More than 120 people packed the Horticulture Center at Cabrillo College on Monday night.
(Kevin Painchaud / Lookout Santa Cruz)
Cabrillo College

After hourslong public meeting, Cabrillo College puts off renaming plans until November amid deep divisions

Cabrillo College’s governing board voted 6-1 on Monday to delay selecting a new name for the school until at least November after more than 50 speakers weighed in at a divided public meeting. The name Aptos College won an online survey the task force released ahead of the vote.

Cabrillo College’s governing board voted 6-1 on Monday night to delay selecting a new name for the school until at least November, following 2½ hours of public debate about the renaming that several community members said had exposed deep divisions across Santa Cruz County.

The college’s board of trustees heard from current and former faculty and students, along with community members who both supported and opposed the name change during a meeting on the Aptos campus.

The board voted in November to select a new name during its August meeting, but last week a subcommittee of the board recommended that trustees delay the process to assess community sentiment and get more engagement.

“I think we need to delay,” said trustee Dan Rothwell. “I don’t think we’re hurt waiting two or three more months.” He said his reasons included the need to spend more time engaging the community as well as his concern over voting on the name change without the funding in place to cover the costs.

Trustee Rachael Spencer, who was the only trustee to vote against the name change in November, said “the process did not engage the community.” She voted Monday night to defer the name-selection process.

“You don’t change peoples’ minds by being bullies and insulting them,” she said.

Trustees Christina Cuevas and Adam Spickler reiterated their belief that delaying the decision will help them better engage the community.

Rothwell said “there’s a perception, right or wrong, that we’re ramming this through.” He said he thinks by engaging the community more, trustees can help inform residents about how this came about.

Rothwell said at first he opposed the name change but gradually realized he felt that the college couldn’t keep it.

“People can be changed on this issue,” he said. “I’m an example of that.”

Steve Trujillo was the only trustee to vote against the recommendation, saying the need to change the name is “overdue by decades.” Using his advisory vote, newly elected student trustee Yefry Samael Mata Diaz also voted against the deferral.

Christina Cuevas speaks to a full room on Monday evening.
Cabrillo College Trustee Christina Cuevas, chair of the Name Exploration Subcommittee and the Name Selection Task Force, speaks to a full room Monday.
(Kevin Painchaud / Lookout Santa Cruz)

The governing board voted in November to change the name of the college after the Name Exploration Subcommittee, including Cuevas and Spickler, spent two years researching costs and processes as well as hosting educational events with the community. Based on their work, with the help of an advisory group, they recommended the college change the name.

Then the subcommittee appointed a 24-member name-selection task force that helped narrow a list of community-suggested names from about 350 down to five this past spring. Those five names were first shared with the public in June.

During the task force’s final meeting July 28, members expressed concerns about the divisiveness of the name-change process as well as concerns over wanting more community input. While the majority of task force members felt the college should change its name, they also felt the vote on a new name should be delayed.

Because of that, the subcommittee made its formal recommendation to delay. In the meantime, the subcommittee will “explore options for and recommend how we better gauge and engage the wider community on a naming timeline and process that unifies rather than divides the greater college community.” It will make a recommendation on how to proceed by November.

Spickler said the name Aptos College won an online survey the task force released ahead of the vote. However, he added that the name surprised members of the task force because several people who initially supported Aptos changed their minds after attending one the school’s community forums.

He said the questions around which name the community truly supports were among the reasons why the subcommittee chose not to select a new one and instead recommended delaying the decision.

“We did conclude a survey and the survey did show results, I’m just not sure those results are as scientifically sound as they could be,” Spickler said.

Prior to the board’s decision to delay, trustees heard public comment from more than 50 people, including elected officials, alumni, Cabrillo College Foundation donors and residents from across Santa Cruz County. Spickler said an official tally of how many public comments, including messages submitted to the board via email, were for or against hadn’t been completed as of Monday night.

Cabrillo College digital media instructor John Govsky first raised the issue of changing the school's name in 2020.
Cabrillo College digital media instructor John Govsky first raised the issue of changing the school’s name in 2020.
(Kevin Painchaud / Lookout Santa Cruz)

Many of the speakers who opposed the name change said that the college’s history and reputation has no connection with the individual Juan Rodriguez Cabrillo and that the college should put the name-change decision on a ballot for the community to vote on it. Opponents also mentioned concerns over the potential impact on seeking voters’ approval for future bonds and the potential to lose funding from donors who oppose the name change.

People who expressed support for changing the name said keeping it reinforces the erasure of Indigenous history and honors what Juan Rodriguez Cabrillo stood for. The supporters want the college to choose a name that instead better reflects the college’s values.

Several speakers from both sides also emphasized that delaying making a final decision could do further harm. Speakers from both sides also argued that the college should do more to support Native people.

Speaking over Zoom, Val Lopez, chairman of the Amah Mutsun Tribal Band, emphasized that there are no known survivors of the Native people who lived here prior to European colonization. He asked that the school administration work with the tribal band on developing Indigenous studies courses.

“We are asking for healing,” he said, adding a big part of that is telling the history of Indigenous people. “We are disappointed there are no Native American faculty on campus.”

Cabrillo College student Yan Bañales-Garcia said he supports the name change. He noted how many schools and companies across the country have removed statues and changed names involving historical figures.

“As a Chicano student I’m appalled by the opposition, which has made me feel unsafe in my own country,” he said. “I used to think that Santa Cruz County was progressive. But now I’m starting to see the true colors.”

Cabrillo student Alma Leonor-Sanchez said by changing the name, the college is allowing a fuller history to be told.

“By keeping the name, we are not erasing history — we are erasing other people’s history,” she said. “My people’s history has been literally erased and Indigenous peoples’ history has been erased, and burned, and destroyed by settler colonialism.”

Cabrillo faculty member Sheryl Kern-Jones emphasized that the name must change, but with meaningful action including education around Native American issues and culture.

“I think it is very important that we have the name of our college be a meaningful decision and yet I see it as a symbolic gesture,” she said, adding that without education and better representation, the change is meaningless.

Opponents of the name change say the board’s decision to change the name was done without consideration of the community’s input and will be too costly. They also argued that it puts the college at risk of losing support from donors and from voters if it were to put a bond on the ballot.

Gary Reece, a former Cabrillo College board member and current executive director of the Santa Cruz Symphony, called on the board to skip a costly ballot measure and instead postpone its decision until April 2024, when four trustee board seats are up for a vote.

Becky Steinbruner called on the board not to delay the vote, but instead to pass a declaration saying that the college distances itself from Juan Rodriguez Cabrillo.

“Do not say we’re just going to postpone it because it’s simply putting a Band-Aid on a festering wound,” she said. “There needs to be action that will give the public assurance that this is done and we can move on in a positive way.”

Janice Bremis, a Cabrillo alumna and donor, said the college should keep the name as an opportunity to teach students. Bremis said the school should offer a history course on Cabrillo’s actions and name each building after Indigenous historical figures.

A basket of forms for the public to provide comment.
A basket of forms for the public to weigh in on Cabrillo College’s name change. Nearly 150 people provided comment leading up to or during the meeting Monday evening.
(Kevin Painchaud / Lookout Santa Cruz)

Cabrillo alumni John Marinovich said he also opposed the name change because he felt that it’s just a name, and by changing the name, he feels the college is erasing history. He said people can see Juan Rodriguez Cabrillo’s “accomplishments, and his faults.”

“It’s complicated. But I think it should be a community decision,” he said. “Not a board decision.”

Following the vote, and at the end of the meeting, President Matt Wetstein said he has been worried about how the community has responded to the name-change process.

“That divisiveness can’t be ignored,” Wetstein said. “I’m worried about the way echo chambers work in our community.”

However, he said, after listening to the public speakers during the meeting, he felt hopeful about the process.

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