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December 7, 2022

Cabrillo College trustees approve name change

APTOS—Cabrillo College’s governing board voted Monday to change the institution’s name after a two-hour discussion that included comments from dozens of community members.

The trustees voted 6-1 in favor of renaming the college, with trustee Rachel Spencer dissenting. 

The decision followed the Nov. 10 release of a 64-page report by the Cabrillo College Name Exploration Subcommittee and a seven-member Exploration Advisory Task Force, which included a survey of students, staff and Cabrillo Foundation supporters.

The drive to change the college’s name began in July 2020. As the Black Lives Matter movement grew following the murder of George Floyd by Minneapolis police, communities across the U.S. were rethinking the names and symbols bestowed upon their buildings, landmarks and institutions. The Cleveland Indians changed their name to the Guardians in 2021, and a year earlier NASCAR banned the Confederate flag—long thought to be a symbol of white supremacy—at all its events.

Many colleges and universities are similarly undergoing similar discussions.

The college’s namesake is Juan Rodriguez Cabrillo, known for exploring the west coast of the Americas around 1542, as well as for being a murderous conqueror who enslaved and brutalized the Amah Mutsun people who lived here.

The committee’s recommendation came despite a majority of survey respondents (66.9%) saying they wanted the college to keep its name, with many citing cost and others saying that changing the name would not change the underlying historical issues associated with Cabrillo.

Just over 24% said they want to change it, while 9% were neutral, according to the survey.

But Trustee Adam Spickler said that majority opinions are not always the best, and often don’t reflect the damage that minority communities can face by keeping the status quo.

He pointed to Proposition 8, which voters passed in 2008, and limited marriage to men and women. A federal court found that law unconstitutional, a decision that was upheld by the U.S. Supreme Court. Spickler also said that a majority of people opposed desegregation in the early days of the Civil Rights movement. 

“There are reasons people hold strongly and passionately to their beliefs, but those beliefs are not always what’s best,” Spickler said.

Spickler also said that many survey respondents who originally opposed the idea changed their minds on the issue after learning about Cabrillo’s history.

Cabrillo officials will now begin the process of finding a new name, a process that likely will involve voluminous community input and begin in summer 2023.

Trustee Christina Cuevas said that the only guideline so far is that the college will not bear the name of an individual.

“You get into this whole thing of, ‘is this a good person or a bad person in their time,’” she said. “Let’s just not go there.”

The overall costs associated with a name change have ranged from $200,000 to $800,000 at other colleges that have done so, Cabrillo President Matt Wetstein said. But these will likely be spread out over several years, he added. 

Additionally, many of the costs associated with a name change are “sunk costs” such as business cards and team uniforms that are replaced annually, Wetstein said.

Roughly two-dozen people addressed the trustees, the majority of which spoke in favor of changing the college’s name.

In explaining her no vote, Trustee Spencer said that the committee tasked with exploring the name change contained no community members, and thus was “sorely lacking” in a vetting process.

She also said the report shows that a majority of respondents do not support a name change, and that going against that “will divide the community.”

Trustee Steve Trujillo said that, when he ran for his seat, many people told him the college’s name needed to be changed. He said he learned about Cabrillo’s sordid past in a history class years ago.

“I was shocked at the fact that the college would be named for him,” Trujillo said. “The time has come to make sure we right this egregious wrong … it’s the right thing to do.”

Trustee Dan Rothwell said the vote was “the hardest decision I have ever had to make.”

While he agreed on the practical issues, the issue for him came down to a moral and ethical question. He said that the college’s founders would likely not have chosen Cabrillo if they knew his history.

“Cabrillo was a bad dude,” he said. “Morally and ethically it makes it impossible for me to say that we should keep the name Cabrillo College.”

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