UCSC readies for ‘good trouble’ as it dedicates a college to John Lewis

Flora Lu (right), a UCSC environmental studies professor, with students
John R. Lewis College administrators Sarah C. Woodside Bury (left) and Flora Lu (right) flank students Cheru Robinson, Ethan Davis and Ray Diaz.
(Kevin Painchaud / Lookout Santa Cruz)

John R. Lewis’ life and commitment to social justice, from the streets of Alabama to the halls of Congress, are legendary. Now, UC Santa Cruz’s College Ten takes on his name with a ceremony Friday, and charts new paths in social activism and positive social change.

What does it mean to name a college for a social justice icon?

Flora Lu and students

That’s one of the questions to be answered Friday as UC Santa Cruz renames its social justice and community-themed college, College Ten, in a dedication ceremony open to the public at the campus’ Quarry Amphitheater. The new name: the John R. Lewis College.

For Cheru Robinson and Ethan Davis, College Ten and College Nine students, respectively, and both students of color, this moment carries a lot of weight. College Ten will be the first UCSC college named after a person of color.

“That is particularly important to me,” said Robinson, a fourth-year politics student. “And when you look at the values of College Ten, it aligns so perfectly with the goals that John Lewis sought and the ideals through which he lived his life.”

In his almost 60 years of activism, Lewis made lasting legislative marks with the passage of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and the Voting Rights Act of 1965, and served in the U.S. House of Representatives from January 1987 until his death in July 2020.

As a 23-year-old, Lewis had already become one of the “big six” civil rights leaders pushing for the desegregation of travel across the South and founding the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee. He helped organize the 1963 March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom. This work, and his 17 terms in the U.S. House, earned him the title of “conscience of Congress.”

It’s a colossal reputation to live up to. The naming gives the college recognition for the work it’s done since its founding in 2002 and also pushes it to go further, explained Sarah C. Woodside Bury, who started working at College Nine in 2001 as a coordinator for residential education. She was also part of the founding staff team for College Ten.

College Ten’s 1,500 undergraduate students are among the university’s most diverse: More than 60% grew up multilingual or speaking a language other than English. The college is UCSC’s youngest, and with its naming, College Nine becomes the last college without a name.

Each of the 10 colleges has its own theme. Among them: international and global perspectives for College Nine, environment and society for Rachel Carson College, and communicating diversity for a just society for Oakes College.

“I feel like, finally! We’re getting the recognition that College Ten deserves. I feel like the name couldn’t be better,” said Woodside Bury. “We’ve just been College Ten and right now, we’re John Lewis College. There’s some significance and some meaning that I hope will then pave the pathway forward for a more equitable, just Santa Cruz, world and community.”

As the current senior director for student life at the college, she plays a role in anything and everything from student mental health to curriculum development and the broader student experience at the college.

UCSC announced Wednesday that its youngest college will be renamed after the late congressman and civil rights icon. The...

She works closely with Flora Lu, an environmental studies professor who has served as provost for Colleges Nine and Ten since 2014. For her, it’s essential that College Ten students learn how to critically engage and question the dominant ideas that drive society and especially around social justice and power inequities.

Using a term coined by Lewis, students learn to trouble, she said, as the Good Trouble Academy takes flight at the newly renamed college. Lewis said, “Get in good trouble, necessary trouble, and help redeem the soul of America.”

“The idea of trouble as a verb is that we trouble the assumptions, the presuppositions, the dominant discourses around issues that have pertained around social justice, power dynamics and inequities,” Lu said.

As a Black student on campus, Davis says this naming is crucial.

“It’s integral that we have this happen so that we can have more change across campus,” the fourth-year molecular, cell and developmental biology student said. “There’s always more to be done. It’s very important to know that this is a naming, but we don’t want this to be a shell of underlying issues that need to be fixed.”

The naming includes a $5 million endowment, which will fund programming, courses and initiatives focused on social justice. Anonymous private donors, longtime UCSC supporters, made the donation.

At the dedication celebration on Friday, the Quarry Amphitheater will host a variety of speakers and performers including organizer and political strategist LaTosha Brown, award-winning poet Terisa Siagatonu and civil rights advocate Wisdom Cole. Siagatonu and Cole are both UCSC graduates.

Doors open at 3 p.m. and the ceremony starts at 4 p.m. with the after-party taking place from 5:30 p.m. to 6:30 p.m. The in-person event is free to the public. For parking, follow the signs once on campus. For more information, click here.

The following interview has been edited for clarity.

Lookout: How did the naming come about and what were the talks with the Lewis family like?

Flora Lu: In 2020-21, when I was on sabbatical, we heard that this was a possibility. And, of course, at that point, John Lewis had recently passed. So it was incumbent upon us not only to be really respectful and intentional about how we reached out to his family, but to do it on their timeline, and a way in which it felt really organic and felt really meaningful.

So the way that we did that was to draw upon really critical members of our community, who could reach out to members of the John R. Lewis family and community. I really have to recognize [UCSC professor emeritus and sociologist] John Brown Childs in particular. He put us in touch with the Rev. Dwight Andrews, who is from the First Congregational Church of Atlanta, and Rev. Andrews is coming on Friday. It feels really meaningful for him to come and give the blessing at the dedication celebration. Rev. Andrews put us in touch with people like Ambassador [to the United Nations] Andrew Young, and then of course Michael Collins [Lewis’ congressional chief of staff]. Our own chancellor, Cindy Larive, was also instrumental in this outreach. We really focused on communicating the work that we do here. We talked about all this work over the college’s two decades, and I think that really resonated with members of John Lewis’ family. We’ve had the great pleasure of meeting and talking with Linda Earley Chastang, who is the CEO of the John Lewis and Lillian Miles Lewis Foundation. So I think that altogether it was this group effort, and one in which I just feel really honored to have been able to participate.

Lookout: Lewis coined the term “good trouble” and now you are using that as the college is renamed. How?

Lu: Trouble is both a noun and a verb. In terms of the latter, to trouble something means to critically interrogate and deconstruct, to unsettle and unmake it, to identify and illuminate false arguments, to imagine and embody new possibilities.

I think the work that we do as academics is this sort of relentless epistemological unmaking — which means challenging what we think we know, or who the knowers are, and the implications of that knowledge. What does it look like when we uplift knowledge of our indigenous elders of communities of color, of students who are first gen? Oftentimes, their voices, their knowledge is not seen. They’re not held in great regard. And that has repercussions for what institution and the tropes and the discourses and the stories that we tell.

Here at Colleges Nine and Ten, we have something called Slug Stories, a project that we started some years ago. So that all students when they come in, in their first year, as part of core course, would write their personal narrative. We thought it was a way of having them really reflect on what it means to be in this institution. And what it’s taught us is the fact that — and while we kind of knew this, but I don’t think I knew it as viscerally — the narratives that we tell about our lives are powerful, they both open up possibilities or constrain us. For example, when you’re a student in school, you are storied. This is something my colleague Linnea Beckett, who is a scholar of education and director of the (H)ACER program, talks about. Schools tell stories about you: Are you an honor student? Or are you a remedial student? Are you a troublemaker? Are you a good student? And so those things impact us. And oftentimes we internalize that, but to actually see it as part of larger systems, of inequality, of oppression, of discrimination, to be able to have our students address those structural forces, that’s part of troubling.

Lookout: And then there are the plans taking shape for the Good Trouble Academy?

Lu: This is very much a work in progress, we have actively been in conversations and retreats with our staff and faculty to take what we have done for 20 years, what has worked well and been foundational to College Ten, and continue to build as well as envision new opportunities. In each of our different units, people are thinking about how some new connections that we can start forging both within the college between our sister college, College Nine and then on campus and beyond.

We are now taking a new look at the values and the legacy of John R. Lewis, to basically expand, adapt and enrich these opportunities.

In the past many months, we’ve been working closely with our staff to think about how we [expand] these opportunities, starting with the core courses. but then also through our student-facilitated classes. [Ones like] Social Justice Issues Workshop for College Ten, Global Action for College Nine, where students are able to work collectively to take action on some of the things that they learned about in the core course.

And then we have a whole broad range of programs, everything from the Practical Activism Conference, which will be in its 20th year, which is super-exciting. Our multicultural community weekend and intercultural community weekend. We have in the past couple of years started a new program called (H)ACER — Apprenticeship in Community Engaged Research — because we know that our students want to be engaged with the community. They come from communities, many of whom experience social inequity, economic precarity, environmental injustice. And so how do we center those lived experiences that our students carry and really acknowledge the co-production of knowledge and the “solutions” that need to happen in conversation. … The inequities of power that exist in a university setting, with communities such as, for example, Watsonville, where we have a long-standing partnership, where I’ve worked for almost a decade around issues of food justice, that is part of the work that we do with the HACER program.

Sarah C. Woodside Bury, senior director for student life at John R. Lewis College
Sarah C. Woodside Bury, senior director for student life at John R. Lewis College, discusses the college’s social justice programs and impact.
(Kevin Painchaud / Lookout Santa Cruz)

Sarah Woodside Bury: Our hope and goal is that the Good Trouble Academy elevates what students [already] participate in. The idea is that they would have a menu of options of how to get into good trouble — how to continue the learning and growth that is necessary for the kind of trouble we need to make in John Lewis’ name. We would give them some ideas that they could get involved in during their first year, second year or third year. And this Good Trouble Academy would codify and give credit to things the students are doing that often don’t get credit. They’re not appearing on a transcript or a formal document. So students have to go out there, when they’re doing job interviews and say, “Yeah, I did all these things. And then I learned all these things as a result of all of my organizing and my activism and my leadership roles.” But what we hope is that students who engage with it all four years or two years, however long they’re here, that they can say, I completed the Good Trouble Academy and this was my path towards actualizing positive change.

Lookout: Why is UCSC, located on the West Coast, well-suited for a name commemorating a Southern civil rights leader?

Ethan Davis: I think what’s important to realize is that civil rights were fought everywhere across America. For example, the Black Panthers started off, and a lot of their programs started off in Oakland, California, like People’s Breakfast. That is literally an hour and a half away from here. Huey P. Newton, one of the founders of the Black Panther Party, graduated from UCSC, in [the] history of consciousness [program]. So we do have a stake, along with every other college in this nation, a stake in civil rights advancement.

Fourth-year UCSC student Ethan Davis talks about the naming of John R. Lewis College.
(Kevin Painchaud / Lookout Santa Cruz)

In addition to that, UCSC was founded around 1966. And historically, if you look at 1966, a lot of stuff was happening in terms of civil rights and the anti-war movement. It’s been a decadeslong movement of civil rights and activism, from the start of UCSC, to where we are now.

And that also ties into the history and the work of the Black Student Union. Historically, the Black Student Union started originally in San Francisco State. The union then spread to other colleges and universities. It shows that activism is still large and central, especially in this area of California.

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