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Cabrillo College Mulls Name Change, Citing Namesake’s Violent History

Cabrillo College’s governing board to continue exploring the change

Talks are underway to possibly change the name of Cabrillo College. PHOTO: TARMO HANNULA

In the not-too-distant future, Cabrillo College could bear a different name. 

Before that happens, however, a subcommittee of three of the college’s governing board will explore the issue in-depth, for a process that is likely to last far into the future and involve numerous people throughout Santa Cruz County.

The Cabrillo Board of Trustees met Monday to discuss the issue, which included public comments from numerous people, the majority of whom advocated for renaming the college.

The discussion came as communities nationwide are removing monuments honoring dark periods in American history, such as statues of Confederate leaders. NASCAR and the U.S. military have banned the Confederate flag.

The college’s namesake is Juan Rodriguez Cabrillo, known for exploring the West Coast of the Americas around 1542, as well as for being a murderous conqueror who enslaved and brutalized the Amah Mutsun people who lived here.

“We have our own monument, and it’s where I work,” said Cabrillo digital media instructor John Govsky. “Juan Rodriguez Cabrillo is not the type of person our college should be named after.” 

Govsky said that efforts to rename the college have been ongoing for years, with several student-led efforts fizzling as they graduated.

“Now, the timing seems right given all the antiracist sentiment in the county,” he said. 

Govsky acknowledged that renaming will likely stretch the college’s budget, but pointed out that it will not be an immediate expenditure, as the decision is likely months if not years in the future.

“There is never a good time to spend money, and the budget is always tight, but I think this is an overriding issue,” he said. “The identity of the college is so important.”

Several other buildings and roadways bear Cabrillo’s name as well, including the Cabrillo National Monument on Point Loma in San Diego, several high schools and middle schools throughout the state, various beaches, and stretches of highway along the coast.

Cabrillo computer science instructor Jeffrey Bergamini agreed that Cabrillo’s name conveys “powerful and dehumanizing messages,” but added that a name change should be supported by evidence that would justify the cost and effort.

“I would ask how a symbolic change like this is supposed to advance anything in terms of material improvements,” he said. “And I especially would ask how it would be paid for, given that it would require changing virtually all materials, both tangible and digital officially affiliated with the college.”

Former Cabrillo College student trustee Madison Raasch said she supports the renaming efforts.

“We exist on a stolen, colonized land of the Amah Mutsun tribal band,” she said. “The college needs to acknowledge how deeply inappropriate keeping the name of the institution is, given the history of the college’s namesake, which includes his profiting off the genocide, oppression and sexual exploitation of the native people.”

Trustee Ed Banks said that he studied the issue deeply, which included consulting local historian Sandy Lydon. What he learned, he said, left him with even more questions.

“I don’t discount anything that anybody said, but I am still very conflicted over a name change at this point,” he said. 

Trustee Christina Cuevas said she wants to involve as many community members as possible. 

“I think we need to respect the voices from outside that help support our college,” she said. “To have a really inclusive process as we all learn about this process.”

Likely months if not years in the future, the move, if approved, would come with a steep price, said Cabrillo President Matt Wetstein.

This includes signs throughout the Aptos and Watsonville campuses, as well as road signs, all of which are estimated to cost $1 million.

In addition, the college would have to change the college’s website, logo, letterhead and marketing materials, as well as the legal issues that come with a name change.

1 Comment

1 Comment

  1. Henry Acosta

    September 4, 2020 at 5:15 pm

    Any name changes need to be placed on the ballot so all taxpayers who support Cabrillo through their property taxes get a chance to weigh in. I personally like the name and don’t support wasting money to change the name when the money could be used for better things. I have two relatives that have taught there and one of them was an original faculty member.
    Let county voters decide or you’re going to anger thousands of county residents with wasteful spending.

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