Lookout Update: Cabrillo College renaming on track for fall decision

The next step in the process of renaming Cabrillo College could come this fall.
(Kevin Painchaud / Lookout Santa Cruz)

Students, staff, the Native American community and Cabrillo Foundation supporters have all weighed in — differently — on a possible Cabrillo name change; President Matt Wetstein emphasizes that student and Indigenous voices must be prioritized in considering the decision, which could happen this fall.  

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Will Cabrillo College remain Cabrillo College?

Lookout Update on Cabrillo College renaming

It’s been two years since Cabrillo College announced plans to explore a name change. It came at a time when many cities and colleges were reassessing their historic names, many associated with the oppressions of the past decades and centuries. Cabrillo’s namesake, Juan Rodriguez Cabrillo — 16th-century Spanish explorer and scourge of Indigenous people who populated the Central Coast — found himself in the news of today.

Now, the college looks to the fall, when the Cabrillo board of trustees is due to receive a key recommendation from its subcommittee on renaming. That subcommittee includes trustees Adam Spickler and Christina Cuevas, and Cabrillo President Matt Wetstein.

“Sometimes we spend too much time focused on majority opinion and majority rule,” Wetstein told Lookout on Tuesday. “And on some issues, that are more salient to particular populations or segments of the population, their voice might matter more than just what is the temperature of the community.”

Wetstein voiced similar sentiments at a stakeholder meeting earlier this month.

“Indigenous voices on this issue matter more than my voice and I think they matter more than other people’s voices,” he said during a President’s Advisory Committee meeting. “I think student voices matter. I think what matters the most is what do young people think the name of the college should be? Do they find offense with it?”

Renaming efforts must consider nuance, he added, because many times in the past, the voices of youth and Indigenous people have been sidelined.

As part of the review, Cabrillo has conducted a community survey. The results showed that those affiliated with the college and Native American and Indigenous representatives showed stronger support for changing the name than did those who financially support Cabrillo.

Conducted between October 2021 and March 2022, the survey received more than 800 responses. Among the respondents were 256 current students, 125 current employees, 46 Native Americans and 304 supporters of the Cabrillo Foundation, among others.

Forty-nine percent of employees and 36.5% of students supported name change.

Of the foundation supporters who responded to the survey, only 20.1% were in support of the name change.

When comparing whites, Hispanics/Latinos and Native Americans, only Native Americans showed a majority response in favor of a name change, with 67.4% in support.

The survey was just one part of the work by the board’s three-person subcommittee, which also conducted research and held six community forums. Members are currently writing a report of the stakeholder responses and research, which they will bring to the board in the fall along with a recommendation on a name change.

During the president’s advisory meeting, Spickler said the subcommittee has learned that making a decision won’t be as simple as counting survey votes.

“It’s not simply a matter of how many people said this, how many people said that, and we feel obliged to go with the majority,” said Spickler. “It’s more complex. And we’ve done a lot of really great research, through surveying and otherwise, that we’re going to point to.”

Wetstein told Lookout this week that the committee aims to have a draft report ready in the fall. That report will go to the faculty and student governance bodies for review, then to the board of trustees. He said the committee hopes to have a report and recommendation presented to the board this fall with the potential for the board to make a decision at the same time. But the priority is thoroughness over adhering to a timeline, he said.

“The committee is in a state of mind of wanting to do the report the right way,” he said. “If we need the time, [we’ll] take the time.”

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