“It is our duty to fight for our people. It is our duty to win. We must love and protect each other. We have nothing to lose but our chains.”

Three times over, the hundreds of admitted UC Santa Cruz students, led onstage by alumna Eden Jequinto, echoed these words of Assata Shakur — a Black Panther fugitive and African-American rights activist — in unified chant.

The high school seniors, a mix of Latinos, African-Americans and Asian-Americans/Pacific Islanders, each had similar stories to tell: mothers who worked multiple jobs at late hours, bad neighborhoods on the wrong side of town, growing up among thugs and gangsters. Many, if not all in attendance, would be the first in their family to even consider going to college.

Jequinto is no exception. Growing up in La Puente, Calif., Jequinto said she experienced a lot of hardship as a gay Filipino woman. She watched her drunken father turn on her mother, members of her family succumb to alcohol-induced dementia and die, and at the age of eight, she began drinking. Throughout high school, Jequinto said she hated herself for being homophobic but also gay. She said the people like herself and those in the audience that evening were not victims, but survivors.

High school Seniors from troubled areas and low-resource homes are brought to UCSC to convince them to advance their education. Photo by Nick Paris.

“Remember your reason to be here,” Jequinto said. “Is it your mom who works two [or] three jobs, coming home exhausted at night to your five brothers and sisters? Is it that one teacher who finally gave a shit about you and treated you like a human being? Is it your sister, your pops? Whatever it may be, remember it, and remember the thousands of your black and brown brothers and sisters who could not be here tonight with you.”

What followed next was a proud and defiant roar — a symbolic reflection of the adversity with diversity on UC campuses — thundering and rolling its way out of the College Nine and Ten multipurpose room into the cool night air.

Across the entire UC system, various programs, initiatives and organizations are in place to encourage and support first-generation college-bound students with low-resource and low-income backgrounds to strive for higher education. Programs like the Blue and Gold Opportunity Plan, which assists low-income students with college expenses, and Educational Opportunity Programs (EOP), which connect students with a variety of academic and personal support programs, have had measurable success in this regard.

“I myself was the first in my family to go to college,” UCSC Chancellor George Blumenthal said to the crowd. “I also know the incredible pride in seeing my kids off to college. To the students that come here, we are dedicated to your success.”

But a student’s retention is dependent on more than just dollars and tutors. Establishing a sense of community — culturally, ethnically and socially — is just as critical. In this way, broad, systemwide programs can fail to provide the localized, tailored support that students need. The promotion of an ethnically diversified campus student body in a university system that has historically been predominantly white necessitates resource centers for outreach and retention.

“Students of color go to where they see the support,” said Carolyn Dunn, UCSC Ethnic Resource Center director. “A lot of these kids coming out of their communities are put into cultural isolation. But our funding could disappear next year and we’d be facing significant losses. Our budget is really tiny as it is. We won’t know how bad the damage is until we hear from the vice chancellor.”

The prospects of finding funds to support more localized programs have become strained since the $500 million budget cuts were handed down by the state to the UC system. To that end, the role that these localized ethnic resource programs play, invaluable to many, has become increasingly restrained.

Illustration by Matt Boblet.

One such resource center at UCSC is the Engaging Education Student-Initiated Outreach and Retention Center, which connects underprivileged high school students with college counseling, builds communities and establishes cross-cultural networks among UCSC students. In addition, it provides a means for educating students about empowerment, social justice and student activism.

“We look to help provide students the opportunity to come get a university education,” said Engaging Education co-chair Yesenia Ramos. “Our programs help students build connections to help with the transition from high school. Students who come in knowing people are more prone to staying. Our outreach programs target students from all over California — Pasadena, Berkeley, the Bay Area — who may come from families with low incomes, or be the first and only member of their family to go to college.”

Engaging Education, headquartered above the Bicycle Co-op in Quarry Plaza, is a support system designed and led by students, for students. As a way of addressing the low rates of recruitment, retention and graduation from historically underrepresented and under-resourced communities, Engaging Education serves an integral function in promoting a more culturally and ethnically diverse campus community.

Founded in 2003, Engaging Education, in conjunction with the Ethnic Resource Centers and the Ethnic Student Organization Council, sought to create a “safe space” for students of color and the continuation of student outreach. Until then, there had not been an establishment of a student-led organization to address the numerous racially motivated incidents on campus.

UCSC’s clashes between students and the administration over diversification stretches as far back as 1969, when students of color seized control over the first graduation ceremony, saying they were frustrated over being discriminated against and marginalized. Even after Engaging Education was formed, hate crimes, including the drawings of nooses and swastikas in bathrooms across campus, continue to happen.

However, thanks largely to outreach programs like the ones supported by Engaging Education, UCSC is beginning to see a significant increase in African-American, Asian-American/Pacific Islander and Latino undergraduate enrollment.

Of the roughly 3,500 freshmen admitted into UCSC for fall 2011, 3.2 percent were African-American, 30.3 percent Asian-American/Pacific Islander, and 25.5 percent Latino, higher rates than in previous years. In particular, the campus has seen a significant jump in its Latino enrollment — in 2000 by comparison, only 13.8 percent of students admitted were Latino.

Engaging Education’s retention programs have also yielded higher averages than that of the university itself — one such program, the Community Unified Student Network, a peer program designed to help connect and support Asian Americans/Pacific Islanders communally and academically, boasts a 92 percent first-year retention rate, compared to the campus’ 86 percent.

“The program is one of my favorite things about the campus. The enthusiasm shown, the drive of its staff — it’s truly a student program and its really great,” Chancellor Blumenthal said. “Together with the efforts of the university, we’ve made great progress on diversity.”

Engaging Education co-chair Ramos, a fourth-year politics and feminist studies double major, was influenced by Engaging Education’s outreach programs in 2007, which ultimately swayed her into coming to the university.

“I would never have thought about coming here were it not for UCSC’s [outreach] programs,” Ramos said. “None of my cousins went on to higher education, and — being a woman — it has been very hard and very interesting here. These programs are about understanding different cultural needs — not every person and every community is the same. [The programs] are very valuable and needed.”

Ethnic disparities in higher education are not just a problem for the UC system, however. Of the 1,563,069 bachelor’s degrees awarded in 2008 in the United States, 9.8 percent of them went to African-Americans, 7.9 percent to Latinos, and 7 percent to Asian-Americans/Pacific-Islanders, compared to the 71.8 percent awarded to white students, according to the National Center for Education Statistics — a statistic that has only marginally changed over the past 10 years.

Illustration by Matt Boblet.

The state of California in particular has had an ongoing struggle with maintaining a diverse campus community in its post-secondary education institutions. California’s population of over 33.8 million is 44.4 percent white, 34.9 percent Latino, 12.3 percent Asian-American/Pacific Islander, and 6.4 percent African-American, according to the State Department of Finance’s survey. Starkly contrasting that figure was UCSC’s enrolled undergraduate ethnic breakdown in the fall 2009 quarter, during which 48 percent of students were white, 17.3 percent were Latino, 16 percent Asian-American/Pacific Islander, and 2.8 percent African-American.

In 1978, in reaction to the California Supreme Court’s ban on affirmative action, then-UC president David Saxon mandated the campuses to reflect or “approximate” the racial and ethnic composition of the state’s graduating high school seniors. Since then, the UC system as a whole has failed to match that standard. The UC’s enrolled undergraduate ethnic breakdown in the fall 2009 quarter was 3.4 percent African-American, 26 percent Asian-American/Pacific Islander, and 15.3 percent Latino.

People of color continue to be underrepresented in higher education, while being overrepresented in the state’s poverty (22 percent of all American Indians in California earn incomes below the federal poverty line), incarceration (29 percent of all prisoners in California prisons are African-American), and high school dropout rates (44 percent of Latinos over the age of 25 have less than a high school diploma).

UCSC second-year Nwadiuto Amajoyi, born in Nigeria and one of five siblings, serves on Engaging Education’s Student-Initiated Outreach (SIO) board of directors. Amajoyi said the UC needs to adopt a new educational paradigm, one with a more interactive space, highlighting the present ethnic disparities at UCSC.

“UCSC is one of the whitest UCs in the system — one of the least diverse, certainly,” Amajoyi said. “When I give tours to incoming students — African-American/black, Latino, whomever — I make a point to alert them of the campus climate. I don’t want them to say things like, ‘I feel like you guys lied to me.’”

Amajoyi said the university has long misconstrued its interpretation of diversity.

“The administration interprets ‘diversity’ as diversity of perspective,” Amajoyi said. “But I would have them consider diversity of ethnicity and race as well. If it did this, diversity of perspective will naturally follow.”

Student regent-designate Alfredo Mireles said that part of the problem is the public’s perception of the UC system. The son of a hardworking mother and formerly undocumented migrant father from Mexico, Mireles said he understands the idea that a university education might appear unfeasible, if only because of its cost.

“The biggest myth about the UC system I’d like to push back is the notion that the universities are only for wealthy, elitist, white males,” Mireles said. “Most other schools are nowhere close to how well we accommodate the underprivileged — we stand head and shoulders above most other public schools.”

Mireles also said he was pleased with the UC’s capacity for providing more aid to more students in need than Ivy League institutions do. In 2004, then–Harvard president Lawrence Summers indicated that three-fourths of the students at Ivy Leagues come from the top income quartile, and only 9 percent from the bottom two quartiles combined. While Ivy Leagues may be able to completely fund their economically disadvantaged students’ education, they accept dramatically fewer students who qualify for such aid, in comparison to the UC.

The percentage of students at Harvard and Princeton who receive Federal Pell Grants is 8.4 percent and 8.5 percent, respectively, and comparably, 38.1 percent of UCLA’s students receive Pell Grant aid, according to the Education Trust. UC Berkeley and UC Davis both provide more student aid in Pell Grants than the entire Ivy League system combined.

Leading the UC’s mission to assist students with low-income backgrounds is the university’s Blue and Gold Opportunity Plan. Approved in 2009, the plan established assistance for undergraduates with financial need and household incomes below the state median of $60,000 — now $80,000 — per year. At minimum, the plan makes up the difference from federal aid to help eligible students completely cover their UC fees. With the threshold set at the state’s median income, this potentially enables half of California’s population to have their systemwide fees covered. This qualifies more than half of California’s Pacific Islander,

African-American, American Indian, and Latino population, according to median household incomes listed in the 2000 Census.

But such successes may prove to be a double-edged sword for outreach and retention efforts like those of Engaging Education. With the $500 million in budget cuts that were handed down to the UC by the state and with more on the horizon, the ability to continue funding these programs grows increasingly difficult. Paulina Raygoza, the organizing director of Engaging Education, said that while its outreach programs may have a secure source of funding, its capacity to conduct outreach to the state youth has become increasingly limited.

“Our state funding is used as a political bargaining chip,” Raygoza said. “At one point we had $81,000 from the state — now we receive less than half of that. It’s a sort of ‘we’ll give you the money if you do this’ kind of thing.”

Presently, a $5 student-approved campus fee helps fund the six UCSC Ethnic Resource Centers as well as the SIO programs — $3 to the resource centers, $1 to CARE Council, and $1 to SIO. The SIO programs, a subset of Engaging Education, attract promised funding from the Chancellor’s office each year, an amount which used to be $2 for every dollar students pay (last year the Chancellor’s funds dropped to $1.75 for every dollar paid).

As one of the campus’s strongest and most effective means of reaching out to the state, Engaging Education’s SIO programs are critical to the continued diversification of the student body. Yet with the economy in the state that it’s in and steeper cuts being handed down by the UC administration, getting high school students to and from their communities to familiarize themselves with the campus becomes increasingly expensive.

“Prices went up this year due to the budget cuts and the economy,” SIO director Amajoyi said. “We need to transport students from all across the state by bus and plane. This year, our plane tickets cost $500 more than last [year].”

Cuts made to the state’s K–12 education have also forced additional responsibilities onto SIO.

“Because of the budget cuts, a lot of the K–12 schools are not doing enough college prep work simply because they are unable to,” Engaging Education director Raygoza said. “What can we do to help fill that role? We have to think about the educational barriers that affect high school youths.”

The university’s cutting of funding to its community studies and American studies majors also is seen by some as indirectly undermining the efforts made by outreach and retention programs. Amajoyi said that cuts like this discourage African-American, Latino and Asian-American enrollment.

“These classes [that get cut] reflect the histories of our communities that would otherwise be told from a Eurocentric perspective,” Amajoyi said. “Think about it: coming out of high school, you might know a little of black history — Martin Luther King Jr., Malcolm X, slavery and a bunch of dead white presidents — but what do you know of Chicano history? Of Asian-Americans’?”

Ethnic Resource Center director Dunn said many of the students she works with major in the studies that get cut.

“We used to see quite a few community studies majors before it was cut,” Dunn said. “Now a significant majority are American studies majors or Latin American and Latino studies majors. We’re concerned with who is next. Feminist studies? LALS?”

To compensate, Engaging Education also allocates funds to teach their own five-unit courses at UC

SC. The student-led courses seek to engage UCSC students in a comfortable setting with histories and stories they may be unfamiliar with.

“The classes themselves are student-run and serve as more of a dialogue space than your standard lecture,” Raygoza said. “Everyone is their own teacher, bringing in their own stories. The class focuses more on our ethnic identities and the struggles and our ability to create change.”

Canvases painted by high school students involved in the Student Initiate Outreach program. The canvases are meant to inspire members of the students’ communities back home. Photos by Nick Paris.

In conjunction with other student staff at Engaging Education, Raygoza said that the five-unit winter and spring quarter class could not replace the absence of two entire departments.

Student regent-designate Mireles said he would do everything he could to support programs like Engaging Education, and is already lobbying for Chancellor Blumenthal to continue his promise to match SIO’s fundraising.

“I think it’s a tragedy that [the American studies and community studies] majors were cut,” Mireles said. “But the decisions made under the budgetary constraints are not about targeting any one group — the entire UC will have to reevaluate every program. It’s really all about the ability to procure external funding. But I see the importance in having Engaging Education

— for these high school kids to see students with similar backgrounds flourishing in college, it makes a world of difference.”

Closing her speech onstage, UCSC alumna Jequinto had the hundreds of admitted UCSC students abuzz with excitement over their futures at the university. Turning away from the crowd, she looked straight down and to the left, where Chancellor Blumenthal sat, and addressed him directly.

“We are ready to fight to maintain funding for programs like this, Chancellor Blumenthal,” Jequinto said. “You’ve got to trust us, you’ve got to let us do our thing, because we know what we’re doing here — I give you my word. Where I stand, there are thousands more like me ready to fight for them.”