Deviné Hardy first came to Cabrillo College 18 years ago, and recalls her anger then. After bartending, coordinating circus events and running a yoga studio, she’s back at the school with the plans to graduate with three degrees in the spring. Now, she has joined the Cabrillo board of trustees as its student representative, bringing all of that experience to the task.
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Deviné Hardy took her first class at Cabrillo Community College 18 years ago.
“I felt visibly invisible on campus,” she said, about being one of the very few African American students. Today, similar to Santa Cruz County’s demographics, African American students make up 1.09% of the Cabrillo student population.
As a 38-year-old, she’s now taking on the challenges she faced when she first walked onto the campus as a recent Hayward High School graduate, with a new responsibility: She’s the 2022-23 student trustee on Cabrillo’s governing board.
“When I first came here, I was angry that I didn’t see anyone who looked like me. I was angry that none of my teachers looked like me,” she said. “I was angry that none of the counselors looked like me. I was just angry.”
She left Cabrillo to pursue courses at other community colleges and then worked as a bartender, opened a yoga studio and joined the circus. She joined not just any circus, but Cirque du Soleil, where she worked in a variety of positions including events coordinator assistant.
“My life is so colorful, and so weird,” she said, laughing.
It was while working at Cirque du Soleil that the pandemic hit, and the circus shut down. Hardy found herself having to figure out her next steps and she decided to move to Santa Cruz, joining her partner, who lives here.
He encouraged her to get involved locally, and she recalled her time at Cabrillo. She enrolled and took English in fall 2020. Soon, she went further, eventually becoming the public relations director representative for the Office of Student Equity on the Cabrillo student senate.
In her second semester back at Cabrillo, in spring 2021, she began to unpack her feelings of 18 years ago. Throughout this process, she said the school has provided her with all the resources and support she could ask for. Now, as a student trustee, Hardy hopes to help other students overcome similar struggles by making sure they know what is available to them via the school.
“I want them to see me every day so that they know: We exist and we are here,” she said. “And I never wanted another student to feel how I felt 18 years ago.”
On campus then, she says she felt the impacts of racism — the feeling of being “visibly invisible” and not seeing anyone on staff or in her classes that looked like her.
She points to recent staff efforts to address inclusiveness. One new program: Umoja. Umoja, which means “unity” in Kiswahili, is a program that promotes academic success and personal growth of students of African ancestry.
On Wednesday, Hardy attended the school’s first Umoja student orientation, where English instructor Nikia Chaney introduced the program to students.
Cabrillo staff have heard from African American students for years that the campus felt hostile, so Chaney and others have been working to make improvements, she said.
“What I’m most excited about [at Cabrillo] is we really tried to address some of the systemic racism at Cabrillo by pushing and creating a program for Black students here and for Black culture here, which was the Umoja program,” Chaney told Lookout.
At about noon on Wednesday, about 20 students sitting at tables on a patio outside of the cafeteria learned about the program, ate food and listened to a live musical performance.
Chaney said the Cabrillo Foundation is providing $75,000 to support the program, which provides cultural events for students. It also encourages students to attend a minimum of two Umoja activities each semester and meet with an Umoja counselor twice a semester, among other activities.
Chaney really got a chance to know Hardy when Hardy took a course on African American literature and an English course with Chaney in the spring.
“She was just a wonderful, wonderful student,” said Chaney. “She just embraced whatever material that was there.”
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An advisor to Hardy made similar comments about her and the work she does for her peers.
“I would describe her as a dynamic, very spiritually connected and grounded person,” said Alta Cilicia Northcutt, Cabrillo’s student activities and welcome services director. “She’s thoughtful. She’s intentional, and she’s mindful.”
As part of her role, Northcutt serves as the advisor to the student senate. She runs a training program to help the students serving on the student senate be advocates for their peers. She’s been working at the college for 22 years.
It was while Hardy was serving in the Office of Equity that she met Northcutt. Hardy would report to the student senate on the work being done in the Office of Equity. Northcutt then encouraged her to run for the student senate, and that’s how Hardy ran for the public relations director seat — a role she held this past spring.
“Her heart is in the work,” Northcutt said of Hardy. Specifically, she said that Hardy doesn’t want people to lose time building community.
“When you’re building a community, you have to want it, too,” said Northcutt. “I think she has been more of a vocalist about these communities — they exist. And when you’re ready, take advantage of them.”
Hardy’s goals are clear. She plans to finish Cabrillo in the spring with three associate degrees: liberal arts, dance and kinesiology. If all goes as planned, she’ll then go to San Jose State University to earn a degree in business administration.
Then, off to the Netherlands. After traveling this summer in Europe, Hardy says she felt a sincere kindness from people and a connection to the culture, specifically in the Netherlands. There, she hopes to help with equity initiatives.
“I want to be head of people, or head of culture in an organization,” she said. “I want to be involved with a culture that it’s very diverse, not only with language, but by sex and gender. It’s really important for me.”