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.”