Pride for Oakes College ran thicker than blood at the “Is Oakes Really Ghetto as Fuck?” community forum last week.The forum was held in response to the feature article “What College Are You From?” printed in the March 5 issue of City on a Hill Press. The article focused on stereotypes that pervade the colleges at UC Santa Cruz, with Oakes at the center of the debate about race.
Most controversially, a fifth-year student from Stevenson was quoted saying, “Oakes is ghetto as fuck!” The quote upset many readers and members of the campus community and within days of publication, a Facebook group was created with over 200 members condemning the attitudes expressed in the article.
Oakes students, neighborhood assistants (NAs), and faculty filled the forum at the Oakes Guzman room for an open dialogue regarding the racial tensions and stereotypes centered on the college. The discussion started with introductions as students recalled stories about why Oakes became their college of choice.
Second-year Oakes student Nhi Truong’s eyes welled up with tears as she spoke about what Oakes means to her.
“It may not be as pretty as College Eight, but it has people with open arms, which was new to me,” Truong said.
As stories were told, students revealed many different ideas of what they thought Oakes would be like before moving in, and what has come out of living there since.
“Here’s what I learned about what a true community is: You can wave at somebody you don’t know [at Oakes] and they’ll wave back,” said second-year Tiffany Loftin, an NA for the Beaco residential building at Oakes.
Though students gave many reasons for choosing Oakes, each one agreed that they never once regretted their decision and that Oakes is special because of the family feel it has and the strong community that it identifies with.
“The people I met at Oakes are the ones that make me feel comfortable here,” Truong said. “It’s my family and when someone speaks badly about my family, it hurts.”
The diverse demographics and tight-knit community at Oakes come from a long history of supporting disadvantaged students and combating racial barriers. The structure and ideals that formed Oakes in 1972 came as a direct response to concerns that surfaced in the United States in the mid-1960s.
In 1968, the Santa Cruz Black Liberation Front issued demands for Oakes to be a black college in focus, emphasis and demographic. Instead, an ethnic studies college — one that would include the studies of historically marginalized groups in California — was proposed and passed.
“There’s stereotypes for every college, but Oakes is the ‘ghetto’ one,” Loftin said. “What does that mean, to be ghetto? People obviously don’t know what ghetto is. Are colored people in a community what people see as ghetto? If that’s what ghetto means, I embrace it.”
Throughout the forum, the overarching theme was that the Oakes community recognized the stereotypes that they were all faced with as residents. The participants also took a proactive stance on the situation, discussing how they could change the negative stigmas.
“People really care about this,” Truong said. “That’s why we’re here, despite being busy or that it’s a school night — to support Oakes and see what can be done.”
As far as changing the way other students see Oakes, the community forum determined one of the best things to do in light of expressed stereotypes was to continue to be true to themselves and uphold the tradition of strong leadership and a solid family-based community.
“I want to brand myself with ‘Oakes,’” Loftin said as she pretended to stamp her forehead. “So that every time I do something good, people will say, ‘Oh, she’s from Oakes.’”