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UC Santa Cruz Hires Its First Activist In Residence

Krista Almanzan
Isai Ambrosio is Program Director at the Davenport Resource Service Center and also Activisit in Residence at UCSC

UC Santa Cruz just hired its first Activist in Residence. His name is Isai Ambrosio. His position is new at UCSC, but the idea is not new on college campuses. 

Ambrosio moved to the U.S. from Mexico when he was 17 years old. He arrived with his guitar and a dream of becoming a professional musician. The day after he got here, he started picking blackberries in the fields near Watsonville. 

“I always say that I was very lucky because when I arrived I had a green card waiting for me. I had a car waiting for me. I had a home waiting for me. I had a whole network of support from my dad and my brothers and just a community ready to support me,” says Ambrosio.

That network of support helped Ambrosio as he worked his way through Cabrillo College, then Cal State Monterey Bay and eventually Monterey College of Law.

He knows many people, immigrant or not, lack that type of support and sometimes lack just a basic understanding of how to navigate the resources available in their communities. So that’s where he found his purpose. 

Ambrosio is the Program Director at the Davenport Resource Service Center.  It’s a community center for the whole family from teens to the elderly on the north coast. It offers homework groups and senior potlucks and it helps people navigate citizenship applications and health services.

“My vision is not that we have the services ready for them, but that they have the knowledge in their hands.  That's kind of like my ultimate goal here in Davenport,” says Ambrosio.

Ambrosio has also started a new job as UC Santa Cruz’s first Activist in Residence. He’s on campus every Friday this Winter quarter as a guest speaker in classes or to meet with students one on one.     

Sylvanna Falcon is Director of UCSC’s Research Center for the Americas.  She created this activist in residence position. 

“I think there is a very deep investment that scholars do the intellectual work and activists to the engaged work, and I really feel like that needs to be muddied in all kinds of ways,” says Falcon.

The idea of an Activist in Residence is not new. Falcon picked it up from UCLA which started it’s program in 2016. Years before then schools across the country have hosted activists in a formal capacity. The University of Oklahoma, Smith College and Eastern Washington University all have activist in residence programs. 

Their purpose varies from school to school, but at UCSC, Falcon says the idea is to bridge the divide between the campus and the community. 

“The goal is to really expose students to as much of social realities as we can. Partly what this activist in residency is doing is that, is in fact saying, we want to in some ways get you out of the bubble and learn about what's happening in families just ten miles north of here,” says Falcon.

“Well today we have food distribution here at the center,” says Ambrosio as he watches senior citizens, young parents and other community members fill grocery bags from bins stacked high with potatoes, fresh fruits and bread.   This food bank set up at the Davenport Resource Center a couple of times a month.

He sees a role for students in events like this. “For students who are interested in social work, community work, they get to see actually how we do it: all the set up, all the paperwork that we need to do, phone calls,” says Ambrosio.

He sees his Activist in Residence role as a chance to give students this type of experience.

“But honestly I want to learn more than sharing. I want to share the issues that we face here and just ask what would you do? What would you do? Because students they have a lot of great ideas,” he says.

Through class talks and office hours, Falcon estimates Ambrosio will reach more than 500 students by the time his role as UCSC Activist In Residence wraps up in March. He has the option of continuing through the Spring. 

Then this Fall, UCSC will post the job again for a new Activist in Residence for the Winter of 2020.

Editor's Note: UCSC supports KAZU.  Underwriters do not affect our journalism.