By Brandon Wallace
Some are not aware that the Santa Cruz of today is not the same Santa Cruz of yesteryear.
The two are quite different, especially when it comes down to political affiliation and where the line stands between progressive-minded folks and those latching on to more traditional values.
The city of Santa Cruz, however, is signified by more than a mere political struggle, and politics alone do not sufficiently typify what Santa Cruz — the city and university alike — has become.
Vice-Mayor Ryan Coonerty, who has resided in Santa Cruz for a number of years, said, “UC Santa Cruz started off as a utopian idea, and pursued a social agenda.”
Keynote features of the early days of old Santa Cruz, soon after the time of California’s initiation to statehood in 1850, turned to manufacturing. Within 20 years, industries like mining and logging dwindled, but the industrial beginnings of Santa Cruz suggested an area not always in the pursuit of a liberal social agenda.
Upon the university’s conception, however, a flurry of progressive-minded students and faculty pushed out the city’s more conservative ideas that had proliferated in the earlier days of Santa Cruz.
The city had actively pursued the formation of a UC, but the repercussions and realizations of what a university would entail left others questioning.
European history professor Mark Traugott is familiar with the historical beginnings of Santa Cruz, the university, and how interaction developed between city and school.
“As people came to realize what [the university] would represent — inevitably, some difference in the form of community — that meant that there were some second thoughts,” Traugott said.
The advent of the university brought about a new group of residents, and with it a particular stigma attached itself to the Santa Cruz name.
“The town of Santa Cruz positioned itself on the progressive ideas,” said Bill Ladusaw, vice provost and dean of undergraduate education. “This also influences the campus community.”
The reputation that Santa Cruz is a principally liberal city and university was brought about after a 12- to 15-year metaphorical struggle whereby Santa Cruz the university fought to sustain itself among a principally conservative environment, Coonerty explained.
Now, however, the stereotype that UC Santa Cruz students are unwilling to listen to alternative viewpoints is not necessarily true.
“One thing I heard a lot before coming to UCSC that was false was that there would be an unwillingness to hear conservative viewpoints,” Kelly Stevens, a fourth-year politics major and spokesperson for the UCSC Republican Club, said. “This certainly applies to certain groups, but not to the campus as a whole.”
But is the stereotype true? Is Santa Cruz shut off to more conservative viewpoints?
“The stereotype is we’re a surfer town; in many ways, that’s pretty accurate. Santa Cruz is a complex place,” Coonerty said. “But just like any stereotype, it doesn’t tell the whole story.”
A New Face: Santa Cruz; City and University
Fourth-year politics major Kaitlyn Shimmin, as she put it, had a hard time “coming out.”
“Being a Republican on campus is difficult,” Shimmin, Republican Club external vice chair, said.
Shimmin explained that though she has technically been a member of the club for four years, she did not actively participate in the club until the last two years.
“When people know I’m a Republican, it feels like you’re constantly trying to prove yourself,” Shimmin said.
The hesitance of some conservatives to participate in a school known for its liberal tendencies draws on questions of college education and where the line between liberal bias and education remains.
David Horowitz, a conservative writer and activist who publicly dubbed UCSC the “worst” university in America, may have succeeded in bringing an important question to the forefront: does UCSC extend an extreme left-wing bias to liberal education?
Ladusaw said, “What a liberal education would really have students understand is learning to communicate and engage in cross-cultural differences, political differences included.”
Shimmin commented on her personal experiences at UCSC, “There is definitely an aspect of fear in the classroom; you don’t want your TA to know you’re a conservative.”
Fellow Republican Club member Stevens does not feel qualms about stating her opinions in class.
“My thoughts have reason, merit, and logic,” Stevens said. “I am very secure in my way of thinking, and I am not afraid to express my views.”
“I would say there have been a few classes where there was not space for my viewpoints to be discussed,” John Williams, a second-year student activist on campus, said.
Williams, an active member of Students Against War (SAW), maintains that UCSC’s educational standards are in sync with the subject matters being addressed.
“There are teachers at UCSC who, because of the nature of the subjects they teach, are teaching in ways that are not complementary with capitalist viewpoints,” Williams said.
Contrary to Williams’ beliefs, Ladusaw thinks conservative views are not as shunned as the Santa Cruz stereotype may have outsiders believe.
“In my opinion, students [at UCSC] are far more conservative in the terminology than people would like to give credit for,” Ladusaw said. “They are sensitive to conservative principles.”
Conservative students like Shimmin are often hesitant to reveal their political ideologies in a UCSC environment, but utilize the opportunity to give conservatism a good, and friendly, reputation.
Ladusaw explained the value of a liberal arts education when he said, “It is a general liberal arts value to get outside of yourself and to have an appreciation that the whole world is not like you.”
Outside university grounds, liberal viewpoints intermingle with the need for economic growth, and the conservative stigma that is attached to a growing business community.
To view the complex nature of Santa Cruz city, one need not look farther than Pacific Avenue. Santa Cruz is home to not only political activism, but is host to economically viable businesses, thereby demonstrating Santa Cruz’s dual ability to achieve and sustain growth alongside the desire to conserve the area’s rich natural resources.
Downtown Santa Cruz has the quintessential markings of a big city: traffic, a bus depot, buildings, and limited parking. But one thing makes Santa Cruz different: the ability to maintain a small-town feel amidst all the big business.
“Downtown is where city people come to take care of their everyday needs. It’s not just retail on Pacific Avenue,” Keith Holtaway, executive director of downtown Santa Cruz, said.
Holtaway added that downtown, which is often viewed as the hub and central location of Santa Cruz, offers over 500 professional services and businesses — a staggering number for such a small area.
“Culturally and socially it’s really important for people to have a clean and functioning downtown, and economically it’s an important revenue string for the city,” Holtaway said.
Technology and technological advancement are included in this revenue string.
Bill Tysseling, advocate for the Santa Cruz Chamber Technology Alliance (CTA), said, “Santa Cruz is a community that has a lot of creativity attached to it, and it’s been a great place for a long time for technology companies.”
UCSC has also participated in the development of new technologies, and continues to do so.
“UCSC is generating all kinds of technologists and intellectual property that is translated into commercialized products,” Tysseling said.
Next on the agenda is a new design center, which is being collaboratively worked on by the city’s task force, a group of companies, and UCSC.
The contrast between past and present is entirely debatable, but the future of Santa Cruz, city and university alike, remains an open-ended question.
“It’s a whole new group of people that is moving to Santa Cruz who honor the values that have been created and that brought everybody here, but are looking and saying ‘what’s next?’” Holtaway said.
Stevens shared her view of the changing face of UCSC when she said, “The rise in campus enrollment is leading to political diversity. There is more diversity on campus — religiously, politically, and racially.”
“When people come downtown to Santa Cruz, they see things they don’t see everywhere else,” Coonerty said. “It gives Santa Cruz a competitive edge.”
Traugott gave his view on the city’s new ideology and why it has been sustained when he said, “Eventually over time, a lot of students who came here ended up staying here and settling here and giving a different flavor to the local political scene as well.”
Larger questions, like the role of liberal education at UCSC, are often overlooked, but are nonetheless important and vital to the city and university.
Ladusaw explained the overall goal of educational requirements at UCSC when he said, “In the end, the goal of classes is not to convince someone to accept a view one way or another; it’s to ask them why they think the way they think.”
For Shimmin, it is difficult being a Republican in both the city down by the bay and the city on a hill, yet she wondered: “Would you really want to go to a place where everybody agrees with you?”