“Makibaka! Huwag Matakot! Dare to struggle, don’t be afraid.” 

This Tagalog revolutionary call embodies the truth of organizing, and the difficulty and cost at which it comes. 

“Things won’t always be easy, but do not be afraid because you are in community with the other people who are sharing your struggle,” said Ino, a third-year student organizer and one of the student coordinators of CRES 45, the Pilipinx Historical Dialogue class. 

CRES 45 and CRES 70B, Black Radical University?, are the two student-run classes being offered this quarter in the Critical Race and Ethnic Studies (CRES) department at UC Santa Cruz. 

In lectures, students dictate their own learning, wielding the power to validate and share the stories surrounding their identities.   

Christine Hong, the department chair of CRES and director of the Center for Racial Justice, traced the origins of the student-led model to the American studies department. Pre-dating CRES, the American studies department struggled to marry its internal split, with one aspect that focused on white historical figures and events and another side focused on ethnic studies. 

In response, students initiated courses focused on specific interests and ethnicities that were otherwise not represented. Because these were offered as group independent studies, each student petitioned individually to the Academic Senate every quarter for the course to count toward a GE requirement, where they were met with inconsistent approval. 

After a near-decade of organizing and persevering through such processes, students’ efforts have materialized in student-led courses in the CRES department. 

Pilipinx Historical Dialogue Class

Student coordinators Matthew Ray Lim, Azo Guiz, and Ino lead CRES 45 which explores the history and socio-political aspects of Pilipinx communities as well as Pilipinx and Pilipinx-American activism. 

Coordinators of this class are also required to be core members of Bayanihan, the student-led Pilipinx ethnic organization at UCSC. 

Lim, who was enrolled in the class in the spring of 2021, spoke on the impact that the course had on him. 

“Teaching should always be a learning experience for both the teacher and the students, [without] hierarchies,” said Lim. “By having a class about the history from the Pilipinx perspective, we decolonize the history that we’ve been taught.” 

This space, and ones like it, hold necessary discussions and networks of support that are built upon the dedication of prior students who have organized for representation and ownership of their identities. 

Matthew Ray Lim (he/him) stands next to the mural of Larry Itliong next to Oakes Cafe. Larry Itliong was a prominent Filipino-American labor organizer who was most notably known for being the forefront of the Delano Grape strike.

Despite California’s largest Asian demographic being Pilipinx, Bayanihan being the largest of the “Big Five” ethnic organizations on campus, faculty research has not been conducted in Critical Pilipinx Studies on the UCSC campus.

Even so, this class has set precedent for other student-led classes in the CRES department.

Black Radical University?

In the works for two years, Black Radical University? became a reality this spring with the support of coordinators from the Pilipinx historical dialogue class who are familiar with the bureaucratic legwork of getting a student-led class authorized. The class focuses on student-organizing, and highlights the past Black-student powered changes enacted on campus.

The course is led by student coordinators Vesper Carney-Demmon, the Vice President and CRES liaison for the Black Student Union (BSU), X Starr, the BSU President, and Andrea del Carmen “Dre” Vasquez, a graduate student in both the education and CRES departments. 

Guided by discourse and critical thinking about what makes a movement, the class outlines the importance of student-organizing and student voices. 

Being a student-organizer himself, Starr spoke on their involvement in this class and the necessity for student leaders on campus. 

“I feel like I have a calling to give back in a way,” Starr said. “I want to give students a chance to learn about organizing and what we go through, just so that they can understand that student organizing takes a lot of you, but can be empowering.”

Student organizations, like BSU, have led significant change on campus. The departmentalization of CRES, the survival of SOAR, and the creation of the Black Studies minor are all products of student work. 

Junebug Sonnenberg, a second-year student involved in African American Theater Arts Troupe and treasurer of the Cultural Arts and Diversity Resource Center (CAD), spoke on the appeal of this class given their experience on campus. 

“In the time that I’ve been here, the university has spit in my face proving that they do not care about me, or Black people or people of color generally on this campus unless it makes them look good,” said Sonnenberg. “But it’s really nice to be able to look back at that work that other student organizers have done and use their work to proceed forward in a way that makes sense.”

Legacy of Student-Led Courses 

Students’ autonomy and agency are validated and nourished through these courses. This is especially true for students of color, who make up about 60 percent of the student body under a 67 percent white faculty. 

The expansion and formalization of the student-led course structure has translated into filled-to-capacity CRES courses in which students are reportedly seeking more spots, even with a current lack of mention in regards toko the student-led contribution in the class description.

Despite the popularity of these classes, Dre Vasquez alluded to a lack of incentive for students to take on the challenge of being coordinators. It is a 10-unit commitment for students to teach a class, and with the cap on how many credits one can take in a quarter, it leaves only a few credits left going toward graduation and major requirements.

CRES 70B does not fulfill GE requirements for those taking it, and both classes can only be taken pass/no pass.

Ino shared how these hindrances reflect the university’s views of student organizing, stating, “It’s very obvious that the university sees the value in [the classes], because it benefits their image. But at the same time, they feel threatened by it in ways because it’s offering students more agency to take control of their curriculum.”

Students intervening in their own education both in the past and now has resulted in tangible change. Student-organized curriculum is its own form of student agency that has led to open discussion and the decolonization of history. 

“Struggling together is really how you deepen your bond with others, because you understand that the struggles you face under oppressive systems are linked to one another,” said Ino. “Your liberation from those struggles are tied to finding community and organizing with that community.”

This piece was part of a CHP backlog, it was originally written during the week of May 1.