Cal Poly issues latest diversity plan

Cal Poly students march in protest at the University Union Plaza in November in reaction to derogatory comments targeting Muslim and transgender people on a “Free Speech Wall” erected by the campus Republican club.
Cal Poly students march in protest at the University Union Plaza in November in reaction to derogatory comments targeting Muslim and transgender people on a “Free Speech Wall” erected by the campus Republican club. dmiddlecamp@thetribunenews.com

In the wake of pressure placed on the Cal Poly administration by a group of students pushing for increased diversity, tolerance and inclusion on campus, Cal Poly officials released to the campus community this week its latest draft of a plan to address those concerns.

The university has added new details to a draft plan issued in January on such topics as adding more diversity education to the Week of Welcome, creating an anonymous online reporting system for incidents of bias and promoting minority student involvement in student government.

“This is a working document, reflecting the many large and small efforts being done across the Cal Poly campus to bring about meaningful and systemic change,” said Jean DeCosta, the university’s interim executive director of the Office of University Diversity and Inclusivity. “This approach also recognizes that we will improve as we implement change, and we will learn from our efforts.”

DeCosta said the university is planning updates each quarter, sharing the “goals, achievements and learnings” of its planning to make the campus a more inclusive and tolerant place.

SLO Solidarity, the student-led group that has pushed for change, said in emails to The Tribune on Friday that some progress is being made and significant groundwork has been laid to create change. But the draft plan doesn’t address the group’s demands yet, SLO Solidarity leader Matt Klepfer said.

“I appreciated seeing more content to the draft action plan, with much more accountability built in,” Klepfer said. “It took Jean DeCosta and the president’s executive Cabinet almost two months to revise the January action plan; this was apparently because it took a lot of groundwork to determine how exactly to execute the items in the first action plan. I am glad much of that groundwork has been done.”

Still, Klepfer said that “there is much more accountability, but (the draft plan) is still lacking in substance.”

“They still haven’t addressed many of our demands,” he said. “If the (administration) does not want to address many of our demands, then they need to be innovative and come up with other ways to make a more diverse, inclusive and equitable Cal Poly. If we have different ways of getting to the same point, that is great, but they need to do more.”

Some of Cal Poly’s initiatives include:

  • Legal counsel review of a planned anonymous reporting system for incidents of intolerance.
  • Annual anti-stigma education in the spring about mental health awareness and suicide prevention.
  • New diversity training as part of student government professional development.
  • New trainings for housing students and staff on ways to better support underrepresented groups and how to deal with microaggressions, remarks and behavior that are insensitive and hurtful.
  • Development of an ally program for student leaders, identifying ways students from nonminority groups can support underrepresented students, along with a Dream Act ally program.

Specific time frames are attached to each of those goals, such as fall quarter 2016 for expected completion of the anonymous online reporting system.

However, Klepfer said more work needs to be done to address specific concerns, such as adding more gender-neutral bathrooms throughout campus, staffing mentoring and programming services for Arab-American students and specific benchmarks for hiring a more diverse faculty.

Another SLO Solidarity coordinator, Mick Bruckner, said he would have liked to see Cal Poly President Jeffrey Armstrong take a more active role as plans move forward and a firm stance against “hateful bigotry.”

“President Armstrong didn’t even have the motivation or willingness to include a personal note or, at the very least, a message of support in the recent campuswide email sent out about diversity,” Bruckner wrote. “And as the leader of our university, I believe President Armstrong has a duty to be fully informed, involved and invested in our campus’ diversity efforts.”

However, in recent months Armstrong has spoken out against incidents of hate speech in statements and emails issued to the Cal Poly community and students, condemning the attacks and urging all to embrace a more accepting and inclusive campus.

“As I’ve said before, I don’t understand why anyone would write something knowing that it would be hurtful and offensive to others,” Armstrong wrote after a student found his Poly Canyon Village apartment door defaced with swastikas as well as racial and homophobic slurs in February. “Incidents like this challenge all of us who want a more accepting and inclusive campus.”

In November, students protested anti-Islamic and anti-gender fluidity statements written on a “Free Speech Wall” erected annually by the Cal Poly College Republicans on the Dexter Lawn to commemorate the toppling of the Berlin Wall. Club President Paul Sullivan said at the time that he did not agree with the statements but supported students’ right to free speech.

In early December, Klepfer received an email containing a death threat and anti-Semitic slur. A Cal Poly student has been charged in that case with one felony count of making criminal threats with a hate crime enhancement.

Those incidents sparked protests by students, including one rally against hate in December that drew nearly 1,000 students, faculty, community leaders and Cal Poly administrators, including Armstrong.

On Friday, university officials did not respond specifically to Bruckner’s remarks about Armstrong.

“All voices and perspectives are important as this effort moves forward,” Cal Poly spokesman Matt Lazier said. “The university appreciates the input of all who have reached out so far, and the Office of University Diversity and Inclusivity will continue to seek input as this important campuswide effort moves forward.”

SLO Solidarity students have been appreciative of the university’s accessibility to meet and discuss issues, though the group wants to see more tangible changes to the campus, Klepfer said.