Not a Moment, But a Movement

From a protest in Benson in 1969 to a multi-decade movement called Unity, students of color have consistently pushed SCU toward progress.

Scu Race Opener Final

Kennedy Myers ’20 wasn’t sure what she was looking at when she picked up the letter from a stack of boxes. There was no cover sheet or context, no author listed. Just six typed pages from University Archives with the words “Multicultural Center” written in pencil at the top.

The letter, she found out later, was actually a speech given by Bob Senkewicz, then-vice president of Student Services, at the opening of the Multicultural Center in 1986. Senkewicz was initially a reluctant supporter of the center’s creation but, through his work with students, became an advocate.

In the speech, Senkewicz spoke of the importance of the center and the activism of students. He closed with a story of Black scholar Richard R. Wright, who once traveled to Oxford to disprove a historian who said the contributions of Black people were insignificant. Wright, unsure he was successful, concluded he did the best he could for his day.

Senkewicz closed with a similar message to the students: “May whoever is here—your younger brothers and sisters, and (the time will eventually come) your daughters and sons—be able to look back at us and say, ‘They did the best they could for their day.’”

The words felt personal to Myers. She wondered how much had really changed from a generation ago. Thirty-five years after the letter was typed, students of color at Santa Clara face many of the same challenges. Black students in particular still make up just 3 percent of the student body. There are only 17 Black full-time faculty out of 564. Resources for groups supporting students of color often seem insufficient.

That feeling of doing the best you can and worrying it isn’t enough? Myers felt that.

Becoming director of the MCC wasn’t part of Myers’ plan. She didn’t even expect to join a Black organization in college. But often the only Black person in class at Santa Clara, she faced constant microaggressions and felt pressure to prove she belonged. In her major, political science, there was only one Black faculty member and she left before Myers could take her class. “It was this isolation within a group,” Myers says. “I was in a class full of people, but I felt like I was alone.”

Two quarters in, Myers found the Black student group Igwebuike, meaning “in unity there is strength.” The club provided “cultural therapy” when she encountered racism on campus—when a white classmate muttered “affirmative action” when a teacher called on her instead of him or when a Black friend was shunned by white students for reporting being called a racial slur.

Still, it was hard work and the victories small. As a senior, Myers wanted to take a break but when MCC needed a director, she took the job. Anxious about the role, she went to the archives to learn more about MCC. That’s when she found the speech. The people she encountered during that research helped her better understand the fight she was in and why all progress, slow as it might be, is important. The work is still exhausting, but finding the speech helped.

“If they were tired and still fought, then I can be tired and still fight,” Myers says. “It helps to know you’re not alone in feeling this way.”

SCU has a history full of students of color working through exhaustion—from protests in the 1960s to the calling out of racist social media posts. They pass a powerful legacy of protest on to today. Here are some of their stories.


Benson Protest, January 17, 1969

To make change sometimes you have to make people uncomfortable, and Walter Myles ’70 had a way of making white students at Santa Clara uncomfortable.

Walter was quiet as a rule, but if you gave him a microphone, friend Alvin Gay ’70 says, he got people’s attention. It was Walter’s convictions that made people listen. And that’s when tensions heightened.

“He told people the truth,” Gay, who served as the Black Student Union’s minister of information, says, “and the truth wasn’t always easy to hear.”

Campuses in the Bay Area were hotbeds for activism in 1969. American soldiers were still in Vietnam. A year earlier, Martin Luther King Jr. was assassinated. The Black Panthers were active in Oakland, while police turned bayonets on protesters at San Francisco State. In October 1968, activist Eldridge Cleaver, who had been appointed (and blocked by Governor Ronald Reagan) to teach an experimental course at UC-Berkeley, was invited to speak at Santa Clara. He and his wife, Kathleen, had wine and cheese with the Jesuits before Eldridge delivered a speech in Benson proclaiming, “We are going to be part of the regeneration of the world or part of its destruction.”

Racism at Santa Clara wasn’t exactly the same as other parts of the country. It was more an underlying feeling, Peter Shiver ’70 says.

In 1965, Shiver was part of a group of seven Black students—six men, one woman—enrolled in an effort to diversify campus. Shiver had friends, but he never felt truly accepted. “As an African American I walk into a place, there are certain vibrations you get as to whether you are welcomed or you’re tolerated,” he says. “At Santa Clara, it was more tolerated as opposed to welcomed.”

Alana Myles ’70, Walter’s girlfriend and later wife, describes it as an invisibility. “When others would get together to study in the dorms, I was never invited to be part of that,” she says.

Walter, who died in 2007, grew up in low-income neighborhoods in San Francisco. His mother worked in a cafeteria and his father at a warehouse. He saw the struggle of Black people first-hand and wanted to help.

By fall 1968, he and students like Mike Gonzalez ’71 began organizing the Black Student Union (now Igwebuike), eager for an opportunity to make change.

That opportunity came in the form of an article in the Jan. 10, 1969, edition of The Santa Clara. Titled “SC’s Deprived Get Tutorials and English 6,” the story announced a class and tutoring program for students of certain “socioeconomic backgrounds” who were “functionally illiterate.” The story read: “They do not understand what they read. They take notes in class, but they cannot relate those notes to what they know.”

Walt Myles
Walter Myles ’70 in The Santa Clara. / Photo courtesy SCU Archives.

The article was inaccurate—the program was for all students—but printed as more Black and Hispanic students were enrolling, the subtext was clear.

On Jan. 17, about 30 students—including Walter and Shiver and leaders from the BSU, Students for Democratic Action, and the Mexican-American Students Confederation—walked into Benson at dinner and set up a microphone. Each group spoke—David Bajada ’70 for SDA, Rudy Madrid ’71 for MASC, and Walter—declaring “non-negotiable demands,” including the right to review student newspaper stories about minority students, and Black and Chicano history courses.

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Melvin Lewis ’53 was the first black student at Santa Clara in 1948 but there weren’t many in the years following. Walter Myles ’70 (on mic) and Peter Shiver ’70 (right) state their demands at the 1969 protest in Benson./ Photo courtesy SCU.

In the weeks following, University President Thomas Terry, S.J., met with the students. Meetings weren’t always productive—Walter and other students walked out of one. In a letter to the student newspaper, the President wrote that “non-negotiable demands are out of place at Santa Clara.” The students won: An editorial assistant of color started at the newspaper, space and money were provided to the SDA, and a course on Mexican-America history was added to the catalog.

Conversations on race continued: Student government pledged $10,000 for minority scholarships. The Board of Regents hosted student panel discussions on racism and started the process to create an ethnic studies program. But “Walter felt, at that time, it wasn’t enough,” Alana says. Looking back, Shiver says protestors had the wrong focus to enact lasting change. They viewed the system as the enemy but systems can’t fix themselves, you have to change the hearts of leadership. “In 1961, Santa Clara decided to bring in women. In 1965, they decided to bring in minorities. Those were conscious decisions,” Shiver says. “The fact that this has not changed is because people have not decided to change. Somebody has to make the decision.”

Gay transferred to SCU in March 1969 from Xavier University in Cincinnati to escape often violent racism. After seeing palm trees and sunshine at a January conference, he abandoned a semester of credits to move west. Santa Clara lived up to expectations, he says. But it needed a leader to exceed them.

“You need an advocate (to make lasting change),” he explains. “You need somebody who can passionately embrace the initiative, have the vision, articulate it, and get everybody at the University to embrace it and practice it so they know what it means and it becomes part of that ethos. If you don’t have it, it just withers and dies.”


Unity 1, 1985

Campus was empty when Jose Martinez-Saldana ’85 discovered student cultural groups would trade the basement of Dunne for a cubicle and mailbox. It was winter break and Martinez-Saldana was working in the Office of Chicano Affairs when an employee in student life offered a tour of the construction in Benson’s basement.

At the time, groups like Latinx club MEChA-El Frente and Igwebuike were comfortably housed in a 6,000-square-foot space in Dunne, each with their own office and access to a large common area. Midway through the tour of Benson, Martinez-Saldana, who was co-chair of MEChA, entered a cramped room with cubicles and a small meeting room, which he was told would be home to all student groups.

“This couldn’t be,” Martinez-Saldana remembers saying. “To say I was shocked is an understatement.”

While most clubs held monthly meetings, MEChA held dozens of meetings for hundreds of students each week. Each summer, MEChA ran a four-week, peer-led orientation program for local Latinx students. This space wasn’t nearly big enough.

Martinez-Saldana knew how important this work was. When he arrived at Santa Clara, he did not feel welcomed. In classes, his perspective wasn’t valued. Classmates said he hadn’t earned his spot. Hallmates in Swig said the music he played—The Time and Prince—was “jungle music” and “ghetto.” A month into school, he returned from a visit home to find his white roommate had moved without saying anything, switching with an African American student.

“This student decided they did not want to room with someone of color,” Martinez-Saldana says.

It wasn’t until MEChA that Martinez felt at home. “It provided that safe space,” he says, “to be around people who understand and accept you as you are.”

When he found out about the move, Martinez-Saldana told his co-chair Angela Gallegos ’87, Igwebuike President David Drummond ’85, and Jason Higa ’85 of Ka Mana’o O Hawai’i, who were similarly stunned. Inez Gomez, director of Chicano Affairs, wasn’t aware either.

What bothered students was the lack of communication. The University told student government representatives, but word never made it to these clubs. By not realizing the impact on students of color, the administration showed a fundamental lack of understanding.

In January, the clubs sent letters of disapproval to Senkewicz, then vice-president of Student Services. His reply said there was “no reason for them to be treated differently from any other student organization.” Knowing their space in Dunne would soon become computer labs and a gym, the students sought to build something better: a Multicultural Center.

They contacted leaders in all cultural groups, even those without space in Dunne, inviting them to join a coalition. In a memo to leadership, the six clubs announced the formation of Unity, a group that would provide a framework for three decades of activism at Santa Clara.

They viewed the system as the enemy but systems can’t fix themselves. You have to change the hearts of leadership.

That spring, Unity submitted a 21-page proposal for a Multicultural Center, offering ideas for funding, floor plans, and a more visible location, Shapell Lounge. The response: More research is needed.

Growing frustrated, students wanted to force a decision with a sit-in. On May 9, Ramón Chacon, a faculty member in history and later ethnic studies, wrote a letter to Senkewicz saying the Minority Affairs Advisory Committee “unanimously supports the proposal.”

Before the sit-in could take place, Senkewicz approved the proposal for MCC in Graham, not Shapell, saying the MCC would “enormously” improve quality of student life. It was a victory, but not what students had demanded.

“The institution, by design, is going to survive any one of us who pass through it,” Martinez-Saldana says. “The administration of any institution can simply wait out a radical group of students.”

Martinez-Saldana recognizes the privilege of attending SCU. His family didn’t have money. Of the 525 students in his high school class, only 196 graduated. Of those, 35 went to college out of high school.

“For me, to end up at a place like Santa Clara was a huge opportunity to pull myself, through the help and guidance of a lot of folks, out of poverty,” Martinez-Saldana says.

But the time spent in activism—fighting for rights white students didn’t worry about—was “bittersweet.” It prepared him for his career in education administration and non- profit work, but it came at an emotional and academic cost. “But, I never wanted to give up,” Martinez-Saldana says, “so I kept fighting.”


Unity 2, March 1990

The SCU Sigma Phi Epsilon newsletter brings back vivid emotions for Anna Sampaio ’92—a former student activist who now teaches in the Department of Ethnic Studies. She can riff a few representative examples of the garbage that was in it, none suitable for print now or then, but the specifics are fuzzy.

“It was the most racist, sexist, misogynistic thing you could possibly imagine,” Sampaio says. “It was vile.”

Traditionally the newsletter was a way to share information among fraternity members. This issue, however, had an annotated alphabet with a crude saying attached to each letter: A is for apple, but instead of apple, it was something racist. The newsletter was shared internally but the girlfriend of one member saw it and distributed it to an outraged campus. University administrators saw the newsletter on March 1, 1990, and four days later suspended the oldest and largest fraternity on campus.

While the incident still upsets Sampaio, the political scientist in her knows the newsletter itself doesn’t matter. What mattered is what it represented.

“These events give light to what is already a series of private violations and aggressions that have been stirring for a long time,” Sampaio says. “That public-facing incident allows for people to work on bigger conversations about these longstanding forms of racism and sexism on campus. The way that they’re co-constitutive. The way they feed off each other. The silence of the administration. The lack of faculty diversity, student diversity, curricular diversity.”

“We make the same proposals every two or three years. Things have not changed.”

Sampaio is many times a Bronco: a student, a lecturer years ago, and now chair of ethnic studies. She has love for the University but knows its fundamental problems well.

“It was the privileging of whiteness and white masculinity,” Sampaio remembers. “The way the student body reflected that. Not just in the demographics, but the clothes they wore, how they spoke, experiences they had, schools they came from, clubs they associated with, their activities on Saturday night. It was in who they saw as friends, who they lifted up, and whose voices got centered.”

The newsletter is often credited for reviving the Unity movement on campus, but thanks to students like Theo Gonzalves ’90, the group had been quietly working to improve the University’s curriculum for years.

In March 1990, more than 400 students from Unity and Voices for Change—a group of largely white students new to the cause—marched across campus, demanding women’s and ethnic studies requirements, more minority hiring in administration, more funds for the student resource center, and expansion of western civilization courses to include minority experiences.

Following the protest, the University held a four-hour forum attended by 500 students, faculty, and staff. Students shared experiences of sexism, racism, and homophobia. Toward the end, Unity staged a walkout because they felt their voices had been excluded from the planning of the event. Gonzalves told The Santa Clara it was not a forum but a performance by University leadership.

Voices for change
In March 1990, Unity and Voices for Change—a group of largely white students—marched across campus demanding more representation in all areas of campus life, from more diverse faculty to more course offerings in women’s and ethnic studies. / Photo courtesy SCU Archives.


Unity 2, November 1991

It certainly wasn’t the first time Jim Winstead ’94 heard the slur and sadly not the first time he’d been called it; that happened before Santa Clara. But it’s not what he expected to hear on a college campus. “Particularly in California, particularly in the Bay Area,” Winstead says. “Maybe naively so.”

Santa Clara was going through a lot racially at the time, Winstead says. There were about 90 undergraduate Black students in 1991, many of them athletes. Affirmative action was a hot topic and talk of minority students taking spots from white students was abundant.

In October, Winstead left Benson, walking down the quad side behind McLaughlin-Walsh Hall, when the sophomore heard someone yelling from a window above. “Out of nowhere someone, I assume a white male, screamed ‘You ain’t nothing but a n***er and you need to go home,’” Winstead says. “It wasn’t even face-to-face, it was very cowardly.”

Winstead reported the incident to campus police to no avail. He continued to push, finding dead-ends in conversations with leadership before speaking to University President Paul Locatelli, S.J., who Winstead recalls didn’t offer him much assistance.

Redwood 1990 Student Protests
Yolanda Lewis ’92 (far right) participates in a student protest on campus, as pictured in the 1990 Redwood yearbook. She says overt racism was rare at Santa Clara, but there were always underlying issues that made her feel unwelcome. / Photo courtesy SCU Archives.

Two weeks later, senior Yolanda Lewis ’92—a resident assistant, former president of Igwe, and former member of the University judicial board—was waiting in the drink line at Benson when a white male brushed her away and said “Get out of my face, bitch. Leave me alone, n***er.”

Lewis left the food area, speechless and near tears. In shock, she ran into a group of friends on the football team who could tell something was wrong. She remembers not re-telling the story, fearing a fight would follow.

“I don’t give too much credence anymore to certain words,” Lewis says today, “but at that time it crushed me.”

Igwebuike called a meeting where about 60 students, staff, and faculty shared stories and discussed solutions. “He attacked my race and womanhood,” Lewis said at the meeting. “My overall feeling was shock because I see myself as a person who has worked hard to dispel all the stereotypes of people of color.”

A week later, 250 students, faculty, and staff marched from MCC to Walsh to present a list of demands: a central location for the MCC, recruiting more Black and brown students, and requirements for ethnic and women’s studies classes. Protesters chanted “fight the power” and “actions speak louder than words” with five TV stations and three newspapers covering the action.

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Igwebuike president Johnny Gentry ’93 told The Santa Clara he wanted to hold the administration accountable and that they had much work to do to achieve real diversity. The Excellence through Diversity initiative launched by University President Paul Locatelli, S.J. in 1989 had not improved representation. In 1991, 16 Black students started their studies at SCU—the same number as 1968. / Photo courtesy SCU Archives.

“It was a tense situation,” Winstead says, citing some white peers on the sidelines, offering what felt like unwelcoming stares.

Elena Marquez ’92 told The Santa Clara, “We make the same proposals every two or three years. Things have not changed.” She was right. Despite protests and administration efforts, the number of Black students admitted in 1991 was the same as it was in 1968. A sit-in was staged by MCC at a Board of Trustees meeting a week later. Ultimately, an agreement was reached to create MCC West in Benson. Later, Lewis reported the student who verbally assaulted her to the judicial board. The student denied using the n-word. To Lewis’ frustration, he was found guilty of harassment but not racism and ordered to write an apology.

Overt racism was rare at Santa Clara, Lewis says, but there were always underlying issues that made her feel unwelcome. Once, she recalls, a white advisor in biology told Lewis and her Black roommate they wouldn’t make it as physicians and should switch majors. Her roommate listened, she did not. After Santa Clara, Lewis went on to the Peace Corps, Howard University Medical School, and is now a pediatrician working at Children’s National Hospital in Washington, D.C.

Winstead, meanwhile, says he doesn’t think about the incident often but calls it disappointing. He wonders how his experience would have been different had more students of color enrolled. He remembers early in his college career, Santa Clara spent thousands planting new palm trees in the front of campus. He used to wonder how many scholarships those trees could have funded.

“It’s not the fact that I was called the n-word because that’s not the school’s responsibility, it was the lack of response,” he says. “Maybe at the time, they thought it was an isolated incident that impacted one student. But no, this sets the tone, not only for Black students but for Latinx students, for everyone that’s different.”


Unity 3, June 1999

Organizing a protest is not without risk and Elias Portales ’00 had plenty to lose. Just two years earlier, he was a student at San Jose City College. Now he was a year away from becoming the first in his family to graduate from college and preparing to apply to law school.

“My father kind of warned me,” Portales remembers. “He’d said, ‘Hey, you’re doing so well…’”

But the risk was worth it. Since moving into the basement of Graham in 1985, conditions in the Multicultural Center had deteriorated.

With a web of pipes for a ceiling and no natural light, the room was known to flood and suffered infestations of bugs and rats. “It was our space,” Portales, who is a professor at San Jose City College today, says, “but, whether it was intentional or not, the feeling was, ‘You guys are kind of outcasts.’”

Requests for a central location went back to Unity 1 but in 1999, talks intensified. Reviving the Unity name from earlier movements, Portales, Christina Guzman ’01, Travis Walker ’00, Venezia Mojarro ’00 and others lobbied for a new location for MCC, as well as additional resources and department status for ethnic studies. The administration was open to the move to Shapell but only if MCC shared it with the Center for Multicultural Learning. This was a red flag for students. MCC was student-run and merging it with CML threatened their autonomy.

“We had meetings with administration and key faculty of color that were quite tense,” Guzman says. When talks stalled, students drafted a letter outlining demands. “When they didn’t get met, we decided to protest.”

The plan was to camp out between Shapell and the bookstore. Portales wasn’t sure who would show the week before exams, but students from all parts of the MCC attended, holding rallies in front of the fountain and marching around campus banging a three-foot drum.

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Elias Portales ’00 remembers faculty members in 1999 complaining privately to him about the noise. “That damn drum and us marching around campus,” he laughs, “we hit those pressure points.”

“It was a powerful protest,” professor of theatre Aldo Billingslea says. “Students who didn’t want to support the movement or wanted to pretend it didn’t exist couldn’t do that. The protestors claimed their space and said, ‘You must navigate around us a little bit.’”

Students camped out for three days before an agreement was reached to review demands and end the protest. However, what felt like a clear victory at the time was a bit more nuanced. Ultimately, ethnic studies didn’t get department status but added a faculty position. The MCC moved to Shapell without CML but still lost some autonomy, as Shapell was often used for University events on the weekend.

“We fought for what we believed in, but the execution was a lot more challenging than we expected,” Portales, who went on to Georgetown Law, says. “I look upon it fondly but I also learned you can come so close and feel good, but sometimes it’s that final mile.”


Unity 4, 2015

What Jasmyne Gaston ’18 remembers best is how amazing the night was until it wasn’t. The start of college had been tough for Gaston. She struggled to find community on a primarily white campus and classes at Santa Clara were challenging initially. But by May, she’d found her people.

Gaston and a dozen or so women of Igwebuike were waiting outside Swig to deliver invitations to male students for a Black appreciation event. “We were rambunctious—and happy—and we hear yelling from windows, telling us to shut up,” Gaston remembers. That’s when one of the women pulled up YikYak—a now-defunct app that allowed users to post messages anonymously—and saw a post from someone on campus: “Can the monkeys outside Swig please shut their watermelon-eating mouths?”

Just like that, the night was over. Specially crafted invitations weren’t delivered. Alana Hinkston ’16 screenshotted the post and another student called campus safety. But since the post was anonymous, nothing could be done. “It felt like an extra slap in the face, after all, we’d done to make each other feel uplifted and special,” Zipporah Ridley ’17 says. “It was the anonymity of it. I didn’t know who wrote this, they could be sitting next to me smiling to my face every day.”

The event confirmed quieter instances of racism. That night, students shared stories of racism they encountered during walks to Safeway or on their way to The Hut. Others remembered being asked to show SCU ID to prove they were students before entering parties, while white students were let in without question.

About a week later, the University issued a statement condemning the YikYak comments, but the terms weren’t strong enough for the students. “It never mentioned what occurred and never called it by its name,” Ridley says. “I was like, ‘OK, if you don’t want to talk about it, we will.’”

In the three weeks following, dozens of the busiest students on campus—from MCC, Igwebuike, Together for Ladies of Color, and more—worked on a plan to address race relations at Santa Clara.

Others remembered being asked to show SCU ID to prove they were students before entering parties, while white students were let in without question.

They called in Lester Deanes, then the assistant dean for student life, and ethnic studies faculty for advice. They were angry but also solutions-oriented. “What we wanted was systematic change,” Hinkston says.

The result was an 11-page document with 21 tactics to improve the experience of students of color. The demands, sent to then-University President Michael Engh, S.J., were similar to past protests but more detailed and divided into four categories: Academics, Student and Residence Life, Transparency, and Recruitment and Orientation. Another link to the past? Their name. During planning the group honored past campus activism, adopting “Unity 4.”

Engh responded to the proposal weeks later with a letter explaining how the University planned to address or was already addressing 15 tactics. The remaining tactics would need time. In the meantime, the University would host quarterly forums.

In May 2016, SCU formed a Blue Ribbon Commission of community leaders, alumni, and campus representatives to advance diversity. By winter, it made 37 recommendations. A task force of students, faculty, and staff converted those into 185 strategies during 11 meetings in spring 2017. And by 2018, a campus climate survey reflected what Unity 4 said were problems on campus nearly three years prior.

“I was happy the University worked with us,” Ridley, who served on the task force, says. “No matter how confusing or how much red tape, there was a dialogue as opposed to what other schools were experiencing at the time.”

Five years after the incident, results are mixed. The University has had success completing tactics—most of the 185 are either in process or completed—but many bigger problems still loom. For example, the task force hoped to increase Black enrollment to six percent by 2020, but that number remains at three. Diversity requirements in the curriculum also remain unchanged.

There are, however, reminders of Unity 4: diversity and inclusion training for incoming students, quarterly Diversity Forums with leadership, and an improved bias incident report process.

“There are a lot of ripple effects from Unity 4,” director of the Office for Diversity and Inclusion Ray Plaza says, “but it’s still a work in progress.”

The most tangible outcome was in ethnic studies and women’s and gender studies. By demanding department status, Unity 4 helped amplify and honor more than five decades of work by countless scholars and students in both programs. Since the start of the ethnic studies program in 1969, it was denied department status at least five times and narrowly avoided elimination several times.

Anna Sampaio struggled with her decision to return to Santa Clara as a professor in 2011, but the prospect of getting ethnic studies to department status—honoring faculty like Steve Fugita, Chacon, Alma Garcia, Gary Okihiro, James Lai, Francisco Jimenez, Linda Garber, Juliana Chang, and others—was a big part of her decision. “Oh my God. I cried,” Sampaio says. “It was a culmination of a process I had been part of for 30 years. It’s hard to get rid of a department. It’s not hard to get rid of a program.”

But shouldering progress at Santa Clara was not without a price for Unity 4. Hours spent in meetings and diversity forums and on committees for initiatives that never materialized took a toll on grades and mental health. Some left the movement to focus on school. Others wondered if it was worth it.

“It’s not that I didn’t want to do it. It was so important for me,” Gaston says. “But at the same time, I came to get a marketing degree, not to be a diversity and inclusion officer minus the pay and benefits.”


Present Day

Kennedy Myers spent much of her senior year thinking about who comes next. The battles of future students of color and how she could make it easier. She has Bob Senkewicz’s speech to thank for that. “It was my rallying call,” Myers says. “I tried to make that the focus, how do I want Santa Clara to look in 10 years?”

Myers had plans for a quiet, productive spring. Then COVID-19 hit; campus shut down; and George Floyd was killed by a police officer in Minnesota. While white students grappled with finishing college remotely, Myers offered support for students of color—sending out messages, serving on the search committee for the new vice president for diversity, equity, and inclusion, until the search was postponed. “As director, you end up dreaming about MCC,” Myers says. “It’s always in your thoughts.”

But the biggest project, one she wanted to finish, was establishing an MCC library. Myers asked each member organization to recommend 10 books. She hopes the library will serve white students, too, so the burden of teaching about racism won’t always fall on students of color.

When Myers thinks about who comes next, Isaac Addai ’21 is one example. As the University renewed efforts to improve diversity after the killing of George Floyd, Addai is one voice that emerged, speaking at a vigil for racial justice and helping create the Black Excellence Scholarship.

Like many Black students, Addai got involved in Igwebuike quickly and will be co-chair this year. He’s experienced racism on campus and is eager to make change. His goals are no different than Walter Myles’ 50 years ago. He wants a more inclusive curriculum and more people of color in classes and in leadership. He wants to see the University make a strategic and financial commitment.

“We need more than symbolic gestures,” Addai says. “We need to be adamantly focusing on decolonizing our education and address issues head-on, not beat around the bush.”

Margaret Russell, associate provost for Diversity and Inclusion, spent a lot of time with students this year. Their frustration felt familiar from her time as a Black student on primarily white campuses in undergrad and law school. Russell says campuses without thriving diverse communities often feel like an island of whiteness. “I remember (as a student) smiling at every Black person because there were so few,” she says. “I wanted to make a point of saying, ‘We belong here.’”

Change can be slow, Russell says, but she’s seen some progress. SCU has accepted more Black students over the past five years. This spring, the University hired three Black faculty to join the campus community over the next two years. The new Black Excellence Scholarship was endowed with $100,000 of University funds.

“I’m so impressed by how thoughtful our students are. Hearing those voices has to be central to change.”

Perhaps most important, Russell thinks the University is seeking new perspectives.

In June, Eva Blanco Masias M.A. ’11 was named vice president for enrollment management, adding a voice of color to an important role. And, when filled, the vice president for diversity, equity, and inclusion position will report directly to President Kevin O’Brien, S.J. Until then, he asked Russell to sit on the President’s Cabinet.

“Recruitment and retention of students and faculty are so important, but it’s not just about numbers, it’s about elevating voices,” Russell says. “Listening to them and making them more central to the community.”

Much of this change in attitude is student-led, Russell says. Semi Williams ’20, chair of the Inclusive Excellence Student Advisory Council, was frustrated with a lack of productivity at Diversity Forums and helped create action items and a buddy system with administrators to increase communication. She also challenged Fr. O’Brien to invite members of the President’s Cabinet to the next Diversity Forum. He did, and all attended. Khiely Jackson ’20 and Sydney Thompson ’20 worked with ethnic studies faculty Jesica Fernández and Allia Griffin to create an anti-racist teaching website. Their work will be used in faculty training.

“I’m so impressed by how thoughtful our students are,” Russell says. “Hearing those voices has to be central to change.”

Addai has seen increased support in recent months. He calls himself a skeptic but volunteered his time to improve SCU. He’ll continue to hold the school accountable, he says.

At the 50th anniversary of the March on Washington in 2013, President Barack Obama said, “The arc of the universe may bend toward justice, but it doesn’t bend on its own.”

For more than 50 years, student activists of color have carried the University toward that progress—and students like Addai intend to keep bending that curve.

“People get upset with me, that I’m too hard on people,” Addai says. “I disagree. Letting symbolic gestures win you over is what keeps us in the same place. So yes, I’m going to be demanding.”

Editor’s Note: This story and the magazine it is in were printed prior to an incident on campus involving associate professor of English Danielle Morgan, her family, and SCU Campus Safety. The magazine then landed in readers’ mailboxes well after University President Kevin O’Brien, S.J., and his administration announced several follow-up actions, including an independent, comprehensive review of Campus Safety Services and training on unconscious bias. “I offer my unflagging determination to lead Santa Clara to be a transformatively better community, dedicated to the struggle against racism,” O’Brien said. Separately, SCU faculty, staff, and students organized a Sept. 9, 2020 campus protest in support of Morgan and against all racial injustices at Santa Clara. It coincided with Scholar Strike, a national movement in recognition of racial injustice in America.

[Read more: A Show of Support]

The following article offers a glimpse into the chronic struggle of people of color to be accepted in the SCU community since the first Black man graduated from Santa Clara in 1953. Santa Clara Magazine commissioned this piece in an effort of reckoning with this history of racism—for we, as one Bronco community, must first recognize and admit there’s a problem in order to move forward as the inclusive, diverse campus we aspire to.

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