Letters: Spring 2021

Readers sound off on race at SCU, Joe Biden, and football.

A Few Loud Voices Whose Message Can Still Be Heard

The article in the Fall 2020 Santa Clara Magazine, “Not A Moment, But A Movement” appears to be a fair attempt to narrate the plight of students of color at SCU.  Since my four years at SCU began in 1970, I can only address my comments to the section in the article: These Demands Are Non-Negotiable, which focused on a January 17, 1969 gathering at Benson Hall.

The late 60’ were a time of slow change at SCU.  Women were admitted to SCU for the first time during this period.  Students of color were even less represented.   Placing tacos on the Tuesday menu at the Benson cafeteria—made with lettuce from non-United Farmworkers’ Union fields—seemed to be the extent of the university’s commitment to diversity.  The SCU campus newspaper described the few students of color as “functionally literate” and “culturally deprived.”  In the midst of this social void, there was a handful of active students who forced SCU to face the inescapable reality that had been ignored since the university was first established 150 years earlier.

Santaclara Cover Spring21

Although small in number, these few brave and committed students played a major role in changing the narrow social setting at SCU.  Once on campus it was blatantly obvious to them that the doors of earnest opportunity were not impartially open to all.  Instead of turning a blind eye to the issue, these students took an active role to implement the needed changes at SCU, sacrificing valuable time from their demanding academic studies.  Keep in mind, these were not radicals or anarchists.  Instead, these were “normal” students who merely wanted the type of excellent education that few schools like SCU could offer.  They were, however, unable and unwilling to accept the institutional racism and social injustice that confronted them on campus and that compelled them to speak.

The issue came to a dramatic head in September 1970.  The university had contracted Rothrock Educational Consultants to prepare a report addressing the issue of minorities on campus.  Once completed, the university refused to share the report’s findings and conclusions with the subject of the study.  In response, the students held a hunger strike at the SCU mission church, which received much media attention.  Ultimately, the university capitulated and released the report after 4 days.  That event marked the pivotal point where noticeable changes at SCU began to take hold and could slowly be seen across the campus as the number of students of color began to gradually increase with each following year.

Let there be no doubt, the action taken by these early pioneers has had a dramatic and direct impact on thousands of students since September 1970.  Because of their commitment, dedication, and sacrifice, many SCU diplomas hang on walls today embroidered with names such as Rodriguez, Martinez, Garcia, or Lopez.  The university should also be applauded for recognizing and implementing the changes that were long overdue.  What was once a very homogenous and culturally limited campus environment was slowly converted to a true center of learning, offering a broad range of experiences, perspectives, and backgrounds.  Lastly, we should recognize and thank the perseverance of those early heroes.  We are all eternally grateful for the devotion and perseverance of those champions who raised their voices for equality and fair opportunity.  Among these courageous individuals are: Shirley Trevino, Al Morales, Rachel Leon, Tony Estremeda, Fran Escalante, Jaime Gallardo, and Manuel Gonzalez, who is the one with the goatee and glasses ironically depicted in front of the collared monkey covering his mouth.  SCU and all the students who ever attended the university, regardless of color or ethnic background, are eternally grateful that you spoke when times demanded it.

Rodolfo (“Rudy”) Orjales ’74


Doing the Work to Diversify Campus

This is some additional background to the article, “Not a Moment, But a Movement.” Some activity preceded the events in the article, some concurrent.  It is from memory, so some of the dates might be slightly off. Pat Donohoe was president in “the early days; Tom Terry succeeded him. Donohoe enabled efforts that SCU had not prepared for; Terry dealt with the problems created by the lack of preparation.
I became SCU’s first Direction of Admissions in 1963, just when we were becoming a “co-ed” campus.
Two years before that, at the urging of Joe Wall, S,J, I made an effort to recruit students of color (a term that became common much later).  I began by visiting high schools with large enrollments of Black and Latinx students:  Ravenswood in East Palo Alto (I believe Walt Myles graduated thereafter his family moved down the Peninsula), Garfield in LA, McClymonds in Oakland, Catholic High Schools in LA, and the Bay Area serving students of color.
While the move to a co-ed student body was a great success, though not uneventful, the effort to further diversify it was not.
In addition to Walt Myles,  I remember Tony Estremerea, Chuck Hollis, Mike Gonzalez, Judy Little, Luis Nogales, Connie Neveder-Lewis, and the Strane twins, talented baseball players from Oakland. These are some whom I remember, and that fondly.  I have maintained contact with a few. Great people; great representatives of SCU.
The first class with more than one or two students of color might have been 1964 (and thanks for the back page story about Mel Lewis and his wife.  I saw Mel on the gridiron before SCU dropped football in 1953.)  At any rate, we (Martin Tucker joined me in about 1966. He had been a college counselor in the Eastside district, and a champion of many students of color, whom he encouraged to attend college.)  SCU now could boast two admissions officers.
I surely remember the early protesters; I had signed their letters of admission.  Which made me a target of some (to be sure not all) of the faculty. The article does a great job. The article honestly recounts the incidents of ugly racist behavior, and SCU’s failure to roll out a welcome mat for students of color.  Apparently, according to the article, some of that behavior persists. How discouraging.  The article also focuses on the various locations where the “diversity” efforts were housed, a great metaphor for SCU’s progress and egress in building diversity in the student body, later in the faculty.
I do want to take issue with one aspect of the article. The authors say: “In 1961, Santa Clara decided to bring in women. In 1965, they decided to bring in minorities. Those were conscious decisions, Shiver says.”  Fact is, for some time, President Pat Donohoe thought that the admission of women was necessary and inevitable.  But he was obliged, whether by custom or a Jesuit requirement, to get a go-ahead from then-Archbishop Mitty.  Donohoe got that in the form of an OK scrawled and initialed by the Archbishop on his deathbed. I was told the letter is in the Archives.
Further on Pat Donohoe. He was a brilliant president and saw the need for significant, even radical changes at SCU. Diversity in the student body was one such change, and while this was partly accomplished in enrolling women, it was not in enrolling students of color in significant numbers. One small step in this direction was the establishment of a few MLK scholarships after Martin Luther King’s assassination in 1968.  But then, as now, there was not enough money budgeted, either for financial aid or academic support, which still seems largely the case.  I know this is true of scholarship aid. I do know that students of color may be offered a lot of their aid in the form of loans. Of course, this problem is nationwide, and disproportionally affects students of color.  If they come from a family with few or no resources for the costs of higher education, repayment may look like too steep a hill to climb.
With respect to support, we did manage to recruit together a group of faculty members who were very positive about “diversification.” I know they took very seriously the role of mentor. Not all faculty members were equally positive about what was happening.
Our efforts at building support were well before the magnificent generosity of Eugene Lang in starting the “I have a dream” project at P.S 121 in East Harlem, which he had attended.   That program became a model in providing financial aid, academic support, and emotional encouragement of students to succeed in a system not structured to accommodate them. That program inspired many schools across the country to develop their own versions.  I think that the faculty was, on the whole supportive, but I know that there was pushback, both from some lay faculty and Jesuits.  There were some events convened by President Tom Terry, intended to build support and understanding in the community. Two meetings he convened come to mind. One a small meeting of administrators and deans, held in the president’s conference in Walsh Hall, raised questions, none hostile to efforts to diversify, mostly centered on the costs, overt and covert, which it would take provide an infrastructure of support for “Affirmative Action,” the common term before “Diversity” became the designation for these programs.  We commonly referred to these programs as efforts to assist “disadvantaged” students (not all were), but have been supplanted by “students of color” to name the universe of students.
Another meeting, open to faculty (I don’t recall students), also to create support and understanding of and for the “program,” generated some heat as well as light.  Questions, some of which were under the radar expressions of hostility, were centered on the usual concerns that were directed to such programs (costs in faculty time and needed academic support).
Yes, student concerns, focused on building support, was mostly attended by SCU students seeking information, but also by Chicanos from San Jose State, who derided the paucity of SCU’s efforts.  Luis Nogales, who had transferred from SJS, and stood out as a brilliant, but increasingly troubled student, did a great job of sparring with the SJS students.
When I left SCU in 1970 to return to graduate school, my memory says there were 106 students of color in a student body of 3,000.  I felt that I had not done enough to move the effort along.  But it was a start, slow, unsophisticated and inadequate, towards true diversity.  There was much work yet to do.  The article reveals that is still the case.  California’s High Schools are graduating nearly fifty percent Latinx students; SCU appears to have about 18%.  As a Catholic University, SCU needs to recognize that these students are Catholic, either in faith, culture, or family tradition, and that many represent the future of the Catholic Church in the Southwest.
A note on Asian-American students. I know there were few in the 1950s and 1960s. Asian and Asian-American students are about 15% of the student body. Thus, a significant part of SCU’s overall diversity.
I wish to complement the Santa Clara Magazine for a great job in highlighting the efforts of the university, as well as the continuing struggle to achieve authentic diversity, both numerically and in terms of an environment that should welcome and appreciate the rich cultural and intellectual benefits that  diversity brings.

Dick Jonsen
Former SCU director of admissions

As a 1968 graduate of SCU, I was horrified to read “Not a Moment.” Shame on this school for such little progress in combating the inherently racist environment created by a virtually all-white student body in the 50 years since my attendance. I do applaud the author for documenting and the magazine for printing this important historical review of minimal changes to date. Perhaps it will prompt some wealthy donors to enhance contributions to scholarship programs for Black applicants. If nothing else, it should certainly embarrass the powers that be for their lack of support in changing a climate of white privilege.

Lynne Myers ’68

Editors: In response to the national reckoning over inequities faced by Black Americans, SCU launched a Black Excellence Scholarship Fund, which has raised $450,000, and is hiring a vice president of Diversity and Inclusion. Learn more about the campus blueprint for addressing racism and advancing racial justice at scu.edu/advancingracial-justice-dashboard.

Very disheartening to totally skip the sit-in by El Frente students because all Chicano staff were fired for confronting the administration for racism in 1972. 32 students were arrested. El Frente president Marion Leon was expelled for confronting the administration also.  Made me feel as if our sacrifices were dismissed.  Quote from Everette Alvarez..1st pow in Vietnam illustrates how we felt about integrity and character. We attended SCU on scholarships in his name. We merged our Chicano library with SJSU.  Many of us spent lifetimes contributing to social justice.  Dismissing our contribution was a slap in the face. Please get it right. SCU suppresses the truth for a reason.  We were not allowed to call our organization MECHA because it was too radical. So someone brilliantly thought of “El Frente” which is even more radical but wasn’t noticed as such.  We made a difference!

Alicia Sisneros ’72

Praying for a breakthrough

As Santa Clara alumnus I am both honored and embarrassed that new American President Biden’s pre-inaugural Mass was presided by our very own president, Fr. Kevin O’Brien. It is hard to imagine our mission’s founder Fr. Serra supporting a man who so publicly flaunts Catholic teachings. Let us pray together that Fr. O’Brien’s personal influence and Mass homily are prophetic, “When we embrace both our noble commission and divine promise, something remarkable happens. In the words of the prophet Isaiah which we heard: ‘the light shall break forth like the dawn,'” so that President Biden lets the light shine through his policy, actions, and demeanor.

Lee Nordlund ’80

More SCU coverage, please

I have been receiving the Santa Clara Magazine for many years but recently have found myself less and less interested in reading many of the cover articles that appear to involve other parts and countries of the world. I’m fine with an occasional foreign world coverage but I question as to how much worldly compassion and ethics need to be emphasized in a university-oriented magazine that has a basic purpose and theme regarding the past and present about the said institution. The most recent Santa Clara Magazine was a prime example of over coverage of material. Also, within the recent Santa Clara Magazine was an article regarding the Santa Clara Broncos and San Francisco 49’ers football teams and their connections of past years -which was interesting but contained erroneous information as to the two consecutive years that the Santa Clara Broncos played/participated in the Sugar Bowl against LSU with Lawrence “Buck” Shaw the Bronco coach. The correct years that the Santa Clara Broncos played in said Bowl were 1937 and 1938. Also, there was no mention in the article that in 1950 the Santa Clara Broncos played in the Orange Bowl against the favored Kentucky Wildcats and prevailed in said contest-winning 21-13. The Santa Clara Broncos head football coach for said year was Les “Cas” Casanova ’27 who eventually went on to become a successful head football coach at the University of Oregon. In 1953 Santa Clara dropped top-flight college football, An excellent article regarding the infamous accomplishment of winning the 1950 Orange Bowl game against renowned Coach Paul “Bear” Bryant of the Kentucky Wildcats is very well covered in the Spring 2010 Santa Clara Magazine. Other examples of copies of the Santa Clara Magazine which contain excellent and interesting articles as well as excellent format (including use of color ) are Santa Clara Magazines copies for Summer 1996 — Winter 1998 — Summer 2001 These are only my personal opinions as an elderly Santa Clara University alumni —— I very much enjoy reading the Santa Clara Magazine and appreciate all of the hard work the editor and staff do to bring it to publication.

– Anon

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