Ethnic organizations on campus have been at the forefront of integral institutional change for student life. These groups challenge the status quo and work to ensure the safety and care of students of color. 

Of the expansive list of cultural and identity collectives on campus, the longest-standing ethnic organizations are known as the Big Five. City on a Hill Press spoke to student leaders of the Big Five about student agency, representation, and what it means to be a student of color at UC Santa Cruz.  

Some responses have been edited for brevity. 

Black Student Union (BSU)

Why is it important for BSU to exist at UCSC?

Egypt Chin (she/her), fourth-year, BSU Co-Chair: The existence of BSU at an institution like UC Santa Cruz is a continuation of legacies and the incessant efforts of Black students fighting for the right to education. The organization has stood as a political body that has been able to be a mouthpiece for African, Black, and Caribbean (ABC) students while providing them support where the administration can tend to fall short. BSU is a resource for Black students that can’t be replicated; peers come together and care for each other in a way that builds and expands on the previous generations’ work.

Why did you decide to join BSU? 

Kendra Corbray (she/her), third-year, BSU Co-Chair: I’ve always been drawn to Black affinity spaces, and I was active in my high school BSU. I saw the opportunity to join BSU at UCSC as an avenue to be with folks and remind one another what it feels like to be ourselves. As a Black student in a predominately white institution (PWI), to feel like you’re constantly swimming against the current is exhausting. People who have always had the right to space can never imagine what it’s like to not have that right. For me, attending BSU general body meetings is about recognizing that the healing, learning, and support needed to navigate adversity is best achieved in spaces where no one feels alone. BSU makes me feel seen, valued, and respected.

What advice would you give to underrepresented students entering UCSC?

Airielle Silva (she/they), third-year, BSU Co-Chair: To any students coming from underrepresented communities, this University is supposed to serve you—you are not supposed to serve it. The UC system was not made for our folks to succeed, so I urge you to get involved in spaces like the Big 5, the Cultural Arts and Diversity Resource Center, engaging education, and more that support your existence and fruition at UCSC.

To get involved, contact

Asian/Pacific Islander Student Alliance (APISA) 

In what ways has being part of APISA affected your relationship with your identity?

Zac Nakamura (he/him), fourth-year, Co-Chair: Being a part of APISA has really helped me reflect on my identity, not only within the university but within society. Being able to communicate with people within the organization about our struggles about our identity has opened up new perspectives about my own identity that I didn’t have before. It has allowed me to feel comfortable opening up and sharing personal struggles with my identity without feeling ashamed.

Why is it important for APISA to exist at UCSC?

Kalea Bantilan, (she/her), fourth year, Co-Chair: It’s important for APISA to exist at UCSC, because there needs to be a safe space where AA/PI students can be supported, validated, and cared for. We talk about issues that our community is facing and we explore the intersectionality of those issues. There are not many spaces on campus that are willing to address and unpack these issues, so it’s crucial that we make space for students to be able to talk about the real things that are impacting their lives. APISA is also one of the very few spaces on campus that is aimed towards supporting Pacific Islander students. 

What are your goals for the organization in this upcoming year?

Zac: Continue to provide a community for those on campus who don’t feel welcome at UCSC. We also hope to continue to find ways to hold spaces of intimate and critical dialogue for those in our community about our cultures. 

To get involved, contact

Student Alliance of North American Indians (SANAI) 

Ezekiel Salazar (he/him), fourth-year, Co-Chair 

Airielle Silva (she/they), third-year, SANAI Core 

In what ways has being part of SANAI affected your relationship with your identity?

Alex Galvan (she/her/ella), fourth-year, Co-Chair: I am grateful for the diverse, welcoming, and energetic community of SANAI and its members. To me and for many others, it feels like one of the few true safe spaces on campus for Black, Indigenous, People of Color (BIPOC) students where varying identities and backgrounds can be embraced.

Why is it important for SANAI to exist at UCSC? 

Airielle Silva (she/they), third-year, SANAI Core: The Indigenous student body at UCSC is appallingly low; only about 0.6 percent (fall 2022 statistic) of Indigenous students make up the [undergraduate] campus population. SANAI has and needs to exist to ensure that the needs of Indigenous students are met while also providing a space to create and sustain community.

CHP: What are your goals for the organization in this upcoming year?

Ezekiel Salazar (he/him), fourth-year, Co-Chair: With more and more Indigenous creatives and activists breaking barriers, we hope to share their work and achievements with our campus community and invoke hope for the future. We want our members and others interested in SANAI to feel empowered and inspired this year!

To get involved, contact


Apolo Lagance (he/him), fourth-year, Co-Chair

Danielle Padama (she/her), fourth-year, Co-Chair

Diana Celebrado (she/her), fourth-year, Co-Chair

What advice would you give to underrepresented students entering UCSC? 

Diana Celebrado (she/her), fourth-year, Co-Chair: Take space and make space!! There are more of us than it seems, so find strength through empowering others and gaining power through unity. Joining organizations that embrace your identity is essential and provides you with the resources that institutions at times fail to provide. Take advantage of the resources established by our predecessors and continue to pave the way for those who follow.

Why did you decide to join Bayanihan? 

Danielle Padama (she/her), fourth-year, Co-Chair: Joining Bayanihan has provided a strong sense of community and belonging that I didn’t have in my first year being online due to COVID. It made me realize how important it is to surround yourself with people who cannot only just relate to you culturally, but also on a deeper level that both strengthens and challenges you.

What does being a person of color mean to you in higher education? 

Apolo Lagance (he/him), fourth-year, Co-Chair: For me, being a person of color in higher education means being the elephant in the room a lot of the time, especially when universities and colleges nationwide fail to listen to BIPOC when we voice the needs and perspectives of our communities. Diversity in higher education can help bring awareness to underrepresented groups on campus, help them receive support, and facilitate unity within the campus community. Now, with recent legislation making it harder to gain more representation in higher education, our presence here becomes even more important.

To get involved, contact

Movimiento Estudiantil Chicanx de Aztlán (MEChA de UCSC)

Jennifer Abrego Ruiz, (she/her/ella), fifth-year, (Chair of MEChA de UCSC)

Why is it important for MEChA to exist at UCSC? 

Jennifer Abrego Ruiz, (she/her/ella), fifth-year, (Chair of MEChA de UCSC): In an institution where students have worked endlessly to create spaces for student representation, MEChA exists to ensure student agency is used to its full potential. MEChA has created an empowering and supportive community where I am constantly reminded about the importance of educating ourselves. Knowledge is power, and through active and insightful conversations, we gain tools to resist the different systems of oppression. We have dedicated ourselves to create a brave space to continue to uplift our communities. In MEChA we are always transformando en comunidad.

What does it mean to you to be a person of color in higher education? 

Jennifer: As a person of color in higher education, I will face a lot of obstacles that not all of my peers will face. There will be times where I will face financial burden, food insecurity, academic probation, imposter syndrome, and microaggressions. In those times, I will need to remind myself that I am doing what I can to pursue my passion. When times have gotten rough, I remember that I have myself and a community that supports me at all times. As a person of color, remember that you are the whole package; you are equipped with the strength to resist adversaries, so use that to your advantage to root for yourself and others who are in the same boat as you.

What does student leadership mean to you? 

Jennifer: Student leadership means remembering that, as a student, I possess skills that can be used for a bigger purpose. It involves brainstorming ways to better the student experience in a PWI, bringing awareness to issues impacting our communities on and off-campus, and actively engaging on ways to be the voice and representation of our student body. Student leadership is about aiming to end the cycles. It’s a reminder that I am more than just a student. I am also a human being working to achieve justice and equity.

To get involved, contact

Editor’s Note: UCSC is not statistically a PWI because its student body is not over 50 percent white. However, the City of Santa Cruz’s population stands at 69.2 percent white.