Attending the guided trip to Big Lagoon, Justin Valenzuela’s first moments on the water Sunday, March 6, 2022. Photo by/ Kris Nagel

The 28th annual Social Justice Summit concluded with paddle-boarding to Big Lagoon.

Rocking the boat at Big Lagoon

by Kris Nagel

An almost-spring chill in the wind convinced almost all of the attendees present to wriggle into one of the wetsuits piled on the warm sand. The Social Justice, Equity and Inclusion Center (SJEIC), in tandem with Center Activities, hosted a kayaking and paddleboarding trip to Big Lagoon for students on March 6.

Photo by Kris Nagel | Attendees of the 2022 Social Justice Summit trip to Big Lagoon suited up with life preservers and splash guard gather on the beach on March 6, 2022.

The event capped off a week of activities as part of the 2022 Social Justice Summit, which was themed around climate justice and intersectionality. Part of a 28-year tradition, the annual Social Justice Summit is a place for students to get directly involved in making our community more inclusive. Frank Herrera, the SJEIC coordinator, helped oversee the student leaders who put together the week’s schedule with accessibility in mind.

“Big Lagoon is a cool spot. I would imagine that it’s probably going to be transformational for some,” Herrera said. “Hopefully in a positive way.”

The summit was one of the first programs to be offered in person now that COVID-19 restrictions are starting to be lifted. Herrera said this year drew a smaller crowd than it had before the pandemic hit, with around a hundred students attending events over the week.

About 16 people went to Big Lagoon on Sunday. In part, the limited itinerary was due to this year lacking a credit program for student organizers of the summit. Normally, a class credit is offered through the Critical Race, Gender and Sexuality Studies (CRGS) department. However, Herrera’s request for the program was denied this year.

Photo by Kris Nagel | Aelis Hanson, a guide with Cal Poly’s Center Activities, walks a program participant through their launch at Big Lagoon on a paddleboard March 6, 2022.

The summit was a work in progress for months prior to the first speaker taking the stage at the end of February. However, some accommodations took on-the-ground problem solving by the event coordinators.

One student registered for the Big Lagoon trip had requested additional assistance in transporting their mobility aid before arriving at the pickup location. Not having planned for the additional cargo, organizers scrambled for an additional vehicle. Fortunately, another van was available that morning and the student was able to join shortly after the first kayaks launched.

Photo by Kris Nagel | Center Activies’ Mairead Sardina educates program participants on water safety, showing how a tight life vest helps keep the head above water March 6, 2022.

Mairead Sardina works for Cal Poly Humboldt’s Center Activities and helped plan the outdoor programming of the summit. Sardina hoped that the trip would help re-establish a sense of normalcy on campus, now that activities are held in person again.

“It gets them out and engaged with the local environment which helps with student retention, makes them feel safer, makes them want to get out and care about protecting the environment and see what a beautiful place Humboldt is to live,” Sardina said, promoting the Center Activities center where students can rent outdoor gear at low or no cost.

Cal Poly Humboldt student Tatiana Gamboa joined the journey out to Big Lagoon. A second-semester student, Gamboa was drawn to the school behind the redwood curtain because of its emphasis on the local environment.

“It encourages [students] to come out and do something different, without having the funds to rent gear and the previous knowledge of how to paddleboard and kayak.” Gamboa said. “So it kind of gives that gate to students exploring something they might like and I think that’s pretty special.”

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