In nearly four years as a student at Cal Poly, I had not had a single quarter where the majority, or even half, of my professors have been women—until this year. My professors have almost always been men, and I’d never really thought a lot about it. It’s always been something that I’ve accepted as normal and inconsequential. I was always excited when I had a female professor, but I wasn’t extremely concerned with why I didn’t have more of them. Since the start of this quarter, however, I’ve realized how influential and inspiring it is to see strong, intelligent women in charge of my education.
Who we learn from and how we learn matters.
The types of textbooks we read from, the sources we cite and how our professors conduct lectures all subtly affect our education. Professors and lecturers bring their own identities with them, and those identities affect their perspective and their teaching style. That is not to say that any one type of professor is more disposed to a certain personality type given how they identify, or that those identities make one professor more biased than another. But, you are likely to get more points of view from a diverse faculty, than from a faculty that are predominantly white men.
Diversity in gender expression, ethnicity, sexual orientation, forms of belief and socio-economic upbringing is important for us as students. When we see and experience diversity, it prepares us for an unavoidably multicultural workplace. A one-dimensional education does little to foster collaboration and open-mindedness, which are highly valuable traits in the work force.
More importantly though, if we want to create an inclusive and diverse student body at Cal Poly, we need to start by staffing our university with diverse faculty and support staff. Students don’t want to stay at a school where they don’t fit in to the culture, and where the faculty don’t represent the aspects of their identity that are important to them—and that includes gender, ethnicity and sexual orientation. Students want to see themselves reflected at the head of the classroom.
I didn’t realize how hungry I was for diversity in my education until I started to see how valuable it was to my growth as a student. I wasn’t aware how much it would mean to me to see other women at the head of the classroom, proving that women do belong in leadership roles. Having a faculty which are 50 percent women shouldn’t be unusual; it should be expected given that 50 percent of the general population are women. It would seem like common practice to hire equal numbers of men and women in higher education—as professors, lecturers, and support staff—but unfortunately it’s not. According to statistics on diversity provided by Cal Poly, about 46 percent of students here are women, and that number is steadily rising. Of the tenure track faculty at Cal Poly however, only 32 percent are women.
Those dismal representation statistics are especially poignant when looked at from the perspective of students who are women of color. As unusual as it might be at Cal Poly to have a female professor, it’s even more unusual to have a professor who is a woman of color. While ethnic diversity among the student body at Cal Poly has begun to slowly increase for a few demographics (specifically for Latinx, Asian, and multi-racial students), our faculty has seen an alarming decrease in faculty of color (especially black and multi-racial professors and lecturers). Cal Poly also has incredibly low representation for Native American and Pacific Islander students and faculty, which has remained stagnant (and low) even though we have seen some increase for other ethnic demographics.
Though it may be easier to quantify ethnic and gender representation at our school, it’s equally as important to consider the lack of LGBTQ+ representation at Cal Poly. It’s important for LGBTQ+ students at our school to feel safe, understood and represented in our school culture. Queer students benefit from having queer faculty and staff just as much as any other minority student would from seeing aspects of their identity reflected in the faculty.
It’s not only minority students who benefit from having a diverse faculty, however. My education has been benefitted immensely by my exposure to Native women, Black women, and Queer women as my professors. I am a better student because I’ve been privileged enough to be exposed to diversity in my classes. Taking classes from professors who bring their diversity into the classroom and who use their differences as assets, has made me more open-minded, more analytical and critical and better equipped to be a productive member of the community.