Cal Poly student group SLO Solidarity wants more specifics on diversity, inclusivity plans

Cal Poly students protest the appearance of hate speech on a “Free Speech Wall” erected on the Dexter Lawn in November.
Cal Poly students protest the appearance of hate speech on a “Free Speech Wall” erected on the Dexter Lawn in November.

The Cal Poly administration is being “vague” about creating a more welcoming, diverse and tolerant campus, according to a student activist group. The group’s leaders say that it feels like many of the demands it made earlier this school year are being largely overlooked.

Organizers of SLO Solidarity, the activist group which has led protests and pushed for widespread campus change, say they will continue to push aggressively for a better campus atmosphere.

“We will do whatever it takes for the administration to understand we are not playing, complaining, or ‘being bratty,’ ” the group wrote in a statement. “We will continue to demand, because it is within our right. We will continue to fight, because this is not over.”

In a response issued Wednesday, Jean DeCosta, Cal Poly’s interim director of the Office of University Diversity & Inclusivity, wrote that broad ideas and efforts now underway “will crystallize more clearly as this work continues.”

“This is an ongoing effort of continuous improvement aimed at addressing an issue that will not be solved overnight,” DeCosta wrote. “University administration is dedicated to that long-term effort and committed to keeping the campus community engaged in the conversation.”

Cal Poly President Jeffrey Armstrong sent an email to the university community Friday discussing some of the draft plans to improve campus diversity and inclusion, as well as to tout past accomplishments.

DeCosta also sent out a campus note outlining a campus framework.

We will continue to demand because it is within our right. We will continue to fight because this is not over.

SLO Solidarity

Armstrong noted steps underway, including steps to add more diversity education during Week of Welcome, to increase recruitment efforts of faculty and staff of color, and to implement a new anonymous online reporting system for incidents of discrimination, harassment and retaliation. The system would enhance already existing reporting services.

Several other ideas mentioned will require more consultation and consideration.

However, in a statement, SLO Solidarity’s leaders wrote that “it would almost appear as if they never saw our demands.”

In the fall, SLO Solidarity sent the administration 41 demands, breaking down specific ways that Cal Poly can promote change. Its list included a requirement that every student take women and gender studies or ethnic studies courses, a requirement to add gender-neutral housing options, and a requirement for 3 percent increases in minority faculty hiring each year until faculty demographics represent the state of California.

The group recently crosschecked its demands with Cal Poly’s action planning and found that the university was willing to address seven of them, “although the language they used for those seven was very vague.”

The seven topics, with timelines for implementation, include adding diversity and inclusion to orientation programming; completing an annual review of how well the Greek system is including underrepresented groups; overhauling diversity and inclusivity training for campus housing assistants; and ensuring a leader in every department is charged with infusing diversity into the operations of that department.

We will continue to demand because it is within our right. We will continue to fight because this is not over.

SLO Solidarity

SLO Solidarity leaders, however, found fault with the university’s commitment to tangible results in those planned efforts.

“By using vague words like ‘continue,’ ‘consider,’ ‘improve’ and ‘collaborate,’ the administration is able to decrease responsibility on their end while showing the campus community they are doing something,” the group’s leaders wrote in its statement.

The group added that it has seen no visible change on campus “at the student level.”

“We are not equal, and frankly, it is not our responsibility to pick up the slack of the provost, president, and vice president of Student Affairs,” SLO Solidarity leaders wrote.

Not speaking as part of SLO Solidarity, activist Mick Bruckner said Armstrong’s email was an “uninspiring reminder” that Cal Poly’s administration doesn’t know how to facilitate inclusion and diversity.

“The draft action plan that was shared in the email — while neat and tidy — is essentially a repackaging of information we students have had all along,” Bruckner wrote in an email. “The only new pieces of information in this plan are the additions of expected completion dates and when these processes will begin.”

Bruckner wrote that “the administration has shared with us drafts like this before, and yet again, there is neither accountability or methodology laid out as to how they will actually address our demands.”

Armstrong’s email provided links to the university’s Diversity Strategic Framework for 2015-2022, its Draft Diversity Action Plan and actions completed from 2012-2015.

DeCosta stressed the importance of listening to input from “the broadest possible cross section of our community” as it works through issues of diversity and inclusion.

“The recent emails to campus from President Armstrong and myself speak to the fact that this ongoing campus discussion is critically important to the university and needs to include as many voices as possible,” DeCosta wrote.

More than 1,000 students, faculty and staff rally on the Cal Poly campus against bigotry after death threat made against co-leader Matt Klepfer.