Name Exploration Subcommittee
Overview of Cabrillo College
Name Exploration Subcommittee
In July 2020, Cabrillo College received a request to rename the college in response to widespread social unrest in the United States and critical analysis of the namesake of the college, Juan Rodriguez Cabrillo. The request came at an important historical moment, with many in society beginning to question the historical legacy of slavery, colonial exploitation, and the naming of institutions after individuals with historical ties to those immoral practices. Cabrillo College is not alone. Other institutions of higher education like Yale, Princeton, University of California at Berkeley, and George Washington University are and have been struggling with the same issues: who and how they were named, what names are appropriate for college buildings, and what impact can the legacy of a name have on students who are served by our institutions. A process has been developed by the College Governing Board’s Name Change Exploration Subcommittee to address this moment in time and to assist the College’s Governing Board with its decision of reviewing and potentially renaming the College.
The Board of Trustees took action to establish a board subcommittee on July 20, 2020. The subcommittee is composed of Trustees Christina Cuevas (chair) and Adam Spickler, and student Trustee Amidia Frederick. In September of 2020, the subcommittee called for the creation of a Name Exploration Advisory Task Force to help the subcommittee solicit widespread community stakeholder input; develop community education and engagement strategies; and examine the costs and resource implications of changing the college's name. Appointments to the Advisory Task Force included a faculty member, classified staff member, management representative, student members, Cabrillo College retirees, and a representative of the Cabrillo College Foundation. In the fall of 2020, the Advisory Task Force met several times with a focus on reviewing naming principles and guidelines from other institutions of higher education. This document serves as a by-product of the Advisory Task Force’s work to date.
Throughout November 2020, the Name Exploration Advisory Task Force reviewed guiding principles developed at other colleges nation-wide who undertook a name change consideration process. Based on this and other research conducted, the Advisory Task Force compiled, reviewed and pared down a list of thoughtful guiding principles it recommends for use by the Name Exploration Subcommittee in its effort to determine whether the name of the college should be changed or not.
The Advisory Task Force recommends that decisions related to renaming the college or campus facilities should be undertaken in exceptional circumstances, where reasons are substantive and are justified through a comprehensive and inclusive community vetting process. The process should consider the impact of renaming on the communities the college serves and should acknowledge and assess the complexity of the relevant history and historical context. It should be centered on a research-based approach that distinguishes fact from opinion and should protect free and open inquiry. These principles can also be adapted to other processes where developing or changing a name or substantial aspect of the college is requested for consideration.
Mission and Values
- The college should align the processes and actions for considering a name change with components of the college’s mission and vision statements, including:
- Empowering students to be responsible world citizens
- Promoting a commitment to quality and equity
- Fostering diversity and equal opportunity
- Emphasize historically underrepresented and emerging student populations and maintain our responsibility to serving a diverse group of students as a Hispanic Serving Institution.
- Maintain an education-driven process that centers on faculty and students, and that strives to educate the internal campus community as well as the broader community within the entire district.
- Undertake the work with both intellectual rigor and compassion for the individuals who will be affected by the decisions of the change requested.
- The process should be transparent and should encourage the free exchange of ideas during all deliberations.
- Consider the benefits and/or harms of how a decision to keep or to change the name of the college might impact the college’s reputation, student enrollment, employee/faculty hiring, donor contributions, etc., while acknowledging that differences may arise.
- Model the behaviors of listening, truth-seeking and respect.
- Be committed to finding and highlighting the shared values at the core of all perspectives held.
- Demonstrate a commitment to equity by guarding against any stakeholder group using their influence to overpower the viewpoints of other stakeholder groups.
- Strive for consensus wherever possible and to rise above opinion-based or shortsighted positions.
Relevant History and Research
- Explore all relevant history in a deliberate and visible manner, rely upon scholarly expertise, and utilize the variety of perspectives that exist in historical examination.
- Honor and respect the process, reasoning and intent as to how the name was originally selected, while also recognizing what the name represents today and what it might mean in the future.
- Research whether other entities named “Cabrillo” are considering a name change, and if so, seek information on what their process and education has been.
- Recognize the ways in which systems of inequality have historically impacted specific groups of people.
Outreach and Engagement with Stakeholders and the Community
- Embrace the role of the college as a training ground for citizens and future leaders.
- Establish credibility in the process through meaningful outreach and educational efforts.
- Identify groups within the college and in the community that have an interest in the name.
- Invite widespread input from all interested members of the community in a structured and considerate way.
- Treat the process as an opportunity for community-wide learning that draws on scholarly expertise.
- SUMMER 2020Petition requesting name change received by Board of Trustees
- SUMMER 2020Board Name Change Exploration committee is established to study key issues
- FALL 2020Board Committee establishes Name Change Advisory Task Force with representatives of students, staff, faculty, alumni, and Foundation
- FALL 2020Task Force and Committee engage in Information gathering, review of other colleges, and development of guiding principles
- EARLY SPRING 2021Faculty and students develop educational assignments related to possible name change
- SPRING 2021Committee review of costs and benefits of possible name change
- SPRING 2021Community forums for education and stakeholder engagement and input
- LATE SPRING 2021Essay and art competition for students related to possible name change
- SUMMER 2021Possible survey of community members and completion of education and engagement efforts
- SUMMER 2021Committee develops report for the full Board on possible name change
- FALL 2021Recommendation made to the full Board is considered
Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)
Juan Rodriguez Cabrillo is famous for his expedition along the coast of California in 1542, the first European and oldest written record of the west coast of the now United States. His accounts of the expedition noted visits to native villages, descriptions of flora and fauna, and efforts to find a suitable location to establish settlements. His namesake is associated with the Cabrillo National Monument on Point Loma, adjacent to the San Diego Bay, a site he “discovered” and named San Miguel during his expedition. In 1543 he died from gangrene after suffering a leg wound on Santa Catalina Island off the coast of California. Cabrillo amassed a large sum of wealth and property, in large part through the use of slave labor in Guatemala that resulted from the conquest of Mexico and Central America under Spanish military expeditions and his taking of land titles in the Spanish “encomienda” system. At the time of his death, Cabrillo had one of the richest estates in Central America. Cabrillo’s birthplace is the subject of some dispute among historians, although most authoritative accounts attribute his birth to Spain. The Portuguese government and most historians from that country still identify him as one of their own, and two villages in that country claim him as their native son. Cabrillo is a controversial figure today because of his role in the conquering armies of Cortes and because his expedition set the stage for colonial conquest of California and the subjugation of natives who had lived in this region for centuries.
In the mid-20th Century, Portuguese civic clubs in the state of California promoted Cabrillo as a historic figure who had “discovered” California. These clubs were populated by European-Americans who had come to California, with a history of celebrating the “pioneer stock” and expeditionary attributes of explorers like Cabrillo, much to the detriment of indigenous people. These clubs were successful in lobbying the state legislature to establish a Cabrillo Day in California (September 28, the supposed day he discovered San Diego Bay), and in 1957 the Legislature passed a resolution attaching the name Cabrillo Highway to Highway 1 in various parts along its route. Not long after that designation, the college’s initial bond measure was passed by local voters. According to Donald Thomas Clark, the name of Cabrillo College was suggested by Santa Cruz Sentinel writer Wally Trabing right around the time the college’s creation was being debated. The Board of Trustees selected the name at its first official board meeting in March of 1959. The Board’s selection of the name had the advantage of not identifying any particular geographic location, such as Aptos or Santa Cruz College.
Cabrillo’s legacy as a conquistador and landowner in the Spanish encomienda system means that his rise to power and privilege came at the expense of conquering the indigenous people of Central America and Mexico. His economic gain came at the expense of hundreds of slaves that he used in his farming, gold mining, and ship building enterprises in Guatemala. Cabrillo also fathered children with indigenous women before marrying his Spanish wife Beatriz.
The accumulation of his wealth and power makes Cabrillo a notorious historic figure for some. While Eurocentric interpreters of history find stories of conquest and power to be a reflection of the spoils of war, conquest, and in some cases, manifest destiny, those who are on the losing side of history see them as the ill-gotten gains of colonial power-seekers. Advocates of changing the college’s name point out that to attach the name of a person like Cabrillo to a college or university associates certain negative attributes with the college, resulting in a degradation of the college’s reputation that should be removed. The movement to remove the name has grown particularly strong in the wake of race-conscious controversies in the U.S. and Europe. As a result, colleges and universities are researching and examining the morally blameworthy acts of their namesakes, attempting to rid their institutions of associations with slaveholders or those who espoused racist views.
Recent examples include name changes at School of Law at UC Berkeley, the removal of Woodrow Wilson’s name from the School of Public and International Affairs at Princeton, and Yale University’s decision to rename Calhoun College.
The College has initiated a process to examine the Cabrillo name controversy, using other institutions of higher education as examples of how this process can be undertaken. The college’s process includes a board appointed subcommittee of two elected officials, Christina Cuevas and Adam Spickler, and student Trustee Amidia Frederick. Assisting the committee is an advisory task force with representatives from the faculty, staff, management, and students of the college, along with retirees of Cabrillo and a representative of the Cabrillo College Foundation. The committee and task force have reviewed the values and guiding principles used at other institutions and proposed their own set of guidelines for the Cabrillo College Name Exploration process. The process is designed to engage in community input, education, engagement, and exploration of the costs and benefits of making a change or keeping the name as Cabrillo College. The spring semester of 2021 will feature a number of opportunities for students and community members to learn about Cabrillo, how the College received its name, and to provide stakeholder input into the College’s name exploration process. Ultimately, the committee will make a recommendation or set of recommendations to the Board of Trustees, but not until a community education and engagement process is completed. While the process may seem laborious to some, it is designed to provide guidelines for other future controversies around names or historical items. Plus, we’re an educational institution and it is important that the College work to educate the community on these kinds of issues.
The Board committee and task force have entered the name exploration process from a perspective that places a value on research, broad inquiry, and community education. A starting point is taking an approach that recognizes we are not the first to handle such a controversy and there is much to be learned by following the paths of others. By examining the steps taken by other colleges, we gain from their understanding and the potential mistakes that they might have made.
The guiding principles developed in the current process can help the College make decisions about future controversies. The Board committee’s work is designed to create a road map for any name or icon that might come into question. Those future decisions will be made on a case by case basis, using principles and values that shape the current Name Exploration Committee’s work.
In the spring of 2021, various web-based public forums will be held that offer an opportunity to provide comments and feedback to the Name Exploration Committee. If you are unable to attend those webinars, they will be recorded and posted at this website for future viewing at your convenience. The college has also set up an email account that can receive community feedback: email@example.com.
The financial costs to the College are not yet known – this is one of the projects the Board committee will explore. Real, tangible costs would result from changing things like campus signs, road signs, letterhead, stationery, business cards, athletic uniforms, and other printed collateral material that the college produces on an annual basis. These tangible costs could run as high as a half-million dollars to $1 million. There are other intangible costs to changing the name (and keeping the name of Cabrillo). Intangible costs are reflected in things like losses or gains in reputational prestige, the possibility of withdrawn donations from consistent sponsors who are disappointed by the change, orthe loss of future students or potential staff who do not like the current college namesake. These impacts are obviously harder to quantify, but real nonetheless.
NPS Juan Rodriguez Cabrillo National MonumentThere are several good, accessible websites that discuss the life of Juan Rodriguez Cabrillo. A few are listed here. Other scholarly approaches can be found from authors Harry Kelsey (1986) and Wendy Kramer (1994, NPS Juan Rodriguez Cabrillo National Monument2019) mentioned earlier in this FAQ document.