How can Cal Poly change its culture? Diversity expert gives 7 tips for ‘institutional change’

It wasn’t a single photo of a white student wearing blackface at a party that created the part of Cal Poly’s reputation as a “wealthy, white school, where diversity isn’t welcome.”

A report released Thursday paints a portrait of how acts of unconscious and blatant bias — at the institutional and individual level — create a culture where students, faculty and staff feel unwelcome and discriminated against at the San Luis Obispo university.

Those were some of the findings of a campus-wide survey and multiple listening sessions to investigate the campus climate. It was the first phase of what Cal Poly says is “a major diversity and inclusion initiative to create long-term institutional change.”

Leading the initiative under contract is Damon Williams of the Center for Strategic Diversity Leadership & Social Innovation, which presented Cal Poly with seven recommendations to build diversity and inclusive excellence.

Now, the university is shifting focus to the difficult task of phase two of the initiative: building an action plan to change the culture.

“Cal Poly now has an opportunity to unite as a campus and embrace a collective journey to create a more inclusive, diverse and equitable educational and work experience for all,” Williams said. “The path forward includes resources that will allow every person on campus to play a role in leading and creating a better Cal Poly experience.”

A two-day conference was held Thursday and Friday to review the results of the survey and hold workshops on topics including how to infuse diversity priorities into policies and systems, improving access to basic needs, how to close the graduation gap and how to be a white ally.

Major next steps include creating tool kits and hosting campus dialogues about the survey results and what should happen next and then developing an action plan with metrics for success that will be posted on the Cal Poly website by the end of the academic year. The university will also deliver intensive diversity leadership education for key leaders across colleges and divisions in early 2020 to help with planning.

How will change happen?

“Changing and improving Cal Poly will ultimately take the commitment and effort of every single person on this campus,” Armstrong said, noting that the challenge is those who don’t engage.

“Either everyone commits to changing Cal Poly or Cal Poly does not change,” Armstrong said.

Already, all new students undergo mandatory diversity training as part of WOW orientation programming, according to Cal Poly spokesman Matt Lazier. University leadership already undergoes mandatory anti-bias training, and Student Affairs staff are required to complete eight hours of diversity and inclusion training a year.

Over the next few months, university employees will engage in professional development on diversity, equity, inclusion and social justice. Lazier said, “We also plan to bring Dr. Beverly Tatum in the spring to speak on the topic of ‘a sense of belonging’ — one of the main areas of concern identified in the CPX survey results.”

In a brief speech Thursday, Armstrong provided specific examples of outcomes that could come from the work on campus and what it will take to change the culture.

“It will take professors taking notice of who speaks up in class and who doesn’t, and employing techniques to ensure that participation is more equal,” he said.

“It will take housing staff who make sure to help every student feel comfortable, safe and at home on campus.

“It will take university police officers who are trained to respond to situations involving community members whose gender expression may be unfamiliar or whose cognitive style is atypical.

“It will take everyone thinking twice about repeating jokes or taking an extra moment to be explicit about their gender identity, their pronouns, what’s appropriate for them or looking out for others in social situations, bystander intervention, saying ‘this is not what happens at Cal Poly.’

“It’s also important for someone of my identity — heterosexual, white male — to step up and listen, most importantly, to others and to understand what others are doing because we are in the most privileged category.”

Diversity and inclusive excellence: recommendations from experts

A report summarizing the Cal Poly Experience research included a list of recommendations for the university to take to improve. That report was authored by Damon Williams, Katrina Wade-Golden, Sallye McKee and Deiadra Gardner of the Center for Strategic Diversity Leadership & Social Innovation.

The Tribune asked if the university intends to follow the recommendations.

“Our immediate next steps will be to review and reflect on the recommendations — what they mean and how they will guide the actions we need to take. The survey results are still fresh, and we want to give people some time to internalize and reflect on the results,” Lazier said. “Then, the aforementioned dialogues with our constituents across campus will take place — with the aim of identifying what is feasible and what is most urgent.

“The university’s work will also include the integration of what parts of the recommendations we are already in the process of doing, and how we will build a plan for what we are not yet addressing. The ultimate goal is to build a five-year plan that will begin to address those recommendations over a period of time.”

Recommendation 1: Engage in campus-wide dialogues about the study results.

Recommendation 2: Create a framework to guide the action-planning steps of colleges, administrative units and student organizations. Develop a five-year action plan. Identify a diversity, equity and inclusion lead and team in every college and major administrative unit. Establish a clear accountability process. Establish a scorecard to track and measure progress over time and produce an annual public forum.

Recommendation 3: Develop a fund to support small and large grants to drive new initiatives that focus on the university’s most difficult challenges. Prioritize evidence-based interventions and collaboration.

Recommendation 4: Develop a training, curriculum and professional development program. Create learning moments for all. Begin with an online training for all in the campus community, and a shared learning experience. Develop a certificate program.

Recommendation 5: Invest in the campus units to create a stronger, more evidence-based approach to driving high-impact diversity and inclusion outcomes. Invest in infrastructure of units, committees and leaders who are doing the day-to-day work. Develop a major faculty diversity program.

Recommendation 6: Develop the next phase of the awareness campaign to create a positive brand and engagement both internally and externally with issues of diversity. Conduct conversations with key board members, alumni, donors, corporate partners, others. Convene an external advisory board.

Recommendation 7: Develop an inclusive excellence task force to identify two to three short- and long-term solutions to issues identified by the CPX study. Establish a community task force to reach out to the San Luis Obispo community and identify three to five top strategies to create a more inclusive experience on campus and in the SLO community.

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Monica Vaughan reports on health, Cal Poly, San Luis Obispo County, oil and wildlife at The Tribune. She previously covered crime and justice in the Sacramento Valley, is a graduate of the University of Oregon journalism school and is a sixth-generation Californian. Have an idea for a story? Email: