Moving in and moving up

A diverse group of students converges on UC Santa Cruz during Move-In Weekend

Oakes College greeters smoothed the move-in process and made parents and students feel right at home. Photos by Carolyn Lagattuta
Valerie Gonzalez and her daughter, Samantha Gonzalez, display some handmade dreamcatchers at an Oakes College dorm room.
Skylar Smith found a place for her restored shortboard in a corner of the dorm room.

Early in the morning at Oakes College, groups of parents shoved, rolled, and dragged their children's possessions up a steep dirt path leading to their dorm rooms.

Working together, families maneuvered large laundry hampers up stairwells, assembled fans, arranged photographs, and hefted boxes. 

Move-in weekend requires emotional and physical stamina. There were plenty of advice sessions and reluctant goodbyes, as parents prepared to drive away. 

“My daughter—she is my princess,” said Frederick Martinez, who works as an insurance agent in Mexicali, Mexico. His daughter, Perla, who grew up in El Centro, California, plans to study theater arts. Martinez is very proud of her, “but leaving her will be hard.”

But new arrivals met the challenge with enthusiasm. Personal touches, including the assistance of T-shirt-wearing, smiling student greeters, helped ease the transition.  

“Move-in can be really hectic,” said one of the greeters, Patrick Lee (Oakes '22, evolutionary biology). “We’re really trying to help expedite the process, and make everyone’s first day at college a little easier.” 

Moving in to college is such an important part of life, said Dani Barker, associate director of college student life operations at UC Santa Cruz. 

“(Move-in) makes me nostalgic," she said. "It gives me goosebumps because these people, who have been taking care of their sons and daughters for 18 years, are handing them off to us. It’s a pivotal moment, and we get to be part of it.”

Welcoming diversity 

UC Santa Cruz expected to welcome more than 5,000 new students to the community over the course of the week. A third of these new students (frosh and transfers) are first-generation college students, and about 31% of undergrads (new and returning) are from low-income backgrounds. Many have traveled a long way to get here with students hailing from 38 states and 29 different countries. 

Incoming frosh are: 3.6% African American, 1% American Indian, 38.9% Asian, 22.2% Hispanic/Latino, and 32% white. Incoming transfers are: 4.9% African American, 1.9% American Indian, 24.8% Asian, 30.2% Hispanic/Latino, and 36.9% white, according to preliminary campus figures.

It is important for UC Santa Cruz to make students from such diverse backgrounds feel welcome, said Mark Gardner, coordinator for residential education at UC Santa Cruz. 

“From day one, it is important for students to walk on over and see all different kinds of people at the check-in table, in the quad, in the dorm rooms,” said Gardner, who was greeting students and parents in the West Remote parking lot. 

Dream catchers 

Making the sudden adjustment to college life can be somewhat easier if you bring valued items that remind you of home. This was certainly the case with Samantha Gonzalez, who hails from Monterey Park, and brought some precious, crocheted “dream catchers”—intricate webbings of fabric inside a hoop-shaped frame. 

These priceless items are made with materials from home, including a doily made by Samantha’s great grandmother, who died a few months ago. 

“I definitely wanted to fill this room with signs from home,’’ said Samatha’s mother, Valerie Gonzalez. “For me, homesickness was one of the biggest starting hurdles. Hopefully, this will make it a little less.” 

Samantha Gonzalez treasures the dream catchers—though she seemed much more excited than homesick during move-in day. 

“I am comfortable with who I am,’’ she said. “I’m not looking to become a different person in college. I just want to strengthen the parts of me that are already there, including my commitment to social justice.” 

Surfing safari

While Samantha and Valerie were figuring out a place to hang the dream catchers, Samantha’s new roommate, Skylar Smith of Pacific Palisades, was seeking out a spot for her battered Sakal shortboard, which a friend of hers found on the side of a road and restored for her. 

“Can you teach me how to surf?” asked Samantha. 

“Of course!” Skylar said. “I’m not the best. But I will teach you!” 

As the new roommates chatted, Skylar’s father, Dennis Smith, said he was excited for his daughter. 

“My wife and I think she’s ready to move on. Take the next step,” he said. 

“Oh, stop being so metaphorical,” Skylar responded. “My mom and dad were like, ‘Get out of the house.’”

Skylar Smith was not the only incoming Oakes first-year to tote a surfboard into a dorm room. Even in the midst of move-in, Gavin Christy of Bodega Bay made sure to check out the surf reports.

In fact, he already had plans to get some surfing done that very evening. Christy said he’s not worried about balancing school work and surfing. 

“I’ve been doing this since high school,’’ he said.

Christy was pleased to find out that being a dedicated scholar and surfer is a vaunted tradition on campus. In fact, the university’s distinguished alumni include William Finnegan (Cowell ’74, English literature), who did quite a bit of surfing in college. He went on to become a New Yorker staff writer in 1987, and won a Pulitzer Prize for his memoir of surfing, Barbarian Days: A Surfing Life. Other famous surfing alumni include big-wave surfers Sarah Gerhardt (Ph.D. '03, physical chemistry) and Ryan Seelbach (Kresge '92, Earth sciences; M.A. '93).