by Erin Marquez Subido
My time at the University of California, Santa Cruz was challenging even before a global pandemic struck. As a first-generation Filipina student from the diverse city of Oakland, I experienced both depression and imposter syndrome in my first years at UCSC. It felt immensely difficult to navigate the predominantly white institution as a student of color. I woke up day-to-day feeling as though I was unable to make friends who looked like me, thought like me, or had similar values to me. Being able to find an organization like Bayanihan (formerly known as the Filipino Student Association) that fostered a space to expand on my social, political, cultural, and academic needs, helped me immensely. Yet, when COVID-19 began to shut down the state of California and then the nation, the sense of community that I built through Bayanihan began to crumble.
I stumbled upon Bayanihan in the beginning of my first year at one of our campus’ organizational fairs. The student-led organization fosters a sense of community among Filipino students through teaching Filipino styles of dance, hosting spoken word and poetry performances, and providing a space for the larger community to learn of our history and culture. Through Bayanihan’s mentorship program (KAMP) and acting-improv troupe (People Power), I met kind people who pushed me to always reach my full potential and to take care of my mental health. However, coming to Bayanihan, I was filled with love, support, and care that inspired me to grow and blossom. Whether it be through small interactions, creating long-lasting relationships, or even through the events that Bayanihan hosted, I knew there was a community waiting for me. In my last year, I wanted to give back to Bayanihan by becoming its President and to help empower others to grow as I had.
The year 2019-20 was also when I came to realize that although our university boasts about the ‘vast diversity’ that exists on UCSC’s campus, it does not put resources into supporting those students. Throughout the academic year, students faced many challenges even before Coronavirus—power outages, wildfires, and graduate student strikes. Rather than the university coming to our aid, students of color often relied on each other to create a sense of community, share resources, and build opportunities. Being at the forefront of the graduate student Cost of Living Adjustment (COLA) strikes, along with the other organizers, I watched the student body successfully build a community based in mutual solidarity from the ground up. As Bayanihan, we took a stance by putting out a public statement in support of the strikes. We provided educational workshops at the base of campus and had members attend in solidarity with the graduate students.
Watching and taking part in this movement only fueled my activism and sense of community at UCSC. However, when the news of COVID-19 was placed on our shoulders, that community seemed increasingly fragile and I experienced feelings of defeat. As our university began to shut down the campus, it pained me to think that all the hard work that different students and organizations undertook to foster a sense of community could be diminished by this pandemic.
In the beginning of March 2020, there remained much uncertainty about the university’s response to Covid. As students, we received emails everyday with confusing and contradictory messages. In early March, our chancellor announced that we would still be able to return to campus; however, those same statements were soon redacted and replaced with a shelter-in-place order. Students living on campus were uncertain if they would be able to stay in their campus housing and student leaders, like those of Bayanihan, had no idea how to approach their quarterly programming. The lack of clarity made me spiral into a wave of hopelessness as a student, an organizer, and a community member. I was the most afraid that by not being able to see my peers and friends, I would lose my sense of belonging.
Spring 2020 was my last semester at UCSC. I knew that with the closing of our university, there wouldn’t be a graduation ceremony, a moment I had looked forward to my entire college career. Further, it pained me knowing that I wouldn’t have been able to be part of Bayanihan’s in-person events. These end-of-the-year events were created to celebrate the year, to reflect on the work we had accomplished, and to further cultivate the intimate networks that made our organization so special. With my head swirling, thinking about ways to move forward, I was given the devastating news that my mother contracted COVID.
Having to navigate academic and community changes and challenges, while at the same time watching my mother fight for her life in the hospital, was the hardest thing I have ever encountered. However, I knew I had to hold myself together. My community members and friends needed me to push our organization through. I had to channel the same energy that I have seen from my community and from the strength I’ve seen from other organizers to be able to end the year the way I previously envisioned. I took the time to center myself and looked into alternative ways to approach programming alongside our faculty advisor. While we weren’t able to have our in-person events, Bayanihan continued to be a space for folks to engage with one another virtually. The student leaders of Bayanihan Core strengthened our online presence through interactive virtual study jams, game nights, and office hours. By offering these spaces to our members to hop on, our community was able to find a sense of belonging through a virtual platform.
Bayanihan roughly translates to ‘community,’ which has always been a concept that I took to heart. There have been many hardships, challenges, and obstacles that have stood in my way as a student organizer this year, but I have seen myself grow. From being a student who struggled with depression and imposter syndrome, college seemed overwhelming long before COVID. I survived these obstacles, as well as those that have consumed my life since March, because the UCSC community has become my home. In this difficult time, and when our university administrators were largely absent, Bayanihan has continued to offer friendship and love. Along with other UCSC activists, we have continued to fight for a more just campus for us all.
Erin Subido is a Bay Area native and also a graduate of the University of California, Santa Cruz, having recently completed her B.A. in Sociology in 2020. Beginning with her roots in youth empowerment groups when she was younger, she continued her work at her university by joining the Filipino ethnic organization on campus, Bayanihan. Her interest in student leadership and activism saw its fruition when she took on the mantle of Bayanihan Chair ‘20 – ’21 and led the organization through a challenging year navigating graduate student strikes as well as COVID-19. Her overcoming these obstacles was inspiration for her to publish the research she commenced in her final quarter: Community Resilience During COVID-19, detailing the methods in which different student organizations like her own used to retain their members in the university’s transition to a digital platform.