After racial turmoil, Cal Poly puts every incoming student through new diversity workshop

Hundreds of incoming Cal Poly students filled Chumash Auditorium on Tuesday to take part in a new Week of Welcome program centered around diversity and inclusion.

Over the course of three days, Jamie Patton, Cal Poly’s Student Affairs associate vice president for diversity and inclusion, delivered an interactive 45-minute presentation to every member of the incoming class.

The mandatory session is part of the university’s ongoing efforts to create a more inclusive campus climate in the wake of a racially charged spring term that resulted in numerous protests and suspensions of fraternities and sororities.

Jamie Patton, associate vice president for diversity and inclusion in Student Affairs, led Cal Poly students in several activities to connect with others and share about who they are Tuesday at Chumash Auditorium in San Luis Obispo, California. David Middlecamp

One of Patton’s overarching themes for Tuesday’s presentation was a call for “diversity of thought and diversity of experiences” that will provide Cal Poly students the chance to compete in a global market once they graduate.

“It’s about all of us,” Patton said. “It’s not just about our minority students or our underrepresented students of color. It’s about all students feeling a sense of identity, a sense of pride and a sense of belonging.”

Patton, who served as the assistant dean of students at Ohio University until 2017, said every student — regardless of background — will experience culture shock when the come to Cal Poly.

Cal Poly features the least racially diverse student body among all public universities in California, and Patton emphasized the importance of everyone on campus having an outlet to be heard.

“The work that we’re doing right now … is not based off of one quarter,” Patton said. “It’s based off a history here at Cal Poly, and we’re committed to changing that history.”

During Patton’s presentation — titled, “Building Bridges: We Are One Cal Poly” — he asked students to connect with classmates they’d never met. They were asked to answer several questions about their identity, times they felt included or excluded, what they believe people at Cal Poly should never have to experience, and what they feel everyone deserves to experience at the university.

Ultimately, Patton wanted students to know they belong.

“It’s no different on college campuses or in society,” Patton said. “We need different flavors and different vantage points to make sure that we’re the best and the brightest.”

Patton said growing up in a conservative African-American family in Philadelphia, he didn’t always have the opportunity to think about different world views outside of what had been shaped for him.

Working in higher education has allowed Patton to help students shape their own world views and “express whatever identities that they may or may not have had the opportunity to express growing up.”

“We talk a lot about ‘Learn by Doing,’ and this administration and the leaders of Cal Poly really showed their commitment in changing the culture, changing the climate here, and it’s not just about one event of one series of events that’s happened,” Patton said. “But it’s about how do we create the infrastructure to create that change to create the sense of belonging where everybody knows that they’re welcome here?”

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