‘It’s long overdue’: Cabrillo College committee recommends name change for college

Cabrillo College is set to vote Monday on whether to change its name.
Cabrillo College, based in Aptos, is considering changing its name in the wake of criticism of the legacy of Iberian explorer Juan Rodriguez Cabrillo.
(Kevin Painchaud / Lookout Santa Cruz)

A subcommittee of the Cabrillo College Board of Trustees said it recommends that the board change the college’s name. The Board of Trustees will vote on changing the name on Monday at its regular board meeting.

The Cabrillo College Board of Trustees will vote on Monday on whether to rename the school after a subcommittee recommended Thursday that the college no longer be named after Juan Rodriguez Cabrillo.

Cabrillo is among a growing list of post-secondary institutions to weigh whether to change its name amid a reckoning over the legacies of colonialism, slavery and racism sparked by the death of George Floyd in the summer of 2020 that saw activists topple statues of historical figures who owned slaves or were part of other oppressive and violent practices.

Most known for his exploration of the California coast in 1542, Cabrillo’s descriptions and expedition of the region helped establish the colonial conquest of California and the violent treatment and enslavement of native people.

The college’s Board of Trustees established a name exploration subcommittee in July 2020 after receiving a request to change the college’s name. The subcommittee’s members included trustees Christina Cuevas and Adam Spickler, and student trustee Amidia Frederick (who was later succeeded by Krystal Buenrostro.)

As part of the review process, the subcommittee conducted surveys between Oct. 2021 and March 2022 asking students, employees and supporters of Cabrillo Foundation if they supported changing the name. More than half of respondents, 52%, opposed a name change, while 34.9% were in favor (the remainder were neutral on the question.) Just over 30% of the respondents were students and 37% of respondents were over the age of 60.

Even though a majority of respondents opposed a name change, subcommittee members recommended renaming the college because they felt that knowing Cabrillo’s history and the ongoing adverse impact the name has on people outweighed the concerns – primarily about costs.

“The harm caused by colonial expansion is real and it is a harm that demarks transgenerational trauma to this day,” they wrote in their report released Thursday. “As many have pointed out, now that we know the name Cabrillo does continuing harm to members of the College’s public, we have a responsibility to correct that harm.”

Some Indigenous leaders applauded the recommendation.

“I’m very happy about the recommendation,” said Valentin Lopez, chairman of the Amah Mutsun Tribal Band. “To honor a person like that, to name a school after him, is absolutely wrong. That’s what has occurred throughout the history of colonized worlds, and particularly in California. It’s long overdue, but it should have never been chosen in the first place.”

Members of the Amah Mutsun Tribal Band lived in a region spanning all of San Benito County and parts of Santa Clara, Santa Cruz and Monterey counties for thousands of years before the Spanish arrived. The tribal band currently has 600 members.

The Cabrillo College subcommittee, which is made up of two trustees and two student trustees – who each served one year, will be presenting their report at the regular Board of Trustees meeting on Monday.

The board is only voting to decide whether or not to change the name, with the goal of selecting a new name by Aug. 2023. It would then start using the new name by July 2024.

Part of the committee’s research also included understanding the costs, tangible and intangible, of changing the name. The committee members said in discussions with other community colleges that underwent name changes, CEOs estimated costs between $400,000 to $800,000.

In the report, they also wrote that 20% of people who wrote emails or letters cited the cost of the name change as a reason to oppose it. Many people thought the money would be better spent on education and support services for students.

Lopez said he sees their point of view.

“However, how are Indigenous people supposed to heal? When, everyday the memory of the perpetrators, the memory of the destruction, the memory of the domination is facing them every day,” he said. “But there can never be a healthy relationship when one side works in healing and the other side refuses to heal.”

If the college moves forward with changing the name, he hopes that the new name recognizes the people that lived in the area before first contact with Europeans.

“Cabrillo is in Aptos, and Aptos is the name of the tribe in that area,” he said. “For us, that would be an appropriate name for the college.”

Board trustees Cuevas and Spickler were not available before publication of this report. Cabrillo College President Matt Wetstein declined to comment, saying it is the board’s call to make.


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