After lunch, coordinators queued popular songs like “El Caballo Dorado” and encouraged participants to dance with them. Photo by Maria Cordova

In addition to touring campus, 65 high school students learned how to identify institutional oppression and grow closer to their communities last weekend at UC Santa Cruz.  

Newly accepted high school seniors stayed on campus for three days from April 12-14 to attend the Student-Initiated Outreach (SIO) weekend. The student-initiated, student-run event is hosted annually by Engaging Education. Three groups — Oportunidades Rumbo A La Educación (ORALE), a program from Movimiento Estudiantil Chicano/a de Aztlán de UCSC (MEChA), Black Student Union’s (BSU) program, Destination Higher Education (DHE) and Bayanihan at UCSC’s program, A Step Forward (ASF) — create collaborative programming.

“I thought coming to this weekend would be like shoving [the university] down our throats, but it was nothing like that at all,” said SIO attendee Patricia Magnaye. “[The message] was more like ‘wherever you go, just grasp all of our opportunities there are,’ and that was really inspiring.”

Arriving on Friday afternoon to a welcome dinner, SIO attendees participated in workshops throughout the weekend and left campus with more knowledge of how to attain success in higher education.

Diego Leon de Jesus is a co-coordinator for ORALE and was very active in the planning process for SIO. Photo by Maria Cordova

The planning process for SIO weekend begins in October and continues until the event weekend. Current coordinators meet with past ones in order to address potential questions, said second-year Diego Leon de Jesus, co-coordinator for ORALE. Being a university student and an SIO coordinator is like a full-time job for Leon de Jesus, but he said support comes from many places in his community.

“Support comes in [the] form of advice, it comes in the form of literal and on-hand support from community members with research, planning [and] programming, it is friends buying food,” Leon de Jesus said.

Students from BSU, MEChA and Bayanihan guided potential first-years through workshops geared toward this year’s SIO theme, Identifying Layers of Oppression, Planting Seeds of Liberation

“Through our workshops, we identified [forms of] oppression, and they allowed me to identify myself in my community,” said DHE participant Thaddaeus Mammo. 

Underrepresented communities must start by looking at their cultural roots and seeing how they can grow, said UCSC second-year and ASF co-coordinator Myles Gonzales. This year’s theme was inspired by the need for new institutions, mindsets and leaders to combat oppression toward communities of color.

“The workshops further emphasize our theme because by identifying and knowing ourselves,” Gonzalez said, “we are able to understand ourselves as a community, which will help us grow into relevance and solidarity with other communities.”

Attendees appreciated that SIO weekend was not dedicated to selling UCSC to the participants. Instead, the SIO staff demonstrated all the resources and opportunities communities of color at UCSC can use to their advantage.

Diego Leon de Jesus said while not all communities of color share the same struggles in a university, they struggle nonetheless. Some shared obstacles on campus are due to colorism, racism, anti-Blackness and lack of representation.

Activities through ASF included identity, intersectionality and Pilipinx history and culture workshops. Additionally, financial aid and admissions advisors provided students with more knowledge about helpful resources on campus.

“The workshop that was really eye-opening and motivating […] was the intersectionality workshop,” said ASF participant Patricia Magnaye. “We shared our experiences and how, as people of color, we experience things differently based on our gender, family traditions and citizenship statuses.”

Pagkakaisa Dance Troupe (PDT), the traditional dance aspect housed under Bayanihan, performs the Filipino dance Imunan during the SIO collab dinner. Photo by Maria Cordova

All programs joined together for one workshop, presented by UCSC and Bayanihan alumna Marianne Cuison. The workshop focused on how communities of color can navigate systems and institutions.

“[The workshop] allows them to have dialogue on what their personal experiences are like with other students from different communities across California,” Leon de Jesus said.

The coordinators of the outreach programs said their approach outweighs the approach of advertising UCSC to potential first-years. Students have the right to be aware of the benefits and drawbacks of the university, even if it discourages them from attending. They said for students who had limited access to resources like counselors and financial aid information, educating them on the realities of the university is crucial.

“Our biggest message of the day is — whether or not they come to UCSC — that [the participants] understand that they can do it,” Leon de Jesus said. “We want to show them examples that they can do it, and ways to survive with finding a community and empower each other.”