Cal Poly delays release of student-demanded inclusivity plan

Students from Cal Poly’s SLO Solidarity anti-discrimination group rally against hate on campus earlier this month after coordinator Matt Klepfer received a death threat.
Students from Cal Poly’s SLO Solidarity anti-discrimination group rally against hate on campus earlier this month after coordinator Matt Klepfer received a death threat.

A diversity and inclusivity action plan demanded by Cal Poly students won’t be released this month as hoped, President Jeff Armstrong announced Wednesday.

Armstrong sent a letter to the campus community on Friday saying the university’s projected “detailed action plan by the end of the quarter” needs more time and consideration. Friday marked the end of the fall quarter finals week.

“As we continue to discuss recommendations and ideas with students, faculty and staff, and to ensure appropriate consultation and due process ... it is now clear that we need additional time,” Armstrong wrote.

The announcement comes in the wake of protests by a student-organized group called SLO Solidarity, that has criticized Cal Poly for not doing enough to create a safe and welcoming environment for minority students at the predominantly white and male campus.

SLO Solidarity has 597 members listed on its Facebook group page, including leaders from campus organizations such as the Queer Student Union, the Black Student Union, the feminist group Triota and the Chicano-led group MEXA.

Incidents of intolerance in recent years — including anti-transgender and anti-Islamic writing on a “Free Speech Wall” and a subsequent death threat against a SLO Solidarity leader this year — have sparked outrage and calls for change.

Cal Poly student Charles Raymond Bird, 20, was arrested Dec. 4 on suspicion of threatening with intent to terrorize and violating civil rights by force or threat of force. He will be arraigned in San Luis Obispo Superior Court on Thursday morning and could face up to six years in prison.

Past incidents of intolerance connected to Cal Poly have included a 2008 racist and homophopic Halloween display at the university’s Crops House — a noose, Confederate flag and an alleged sign with derogatory language toward blacks, gays and hippies. Then in 2013, a fraternity held a party themed “Colonial Bros and Nava-Hos” where men wore Colonial-era costumes while women wore sexually explicit Native American-themed attire.

SLO Solidarity issued a list of 41 demands to Cal Poly’s administration, seeking widespread change in how Cal Poly encourages diversity and inclusion on its campus.

The group’s demands include creating new tolerance programs in curriculum and orientation, increasing minority faculty hirings, naming a diversity leader in every department, providing gender-neutral first-year residence halls and restroom facilities, and requiring that students in every major take women’s and gender studies or ethnic studies courses.

“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.

Armstrong participated in a rally against intolerance that drew about 1,000 people on the Cal Poly campus earlier this month.

He said in his letter “I could not be more proud of our students, faculty and staff coming together in the preceding weeks to say that Cal Poly is no place for hate.”

He wrote that the campus has made “good progress over the last few years. However, we will always have more work to do.”

Armstrong wrote that some of the suggestions to create change are already underway; some of it will begin in the winter quarter; and the rest “we will review further through thoughtful conversations, consultation and due process across all campus constituencies, colleges and departments.”

No specifics were offered about what work has already been undertaken and what remains to be done.

“The details of how we as a campus achieve that goal are complex, and the goal itself is too important for the university to shortchange,” said Cal Poly spokesman Matt Lazier. “University administration will take the time to ensure that as many voices as possible are engaged in the discussion and that Cal Poly adheres to its existing policies of shared governance in decision-making.”

Together, the changes will form the basis of an initial action plan, Armstrong wrote.

Leaders of SLO Solidarity didn’t return email and phone requests from The Tribune for comment on Wednesday.