Meet The Mustang in the Room: Cal Poly's Media Movement to Continue the Conversation

Last spring, students across Cal Poly's campus expressed their outrage when a picture of Lambda Chi Alpha member, Kyler Watkins, wearing blackface at a party went viral. There were protests, discussions and promises that the administration would put its best effort towards improving Cal Poly’s diversity. Although this event brought up a lot of negativity, it brought the campus together and forced everyone to carefully examine Cal Poly’s relationship with students of color and other underrepresented communities on its campus.

So, what’s happened since then? Well, life went on. What was once a passionate roar, fell down to a muted murmur compared to what it was before. While Cal Poly continues to have diversity problems, they have fallen from the forefront to a looming afterthought.

There is a movement on our campus that aims to change that.

It started last spring, when liberal arts professor Muara Johnson’s ISLA 240 class was deciding what to base their multimedia campaign project on.

“They decided that they wanted to do something about social justice on campus … in response to the blackface incident,” Johnson said.

Even though the incident was a fresh wound at this point, the students sensed the attention around the matter was already fading fast. And so, The Mustang in the Room was born.

Inspired by the phrase “the elephant in the room”, it describes the school’s problems regarding diversity. The campaign involves podcasts, comics, games, social media, blogs and videos, all housed on a website. Its primary objective is to continue the conversation on diversity and social justice at Cal Poly and serve “as a place where people can talk about what their feelings [are] regarding racism on campus,” Johnson said.

After The Mustang in the Room’s inception, the original ISLA 240 class has since passed the torch on to the current class. As a result, the site contains two quarters’ worth of content – more than enough to engage visitors and make them start thinking about social justice at Cal Poly in a new light.

Plus, with the various types of content on the site, there’s something for everyone. Do you like reading blog posts? There’s a variety of blog posts on the site focusing on various topics, from on-campus cultural events to educational pieces. More of an audio learner? Check out the podcasts and videos! As for those who like interactive media, the site has two games, with more to come, and a strong social media presence encouraging active engagement.

The students behind the site are trying to reach a wide audience, so the project can grow and expand even further. “I hope … that we can actually develop this into a self-sustaining movement that will continue whether it is a part of the 240 class or not,” Johnson said.

The campaign has already strongly impacted the students working on it. Michael Gould, a fifth year history major at Cal Poly and a member of the campaign’s video and production team, said the campaign has impacted him personally.

“TMITR [The Mustang in the Room] has really opened my eyes and ears to the voices of students at Cal Poly who don't feel welcome,” Gould said. “I want to learn about the various challenges facing certain religions, social groups, cultures, genders and sexualities so that I can become educated and help to work towards a solution.”

Right now, the team behind the project is fairly small, containing 13 students, but what it lacks in numbers, it more than makes up for in ambition and drive. These students aim to share their passion for social justice with other students through their work. While the campaign may be small for now, its organizers are confident that it can grow into a campus-wide movement. If everyone continues to speak out about social justice and diversity, than it’s more likely to see things change.

If you’re concerned about social justice and would like to support the project, you can get involved. Right now, The Mustang in the Room is organizing a social media campaign called “#mywordsmatter.” The idea is to collect instances of microaggressions at Cal Poly and compile them online, so people can see the extent careless and hurtful words affect people on our campus. If you’ve seen or experienced a microaggression at Cal Poly and would like to share your story, direct message a 10 to 60 second video of yourself explaining the incident to The Mustang in the Room’s Instagram. Or, if you would like to remain anonymous, you can send a 100-word script to TMITR’s email.

Ultimately, The Mustang in the Room wants to start a conversation, and the more students it can include, the more productive it will be.

“It allows for students to learn from one another about the negative experiences that they have faced at Cal Poly that someone else never would've experienced or realized was a problem," Gould said. "TMITR offers those interested in making Cal Poly a better place a learning opportunity to grow and gain perspective! I want to feel proud about coming from a campus where I know ALL of my peers are represented fairly and equally. I think we can make that happen.”