Why Inclusion and Diversity Should be Considered a Top Priority on Cal Poly’s Campus

With Phi Sigma’s “Colonial Bros and Nava-hoes” party in 2014, the return of alt-right provocateur Milo Yiannopoulos and the most recent incident of Lambda Chi Alpha’s racially and culturally insensitive acts of black face and mockery of the Latinx community through depictions of “gangster” dress, it’s clear that Cal Poly has a problem when it comes to inclusion and diversity and needs a serious wake up call.

As a POC at this university, the second you step onto this campus you feel that climate and culture. Take one look around and it’s hard to even find a face that looks like your own. You have no one to relate to, and when you hear about the racially insensitive actions committed by people in our own community, it makes you feel as though you are not welcomed, not wanted and don’t belong. The fact that the administration refuses to take real action and instead protect the perpetrators in almost every incident only affirms that feeling and shows that Cal Poly is still facing an epidemic that has plagued this university since it was first founded.

Yes, this isn’t just a recent trend of racially insensitive events that are arising. Cal Poly has struggled with these issues from the very start. Just take a look at this picture from the 1915 yearbook. It shows “Athletic Carnival” posed in blackface for a minstrel show. Not only was it allowed on campus but widely accepted, welcome and seen as a form of popular entertainment.

An excerpt from the yearbook describes the show saying, “They were blacked and dressed to look like real negroes. The songs (they) sang were especially good and received hearty applause. The jokes were new and original and enjoyed by all. [...] This was the first minstrel show given at Polytechnic and as it was met with such good success we hope to see another.”

Fast forward 103 years later, and we are still seeing black face appear on our campus and in our community. If the initial incident surrounding Lambda Chi Alpha didn’t alarm you, the facts I just presented should. This is exactly why diversity and inclusion should always be Cal Poly’s top priority. How can we as a university move forward from these actions of ignorance if there are not real programs, sanctions, education and zero tolerance policies put in place?

This starts at admission. Cal Poly has the least racially diverse student population among all public universities in California, according to enrollment data provided by the CSU and UC systems. In fall 2017, 54.8 percent of Cal Poly's student body identified as white, which is the highest percentage of any school within the 23-campus CSU system, as well as the 10-university UC system. One factor may be that POC choose not to come to Cal Poly because of the lack of diversity. Another is that when Cal Poly attempts to be inclusive, it’s not genuine. You can’t just slap a POC’s face on a banner, brochure or poster and expect students to feel welcomed. They can see right through it.

From there it trickles down to programming. Every student at Cal Poly is required to complete AlcoholEDU and Haven training annually in order to not have their registration delayed. And while it’s great that as students we are expected to be educated on alcohol safety and sexual assault, but why aren’t we expected to have race and cultural literacy? Each student should be required to take at least one ethnic studies course in order to graduate because it’s quite evident to see that the many white students on this campus are quite ignorant to when it comes to knowledge about race, ethnicity and culture.

A common narrative that has been told by white students in reaction to the blackface incident is that they couldn’t believe something like this could happen in 2018. Uhhh, believe it sis. It’s happening and it’s been happening for a very long time, ask any POC. The fact of the matter is that your white privilege has allowed you to carry on with your daily life and never have to worry, think about or pay attention to any of this. Yes, I said white privilege. It is a real thing -- look up and read “Unpacking the Invisible Knapsack” by Peggy Mcintosh. It was term coined by a white lady, don’t fight me on this.

Something to also remember is while POC appreciate white people voicing their thoughts on the matter, you have to remember that it’s not your place. It’s not your place to put the spotlight on yourself and tell a POC how to feel and how not to feel. People who are not POC often say, “I didn’t mean to offend or attack anyone,” but what needs to be understood is that your intent does not equal the impact that your words and actions have. What also needs to be understood is that it is not POC's job or responsibility to fix the mess that white people created; that’s a job for the people who started the mess. It’s also not our job to educate you. What we, POC, need more than ever on this campus is allies. Allies who genuinely care and want to educate themselves and stand in solidarity with their POC brothers and sisters. Allies who ask what they can do to help us, speak up and take action.