-year commitment to research, sustainability and diversity.
“We are so fortunate to have such a strong educational presence in our little community,” Stone said. “I know it has its implications, but the economic values, the educational values, the strength of having the relationship with the UC in our little backyard is tremendous.”
As the applause died down, Lane introduced UCSC Alumni Association Council president Donna Mekis to the stage for her special announcement. She said the council voted unanimously to offer free membership to all UCSC alumni.
“No one has to pay membership dues any longer,” Mekis said. “It really is a gift to all of our alumni at this point and we’re really quite excited to open it up because we don’t want to have an exclusive organization.”
Alumni Association memberships formerly cost $50 a month or a one-time fee of $550 per year. By removing these fees, students are immediately included in the association upon graduation. According to the alumni website, there are currently over 100,000 UCSC grads and less than 10,000 had been paying for memberships.
Mekis explained despite the high membership fees, the association’s budget was still suffering.
“We actually learned we’re losing money in the amount we were spending trying to get memberships,” Mekis said. “There was a time when we were making money from memberships, but it started to slow down. We’re not really losing, but we feel if we really embrace all of our alumni and try to bring them in, get them more connected, they’re going to want to give back in one way or another.”
Mekis said the alumni council, which funded the parade and expo, hopes if the association is more accessible it will facilitate professional networking between graduates and current students.
Student Union Assembly President Julie Foster echoed this hope, but also acknowledged the underlying tension between the UC and the city wasn’t addressed during the announcements, mostly because of who was in attendance.
“The crowd today is a lot of the alumni and a lot of supporters of UCSC,” Foster said. “I think people here acknowledge that UCSC is a large school — large enough that not all students are the ones who are causing tension between the city and the school — but I think it’s also one of those things where people have mixed feelings about it.”
Foster said for the most part everyone in the crowd was in support of the students, and no one wanted to bring up any university-city disagreement at the parade.
While Mekis remained hopeful about connecting alumni to current students and Foster believed any bitterness was set aside for the day, UCSC fourth-year Daniel Lloyd said he felt frustrated that fees were reduced for alumni while tuition and student fees are as high as they are.
“If there’s any place that they can save money or make cuts, they should make it cheaper for students,” Lloyd said. “A lot of people are wanting to learn, and want to go [to UCSC] but can’t because they can’t afford to.”