Community members listen to a discussion of the five potential new names for Cabrillo College on the school's Aptos campus.
Community members listen to a discussion Wednesday of the five potential new names for Cabrillo College on the school’s Aptos campus.
(Kevin Painchaud / Lookout Santa Cruz)
Cabrillo College

Aptos, Cajastaca, Costa Vista, Seacliff, Santa Cruz Coast: Cabrillo College’s potential new names spark debate

Community members weighed in Wednesday in person after Cabrillo College unveiled its renaming shortlist as it aims to move on from its association with explorer Juan Rodriguez Cabrillo. There will be two more in-person forums and two online meetings, plus an online survey, for those looking to make their voices heard.

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About 60 community members weighed in on the future name of Cabrillo College on Wednesday night as the school unveiled a shortlist of potential names that ranged from references to the region’s Indigenous history and its coastal landscape to names that would preserve the “C” in the college’s athletics programs.

Minutes after they were revealed at a community meeting at Cabrillo’s Aptos campus, the five names — Aptos College, Cajastaca College, Costa Vista College, Seacliff College and Santa Cruz Coast College — began sparking discussion.

At a community meeting Wednesday at Cabrillo College’s Aptos campus, officials unveiled five potential new names for the...

Community members who attended Wednesday’s meeting wrote their thoughts on post-it notes and stuck them on poster boards for each of the names.

Under Aptos College, some notes read, “LOVE THIS NAME” and, “I’d say leave it the same, Cabrillo College! If not then Aptos would be the best sounding name.”

Other notes read, “Cajastaca College beautiful but I fear pronunciation will be a challenge” and, “Cajastaca! I love the potential new mascot! The Jackrabbits.” Cajastaca (pronounced Cay-ya-stockah) is a reference to a village of the Aptos Tribe that translates to “place of the jackrabbits.”

The Wednesday meeting was the first of three in-person gatherings scheduled for the college to get community input on the potential names. Community members can also fill out a survey or attend two virtual meetings before the school’s governing board makes its final decision on a name Aug. 7.

Cabrillo College started its name-exploration process in 2020 after receiving a community petition to change its name. The board of trustees voted in November to change the name of the community college, citing the continuing harm the school’s eponym, European explorer Juan Rodriguez Cabrillo, has on students because of the legacy of colonialism.

Cabrillo, who historians say was born either in Spain or Portugal, led an expedition to the California coast in 1542. His exploration and the description of the West Coast from that trip is considered the first European written record of that region and helped pave the way for the colonial conquest of California and the violent treatment and enslavement of Native people.

A subcommittee of the board made up of members Christina Cuevas and Adam Spickler led the research into the history of Juan Rodriguez Cabrillo and what other colleges have done when they decided to change a name. The subcommittee then sought name suggestions from the community and appointed community members to serve on the name-selection task force.

Wednesday’s reveal comes after a 24-member name selection task force narrowed a list of about 350 names down to five during a series of private meetings in April and May.

Some names that didn’t make the cut included Soquel, Costanoa, Calendurac and Aulinta. The majority of suggested names referenced nature, were Spanish-language words, related to the ocean or the sea or had local significance.

Following the meeting, Cuevas said she personally didn’t have a favorite but reiterated that she was happy with the work of the name-selection task force.

Based on community members’ responses at Wednesday’s meeting, she said she felt that there was a lot of support for Costa Vista College but didn’t have a sense of which name will prevail.

About 60 community members listen to a presentation about the five potential names for Cabrillo College, on June 14, 2023.
About 60 community members listen to a presentation about the five potential names for Cabrillo College on the school’s Aptos campus.
(Kevin Painchaud / Lookout Santa Cruz)

Cuevas said the task force came up with the name Santa Cruz Coast College after the name Santa Cruz County College came up as a suggestion in survey results. She said the committee decided that wouldn’t work and neither would Santa Cruz College as both were too limiting geographically to the city or to the county.

She added that Aptos College was a top choice from the college’s survey done earlier this year. Seacliff College and Costa Vista College were also suggestions from the survey.

The suggestion for Cajastaca College came much later in the process, Cabrillo President Matt Wetstein and Cuevas said. They said they went to Indigenous scholars and leaders to get their thoughts on potential names. Cajastaca was suggested by several of the scholars, including historian Martin Rizzo-Martinez, as a preference over options like Costanoa.

The task force liked that it referenced the geography and Indigenous roots and honors the first inhabitants of the area.

Wetstein said he’ll like whatever name the board chooses. He declined to name his favorite option so that he doesn’t have any influence over the choices. But he said a comment from a community member who said Aptos College was her favorite choice stuck out to him. “Aptos” is an Ohlone term meaning “the people.” The Aptos were one of the larger tribes of the Awaswas people.

“The whole notion around Aptos College and the peoples’ college,” Wetstein said. “When she said that, I just thought, what a potential slogan, ‘Aptos College, the peoples’ college,’ to tap into the meaning of the word.”

Cabrillo faculty member John Govsky, who launched the petition to change the college’s name in 2020, said his top choice was Cajastaca College.

“For the last 60 or 70 years, we’ve honored a symbol of colonization of Indigenous people,” he said. “So it might be appropriate to flip the script and to counterbalance that with an Indigenous focus for the next 60 years.”

Donna Mekis, who has worked at both UC Santa Cruz and Cabrillo, said her first choice was Santa Cruz Coast College. “Everyone knows where Santa Cruz is locally, nationally and internationally,” said Mekis, who is also a member of the UCSC board of trustees. “So everybody would automatically know where the college is.”

She added that when people hear Santa Cruz, they think of positive things such as the coast, the beach and UCSC.

The next two community forums will take place at 6 p.m. on Wednesday, June 28, at Cabrillo’s Watsonville Center, located at 318 Union St. in Watsonville, and at 6 p.m. on Wednesday, July 12, at the Felton Library, located at 6121 Gushee St. in Felton.

The virtual meetings will take place Thursday, July 13, and Wednesday, July 19, both at 6 p.m.

To access the community survey, click here.