Saying they’re “tired of the discrimination” displayed in incidents at Cal Poly, a group of underrepresented students calling themselves SLO Solidarity has issued a list of demands concerning diversity and inclusiveness on campus.
The group said it doesn’t believe Cal Poly is living up to its commitment to diversity and has sent campus leaders a list of 41 stipulations, ranging from creating new tolerance programs in orientation to gender-neutral and co-gender housing options and restrooms on campus.
Citing recent anti-Islamic and anti-gender-identity remarks scrawled on a “Free Speech Wall” erected on campus, as well as an off-campus Greek party in 2013 that was demeaning to Native Americans — in addition to other experiences that minority students say they face daily on campus — the group is seeking change or a new administration.
“If these demands cannot be met, we will demand a new administration which will treat underrepresented students with equity and make Cal Poly a place where everyone is equally empowered to obtain a high-quality education,” the students wrote to campus leaders Monday.
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Cal Poly officials have repeatedly stated that diversity and inclusiveness are key concerns for the campus and that they’re working toward creating new programs.
If these demands cannot be met, we will demand a new administration which will treat underrepresented students with equity.
SLO Solidarity student collective
The SLO Solidarity group consists of multiple student organizations including the Queer Student Union, Black Student Union and the feminist group Triota. SLO Solidarity has 219 members in its Facebook group, and its leaders estimate 150 have attended one of the four organized meetings.
Some of their demands include: diversity and inclusivity training, and education and social events focused on underrepresented groups during orientation; first-year residence halls and restroom facilities that are gender-neutral; mandatory Women’s & Gender Studies or Ethnic Studies courses for students in every major; at least one multi-stall, all-gender restroom in every building on campus; a Greek Life Diversity and Inclusivity Task Force; and at least a 3 percent increase annually in hiring of tenure-line faculty of color across all colleges until faculty demographics reflect those of the state of California.
The group wants an action plan in place by the end of the fall quarter, which ends Dec. 12, or the first week of winter quarter, which starts Jan. 4.
In response, Cal Poly’s vice president of student affairs Keith Humphrey said that a recent forum and several informal meetings with students have led officials to work toward “short-term and long-term changes to campus programming.”
Cal Poly is planning to release its proposals by the end of the fall quarter, Humphrey said.
“University administration is working diligently to address the concerns and ideas raised recently by our students,” Humphrey said. “The university agrees with most of these student-generated ideas and indeed already had some similar proposals in development before these recent discussions began.”
Matt Klepfer, co-founder and president of Cal Poly’s Queer Student Union, said that “every underrepresented student I’ve met here has felt unsafe or unwelcome at one point or another.”
“Many of them want to leave and regret coming here, but transferring is a really difficult and time-consuming process,” Klepfer said. “Some stick it out, but I’ve had a ton of friends leave. People leave not because of the quality of education, but rather because they don’t feel comfortable here. It’s time for that to change.”
Kristin Lee, a member of SLO Solidarity and the Black Student Union’s community service director, said the kind of daily hostile or racist experiences she’s faced have included a professor saying Cal Poly is rated as highly attractive because of its homogenous (mostly white campus) makeup, seeing Confederate flags at a Cal Poly agriculture fraternity house, and white students in blackface makeup at events.
“We just want to be able to be ourselves and not get persecuted on a daily basis,” Lee said.
The university agrees with most of these student-generated ideas and indeed already had some similar proposals in development before these recent discussions began.
Keith Humphrey, Cal Poly vice president for student affairs
At a recent student-coordinated rally protesting anti-Islamic and anti-gender-identity notes and drawings, a student said he was told by a faculty member that he was “going to hell” because he was gay, a comment that student claimed the teacher made in an office-hours meeting. The student said he chose a class project that examined homosexuality in Nazi Germany, and he had gone to discuss the project with the teacher. He filed a Title IX complaint with the university over the incident.
The Free Speech Wall incident included one anonymous post reading “Islam has no place in free Western World” and another of a cartoonlike drawing of an Islamic figure firing a weapon while being quoted saying, “Don’t draw me. I’ll jihad your face. Allahu Akbar (Arabic for ‘God is great’).” A third, with blank checklist boxes for “male” and “female,” said “pick one and one only.”
In 2013, an off-campus fraternity hosted a “Colonial Bros and Nava-Hos” theme party, where men wore Colonial-era costumes, while women wore sexually explicit and stereotypical Native American attire. The incident garnered national media attention, including mention in The Huffington Post and criticism from the Navajo Nation Human Rights Commission.
Klepfer said SLO Solidarity doesn’t expect Cal Poly to implement its demanded changes immediately, but to set forth a reasonable time frame for enacting them.
“The action plan will contain further deadlines for specific actions that the administration will take,” Klepfer said. “So with the example of all-gender restrooms, we will expect the administration to release a plan of how they will have at least one in every building by the first week of winter quarter. The plan will then detail specific future deadlines, likely a few months later.”
Klepfer said the group likely won’t feel the full effects of change in its educational cycle, but it wants a better future.
“We are fighting to make the campus better for the next generation of underrepresented students, so they don’t feel the same way we do,” he said.
Other demands include: increased funding to Associated Students Inc. (student government) for social programming for underrepresented students; allocations for funds for low-income students to campaign for ASI elections; overhauled diversity and inclusion training for resident assistants (peer housing leaders); a queer studies minor; the establishment of a department leader in diversity in every department; and the promotion of the executive director of diversity to a vice president position.
Humphrey declined to address the specific demands but noted in general that “diversity is a key component of the ‘Learn By Doing’ education and Cal Poly’s mission of preparing new professionals ready to succeed in a global workforce,” Humphrey said. “The university’s faculty, staff and administrators take this seriously and work continuously to make Cal Poly as open and inclusive as possible for all members of and visitors to the campus community.”
Cal Poly student profile
Total undergraduates: 10,414 men, 8,832 women, 19,246 total
Total graduate students: 474 men, 466 women, 940 total
Average age of full-time undergraduates: 20
U.S. region where majority of students come from: West
First-year student enrollment breakdown:
- 0.1% American Indian or Alaskan Native
- 12.9% Asian, non-Hispanic/Latino
- 0.7% Black or African American, non-Hispanic/Latino
- 14.3% Hispanic/Latino
- 0.2% Native Hawaiian or other Pacific Islander, non-Hispanic/Latino
- 58.3% White, non-Hispanic/Latino
- 7.5% Two or more races non-Hispanic/Latino
- 4.2% Race and/or ethnicity unknown