Students, staff, and alumni of UCSC’s student organizations have practiced the Student Agency Model for over 25 years.
SOMeCA has developed innovative processes, programs, and structures to grow learning environments and to contribute to positive changes on our campus. Our alumni have taken these same approaches into their careers and strengthened work places and organizations across the country.
The office began as a traditional Campus Activities Office, with a focus on ensuring that student organizations followed campus time, place, and manner regulations. In 1988, a new director, Chareane Wimbley-Gouveia, introduced the approach of staff supporting student-initiated programs. She renamed the office SOAR, Student Organization Advising and Resources, and recruited staff that had experience working in community organizations, student development, and conflict resolution. Staff were trained to be resources and facilitators for student leaders, listening and drawing out the goals of organizations and providing support for students to be able to decide what to do and how to do it.
The change from a traditional campus activities office to a resource center for student initiatives matched the spirit of UCSC students. Compared to their peers nationally, UCSC frosh scored higher in interest in participating in community action, promoting racial understanding, influencing social values, and developing a philosophy of life. The new SOAR office provided students with the space, resources, and advising needed to successfully gather with peers and explore these interests.
In a short amount of time, students from all backgrounds began forming organizations. Students from under represented communities were especially motivated by the new approach. Prior to the establishment of SOAR, ethnic organizations were 26% of all student organizations. Ten years after SOAR was established, ethnic organizations were 41% of all organizations. Organizations gave under represented students a home base that strengthened their sense of community, belonging, and agency on campus. The organizations also created diverse social, cultural, political, and educational programs which contributed to the overall campus climate.
Another area of growth occurred with Greek Letter Organizations. Prior to the establishment of SOAR, there were no Greek Letter Organizations due to a campus policy that discouraged exclusive organizations. With SOAR’s advocacy and policy of supporting all student interests, they grew to 16% of all organizations. Student initiative was also reflected in the character of UCSC’s Greek Life, which is diverse and includes numerous groups without national affiliation.
With Power Comes Responsibility
In the early 2000s, a few student organizations took to the ballot to ask the student body for funding support. Students voted in favor, granting student organizations governance over substantial operating and program funds. In 2005, the Office of the Chancellor agreed to match the students’ dollars two-to-one for student-initiated programs that support diversity. The Chancellor has renewed this match for the last ten years.
This strong campus wide support gave student organizations full responsibility for developing new and high-impact projects and programs, including high school outreach programs, television productions, and campus sustainability initiatives. Student, staff, and alumni stepped up the challenge and responsibilities granted to them. They formed summer teams to do literature reviews and held retreats to summarize lessons from their organizations. Over the next few years, they experimented with new structures and processes that would support inclusive and democratic decision-making, learning, and accountability.
In 2009, SOAR was merged with the offices of Student Media and Cultural Arts and Diversity (CAD) to form SOMeCA. The three offices shared the student agency approach and the merger created a dynamic collaboration of staff and students across cultures, politics, ethnicity, academics, and mediums. The cross collaboration generated excitement and energy in all areas and led to an increase of 40 new student organizations between 2009 and 2012.