.Cabrillo College: What’s In A Name

Sandy Lydon and Adam Spickler share their thoughts on the institution's name change

Saluting A Slaver And Conquerer Is Harmful

By Adam Spickler 

I appreciate the Good Times’ invitation to address issues raised in Sandy Lydon’s July 11th and 12th Santa Cruz Sentinel commentaries on Cabrillo’s naming decision, to run alongside new commentary I understand he has been invited to share here.

Mr. Lydon and I both care deeply about this college and the communities served, especially those who’ve faced discrimination. We’ve both been recognized for work to elevate people historically marginalized and oppressed; Mr. Lydon for his activism supporting Asian immigrant communities in our region, and me for equity and civil rights work supporting LGBTQ people, to name just some of our work.

Cabrillo, in fact, is where I first learned about activism. I attended Cabrillo from 1994 to 2002 while working fulltime as a preschool teacher in Ben Lomond. Cabrillo presented me such rich, forward-thinking perspectives, far beyond any I’d been exposed to before. It’s where I first learned concepts of white privilege and whitewashing of history. It’s where I learned anti-bias education, and that “intent” does not exempt one from “impact” when causing harm, even if that harm was unintended.

This is the “Cabrillo way” as I learned it and is what grounded my commitment to social justice.

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The “Cabrillo way” Mr. Lydon described in his July 12th commentary differs. His takes Juan Rodriguez Cabrillo off the college’s signage to discuss his nuances and complexities, but then posts overgeneralized and convenient definitions of JRC on our website and puts him “back up” only to promise annual reflection and reexamination. My “Cabrillo way” suggests that if in that process we learn the impact of the name is harmful to any of our students, we have a responsibility to address that impact, not just the original naming’s intent.

I must admit, I shared Mr. Lydon’s views when this request was first presented. I’d hoped that as we explored the namesake, we’d find that who he was and how the college came to be named after him warranted keeping the name. But the very ideologies I learned at Cabrillo the college helped me understand our responsibility in separating the college from Cabrillo the man.

It is undoubtedly distressing for Native and Indigenous students to attend a college named for a man who gained immense wealth and power through slave labor resulting from the conquest of Indigenous Mexico and Central America. A man who set the stage for the colonial conquest of California and the subjugation of Native and Indigenous peoples who lived in this region for centuries, their ancestors.

At the onset, I committed to holding equity as central to this process, ensuring all students feel welcome, have a sense of belonging and thrive. While I heard many good people share many valid reasons for not changing the name—including Sandy Lydon—I also heard the stories of Native and Indigenous people suffering from transgenerational trauma and injustice, exacerbated by our college’s name. Others heard this suffering as well.

After a near three-year educational process that Mr. Lydon participated in, survey results illustrated that when people learned about Juan Rodriguez Cabrillo and the harms caused from our college carrying his name, support for changing the college’s name increased. This, alongside all we learned throughout our educational process, informed our Name Exploration Subcommittee’s ultimate report to the community, its recommendation and the six-to-one majority governing board vote to change the college’s name.

Now that we know the name Cabrillo does continuing harm to members of the college’s public, many believe we have a responsibility to correct that harm by separating the name from our college. Clearly, Mr. Lydon sees this differently, as do those in our community voicing strong opposition to changing the college’s name. Some feel more time is needed to consider potential new names. There are now calls to pause this process so that our leadership can seek more public input.

Perhaps pausing is necessary—though I cannot decide that alone. But pausing will only be effective if everyone commits to truly listening to each other, respectfully. It should also center the voices of those harmed by the current name, and thoughtful dialogue about what qualities matter in a new name. That’s how we uphold the “Cabrillo way” as we move forward.

Adam Spickler is a Trustee on the Cabrillo College Board of Trustees. He has worked in nonprofit leadership and in state and county government since 2002. He is also a proud Cabrillo College graduate.

It’s Been Bass-Ackwards

By Sandy Lydon 

Listen to it! It’s echoing throughout every corner of this county. Everybody’s talking about Cabrillo-the-college, Cabrillo-the-guy and the histories of each.  Even folks who live off the Information Grid, enjoying their newsless lives, are finally hearing about the Cabrillo Name Thing. In fact, if we want to escape it, we can’t. 

At the beginning it was a simple either-or choice, but since the naming subcommittee introduced five possible replacement names, it has swollen to seven choices. Support groups have arisen for all seven possibilities. Any day now I expect to see a group on a Highway 1 overpass (the Cabrillo Highway, BTW), waving signs urging motorists to “Honk if you love Cajastaca!”  

THIS is the conversation we should have had before the Board voted to remove the college’s name on November 14, 2022. It has gotten a little strident and personal, but in the main it has been educational, even laugh-out-loud funny.

I believe a lot of the shrillness and stridency is born out of desperation caused by a looming deadline of Aug. 7. Trustee Adam Spickler and I are writing feverishly side-by-side, each trying to get in one last shot before the deadline.  

I suspect that Trustee Spickler will bring up things that I’ve written or said in the past, and I’ll return the favor. 

Spickler wrote a heartfelt letter published in the July 22 Sentinel apologizing for using the phrase “old white person.” To use such a phrase while combating racism is counterproductive. We older folks, defined by the Federal government as people over 40, are members of a protected class, just as are the Indigenous people he vigorously supports. We were hurt by the cavalier manner our opinions were dismissed on November 14. Fighting discrimination against one group by denigrating another divides the community and, in my opinion, is just plain wrong.

Had the Cloak of COVID not smothered us during the years 2020 and 2021, we might have been able to have this conversation before the November 14 meeting.  Zoom and URLs are no substitute for in-person face to face meetings, and classroom interactions.

Many public institutions take a breather in August, and Cabrillo should too. Here are some of my reasons for extending the calendar but continuing the conversation, which comes on the heels of Richard and Theresa Crocker’s most recent pledge of $1 million to keep Cabrillo’s name:

  • None of the five names are worthy of replacing the college’s original name. Toss them all and begin again, this time using published works such as Don Clark’s Santa Cruz County Place Names as your sources. 
  • The process for selecting those names is skewed by the members of the naming task force participating in the public sticky-note meetings. Some of them argued their support for their favorite names. I believe that this tilts the meeting results.
  • There were no apparent controls on the sticky-note process. It would have been easy for advocates of particular names to “stuff” the panels. I believe that any results coming from the “gallery walks” in the public meetings should be discarded, the present task thanked for their service and dismissed, and a new process be designed, without sticky-notes. 
  • The money raised so that “no public funds” be used is far short of the $600,000 goal.
  • The conversation shows no signs of waning. As Trustee Spencer asked when she cast the lone dissenting vote, “What’s rush?” Indeed. And I’m sure that my co-columnist Adam Spickler has provided some powerful and erudite arguments that deserve time for our reflection.  

Let’s continue the conversation.

Sandy Lydon has been a teacher for 62 years, the last 54 at Cabrillo. He is an award-winning author and lecturer, most notably for his activism on behalf of regional Asian-American communities. He was voted “Best College Teacher’ in Good Times’ first Best Of poll in 1976. 


  1. No pausing, this train’s a-rollin. I’m here to see the Cajastaca Jackrabbit gear – let’s start showing indigenous people of this beautiful USA that we respect and pay tribute.

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  2. Since the whole name change is to chastise the Spanish for overthrowing Montezuma, shouldn’t the name be changed to Montezuma. Then we can glorify the subjugation of neighboring cities and the enslavement, sacrifice and cannibalizing of their peoples.

    Conquistadors were only successful because they offered freedom from a brutal emperor and an end to human sacrifice and cannibalism. Heck, anyone could have conquered the continent with a simple promise like that! Hardly worth naming a Jr. college for. Much better to name the college for the most powerful emperor in American history – Montezuma. All hail Montezuma! Now pass the fried kid leg!

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  3. You talk about the name Cabrillo being harmful or causing harm to indigenous students who attend Cabrillo College.
    Exactly how were they harmed? Were they beaten? Raped? Did they have their laptops stolen or their place of lodging broken into?
    Answer if you can.
    Second question: do any of the students, teachers, staff, or anyone else voicing dislike for the name of the college, use Highway 1 at all, ever?
    I’m waiting.

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  4. Becoming a student at Cabrillo College was the beginning of my life. Before, my life was attached to my past in the flat lands of the Central Valley of California, a valley of bad memories and judgmental relatives. That was over 50 years ago.
    It was the beginning of the fall semester in 1972, and I was settling into classes and getting to know the beauty of my surroundings. The first few weeks were getting used to the hilly campus. Most students gain weight when they start college, but I lost 15 pounds trekking up and down the hills which gave me so much confidence! My beginnings were sometimes those of a giggly girl who was so happy in college. I was taking journalism classes, and I worked next door in the newly formed federally funded program to assist Veterans with the newly enhanced GI Bill benefits for veterans’ education assistance, so it is not surprising I ended up in a double deck pinochle game in the student union with three Vietnam Veterans. I was the only person in the vicinity who knew how to play that card game (thanks, Dad). That is where I met my husband to be, the very bright guy who didn’t cheat like the other veterans who knew how to speak Russian.
    Cabrillo College wasn’t named for a man I knew. It was another chance to improve my life and make it go my way. Cabrillo College’s name needs to remain the same. If it changes, it will change my past, and that’s not something I want to happen. My husband (Timothy J. Ryan) and I got married in December, 1973, between semesters, and paid for our own wedding. It cost $400.00!!! We had two children in Santa Cruz, Tim went on to UCSC, and I worked downtown for Louie Andersen, an independent insurance agent across from the Cooper House, about a block away from the original Catalyst, where Tom, the Saw Player displayed his unique talent on the bench on the sidewalk by the entrance. We spent 8 years in Santa Cruz. This year would have been our 50th wedding anniversary, but Tim died from agent orange exposure in 2012. I miss my Marine and changing the name of our beginning doesn’t seem right, and I feel diminished. Instead, teach people our history. To change the name is covering up what happened. We should have that content included in a history class so we can learn from it and not repeat it. I used to be so proud of my grandfather who was in the Oklahoma Land Rush where he got the land my father was born on until I went to college and learned the horrible truth about it. Changing the name just covers up the truth which enables people to make their own truth, like what is happening in our country today.
    We’ve had enough of hiding the truth of our history.

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  5. Does Santa Cruz city still have the gas mains covers in the streets with the Stars of David on them? Those upset me when I lived there. ( Gas/Jews/Holocaust comes to mind.). Thank you.

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