Emily Silva grew up hours away from the nearest university, surrounded by the feeling that higher education was inaccessible. It wasn’t until she attended UC Santa Cruz’s Student Initiated Orientation (SIO) weekend that she felt welcomed on a college campus as a student of color. 

Three years later, Silva, now the coordinator for A Step Forward, and other student organizers planned the first in-person SIO event since April 2019. The event hosted 45 high school juniors from Oakland Technical High School (OTHS) to tour the  campus on April 26. The goal of SIO weekend was to inspire students of color to feel empowered on a college campus. 

“The idea that higher education is something that is far was discouraging,” said Silva. “This was the only college that reached out to me and said ‘Hey, this is free, just come and learn.’ It was amazing and I never saw any other colleges do that.” 

e2 student-initiated outreach (SIO) programs reach out to youth throughout California to encourage and support them in accessing higher education

As OTHS students were experiencing the UC system on campus, admitted students from across the country were invited to join an online event with similar information. The Zoom event on May 1 consisted of student panels and guest speakers who spoke about their experiences in higher education.  

Among these speakers was Darrick Smith, a UCSC alum and Associate Professor of Educational Leadership at the University of San Francisco. He spoke to the group about the struggles of being a person of color navigating academia and white spaces. The group also heard from Ananda Brooks, a UCSC alum who led a workshop on managing finances and the importance of understanding loans and grants. 

Both events were organized by Engaging Education (e²), a student-run space that supports under-resourced communities in their path through higher education. 

In past years, student organizations such as the Black Student Union (BSU), Movimiento Estudiantil Chicano/a de Aztlán (MEChA), and Bayanihan, led their own individual outreach events. This year, representatives of these student organizations worked collaboratively to run SIO weekend with the goal of reaching a wider demographic. 

Second-year Rainbow Theater Outreach Coordinator Sara Rose Ortiz felt that it was important to collaborate and introduce incoming students of color to spaces and groups available on campus.

“We were showing them the different organizations and communities that we have on campus. Showing them that there is a space for us,” said Ortiz. “Even though there can be a lot of racism on campus, we have to take up space to have any sort of progress.” 

OTHS students were given the opportunity to interact with a student panel of current UCSC undergraduates and alumni. They were then taken on a tour of the campus in smaller groups led by SIO coordinators. 

Organizers of SIO weekend all shared the same passion of wanting to make the event memorable for visiting students. Coordinators had to find and carve their own spaces within the institution, so sharing these resources was important to them. 

“Historically speaking, this university, and colleges in general, weren’t available for us. They weren’t built for us. They weren’t made for us,” said Tyler Kanoho, third-year student and Motivation Conference Coordinator. 

Walking through areas like the Media Theater and McHenry Library, Kanoho was able to witness the excitement of the students in his group.

“When we had these kids come, they were all amazed. They were like, ‘This place is freaking cool. Y’all have this and that,’” Kanoho said. “Seeing how appreciative they were of us hosting that experience for them was something really special for me.”

This article is part of a CHP backlog, it was originally written during the week of May 9.