Embracing identity: Tchad Sanger's advocacy and leadership at UC Santa Cruz

Tchad Sanger
Photo by Carolyn Lagattuta

Most weekday mornings Tchad Sanger (Porter ‘93) can be found walking through the redwood trees and mist on the UC Santa Cruz campus. At this time of day, it’s quiet and the sun is just starting to rise on the Monterey Bay and filter through tree branches and campus buildings. The walk, Tchad explains, is a ritual that sets the tone for his day, “It centers me. It reminds me why I’m here and who I’m here for. It reminds me of what’s important.”

As the university registrar, Tchad feels he’s at UC Santa Cruz to support students, who like himself, came to the university looking for connection and a better understanding of who they are.

Finding a home at UC Santa Cruz

Tchad was born in 1970 and grew up in Arroyo Grande, California. A small, coastal town known for its agriculture and rural beauty. His parents were teachers at local elementary and high schools. From a young age, he perceived the social expectations of normality, with strict gender roles and heteronormative relationships, as restrictive and arbitrary.

“I always knew I was not normal, in how others defined normal,” he said. “I was constantly checking myself and my behavior, to make sure everyone else thought I was just like everyone else.”

He remembers being teased in the moments he veered slightly from traditional expectations, like when he suggested that it would be “cool to be able to wear a dress” on a hot day, or suggesting that his male classmates should not refer to female classmates as “chicks.” This led him to retreat into the closet, suppressing and denying his feelings.

While he may have been harassed for being different, he also felt there was a freedom that came with not being “normal” that allowed him to explore friendships with all types of people and pursue a variety of interests, explaining, “In my heart of hearts I knew that I was Queer, Queer on many different levels, and that's why I didn't have to play by everyone else’s rules.”

Tchad’s first visit to UC Santa Cruz’s campus was during a college tour while in high school. He stayed on campus overnight and remembers spending his morning eating a tofu scramble for breakfast and reading the local events newspaper, Good Times Magazine. On the back of the magazine, he spotted a personal ad from a bisexual male seeking similar.

“At the time, I was so confused by what my senses of attraction were. I just thought that Santa Cruz must be the coolest place ever if they can just publicize ads like that. I felt like I knew I would be OK here.”

After breakfast, Tchad took a campus tour that made a stop at Porter College. The quad was alive with music and students playing Frisbee, and the atmosphere was enough to make him certain that UC Santa Cruz was the place he wanted to be.

In 1989, Tchad followed through on that feeling and moved to the UC Santa Cruz campus to begin a degree program in education.

As a student, Tchad served as a resident advisor and housing assistant at Porter College. He was influenced by many of his supervisors who “advocated absolutely for a different world and it was completely profound to me.”

Tchad continued, “My supervisors were some of the most influential people that I've ever met, they gave me my first understanding that you can create and change communities; We can be intentional in the voices that we amplify, and can really make positive change to affect what our community is.”

After seeing these colleagues advocate for and center the LGBTQIA+ experience, Tchad felt comfortable first coming out on November 12, 1989. In partnership, he went on to create the Porter Lavender Network. An organized community he describes as an “environment where we were able to celebrate all aspects of ourselves. And experience the kind of love that can happen when affecting change and growing into something better.”

It was Tchad’s work with the Lavender Network and his role in the student housing office that first sparked his interest in managing administrative programs. He recognized how much these programs helped students build the sense of family he was able to find at UC Santa Cruz.

Embracing advocacy and new leadership roles

Shortly after graduating with his bachelor’s degree in education in 1993, Tchad took a frontline position in the registrar's office.

“And I loved it!” Tchad said. “I love being an administrator. I love policy work. I love the research of policy. I love finding the gray areas and using the gray areas to our benefit. I love closing loopholes when they're not appropriate. I love the integrity of keeping records and being responsible for the integrity of the institution and the students … working in a higher education environment that is very supportive and progressive and takes the individual for everything that they are, it's something that I really found a deep love in.”

In the decades after beginning his first position, Tchad continued to say “yes" to leadership roles that were offered to him in academic advising and the registrar’s office. Until he was offered the associate registrar position in 2006 and ultimately the university registrar position in 2014.

Throughout his career, Tchad’s advocacy work didn't always align directly with his job description. However, it provided opportunities for personal growth, like learning how to build coalitions, focus on the needs of others, and make demands for necessary changes.

While at UC Santa Cruz, Tchad has worked to secure domestic partner benefits, advocate for LGBTQIA+ inclusion and non-discrimination policies, organize national LGBTQIA+ conferences, and most recently, he played a key role in implementing a system-wide update to recognize students’ gender identities and lived names.

"My work is about finding and amplifying voices ... it’s about bringing visibility to communities that can be invisible," said Tchad.

As the university registrar, Tchad leads an office responsible for the accuracy and integrity of the student record and curricular records of the institution. He said, “It's my mission to reduce barriers and harm for our students who are attending the university.”

This includes questioning and revising campus policies to ensure equity and inclusion and advocating for changes that support marginalized students, particularly in relation to financial aid regulations and academic progress requirements.

Tchad has collaborated on equity initiatives with Regina Langhout, a psychology professor; Stacey Sketo-Rosener, assistant vice provost for undergraduate advising; Kalin McGraw, associate registrar for curriculum management; and Patrick Register, former director of financial aid and scholarship. In 2017, they began an examination of performance metrics based on factors such as race and class to assess their impact on access to financial aid. This year, Tchad will co-author a book chapter with Langhout on faculty activism, sharing their experiences with this data analysis and their advocacy for changes aimed at reducing equity gaps.

“I view myself as a civil servant,” said Tchad. “I think that's an important role, not just within the university but in society at large – to serve others as much as ourselves.”

Tchad is proud to lead an office of 26 full-time staff, “who give so much it amazes me. All I want is for people to have integrity and joy in what they do, even when it's the hard stuff. We set our sights high. What we're trying to achieve may not be something we’ll personally be able to achieve but we are always working towards a greater goal.”

In recognition of his substantial contributions as a registrar, Tchad was elected to the American Association of University Registrar Board of Directors in February 2024. Of the appointment, Tchad feels it will give him an opportunity to share the initiatives that he’s been a part of at UC Santa Cruz with a national audience.

“Timewise, I've spent most of my life at UC Santa Cruz. I have so much connection and so much history and pride in the university. In many ways, it was a life-saving decision for me to come here and be welcomed the way I was, and my commitment to its mission is what [the university] gets back in return.”