A Year After Blackface: What has changed?

When the blackface incident happened during the Spring quarter of the 2017-18 school year, it impacted and targeted the second smallest ethnic population at Cal Poly San Luis Obispo.

“It was really disheartening to know those are people who walk around this campus with me,” fourth year Black Student Union (BSU) member Olivia Gore said.

When a Lambda Chi Alpha fraternity brother wore blackface at a fraternity event, Black and minority students experienced “hurt, embarrassment, fear and confusion.”

Photo courtesy: Mustang News

“I voiced my opinion and hurt over the incident but I feel the impact was greater for the student population, especially for Black and minority students,” a Black Cal Poly employee wrote in an email.

“If I had known [about the incident] before I committed, I definitely would have gone somewhere else,” first year BSU member Marlena Jackson said.

Racial tensions surrounding the blackface incident, put some Black students’ safety in jeopardy.

“It was just a rough time,” Gore said.

Around the blackface incident, Gore was interning at the probation department. She told her supervisors that a “girl in BSU was spit on, called the n-word and told to get off this campus by some white guys.”

“If that happened to a girl who looks like me over an issue like this then it means it could happen to me,” Gore said.

Taking matters into their hands, one of Gore’s supervisors drove her to class, sat in class with her and drove her home.

“It is ridiculous that I would have to have a probation officer come to class with me in order to feel safe,” Gore said.

Racism on campus has always been an issue at Cal Poly. In the past decade, there have been noose and confederate incidents as earlier in the 2018-19 school year there was a noose hung in the laundry room in one of the dormitories. In February of 2017, a man passed out Neo-Nazi flyers outside the library.

But racism and lack of inclusivity stretches deeper into the classrooms.

In Gore’s criminal justice class, the students and professor were talking about police brutality. The professor asked, “why we thought black men were more likely to get killed by police then white men.”

One student responded, “It is because black men are more aggressive, and they do not respect the police and that is why they get killed.”

“It is just really irritating to hear people who say these things that completely invalidate my experience as a black person. No one corrects them. Not even the professors correct them,” Gore said.

“You would literally have to tell someone an entire lifetime of accumulated experiences just to be able to explain why it is a certain way,” Jackson said. “They might still not understand because it is not their experience.”

Gore expresses that she is usually the only black person in her classes which make her feel like an “outsider.” When someone says something offensive “it would be too exhausting to say something, especially in front of so many people.”

“I feel like I would not be met with any sort of support, so I usually do not say something,” Gore said.

“It is important to stick up for what you believe in and your people,” Jackson said. “[But] it is really not worth it at a certain point.”

Furthermore, racist incidents such as the noose incident this year have impacted Black students subconsciously.

Jackson recalls having a nightmare after the noose incident occurred. She remembers walking in downtown SLO with her friends when all of a sudden the KKK started chasing them.

“I woke up and I was like ‘Oh my gosh this is really affecting me,’ Jackson said. “I want to have a stress dream about school not my safety here.”

With their experiences both Gore and Jackson along with other students are demanding change from the university’s administration in order to improve the campus climate.

“Administration responds to these things by not doing anything,” Gore said.

This year, the university have spent $243,000 on a diversity expert and their Inclusive Excellence Action Plan. As part of their action plan, the university initiated the CPX survey which allowed students to anonymously share their experiences around campus climate.

“I do not think the CPX survey is going to have a major impact especially since it is not going to tell [the administration] things that have not already been listed in demands and said at protests,” Gore said.

However, a Black Cal Poly employee is more optimistic than Gore.

“The change is visible externally (through workshops, seminars, new councils, CPX Survey, etc.) but change takes time and the campus needs [to] have a continuous push for diversity and inclusion in order for the change to be embedded internally,” a Black Cal Poly staff member said.

Looking back on the blackface incident and how the university administration responded to it, Gore does not have “a lot of faith in this school.”

“They say adversity makes you stronger, but you should not have to go through adversity,” Gore said. “The amount of stress and anxiety that comes with being here does not outweigh the degree.”

Passion for Japanese Culture drives this Club President’s Hard Work

Cal Poly’s Japanese Student Association (JSA) President William Kriss comes from a unique early childhood which coincidentally intertwined to his passion for Japanese culture later in his life.

According to Kriss, his family moved to Japan from Florida when he was two months, but left Japan to move back to the United States when he was a year and a half years old. Although living in Japan “did not affect him,” his joy for Japanese culture grew during his childhood when he started to watch anime and read manga, both traditional Japanese entertainments.

“I felt that [watching anime and reading manga] was too limited of knowledge to say that I really like Japan, so I wanted to learn more,” Kriss said.

“He has a lot of love for the culture itself,” second year JSA member PJ Yebisu said.

Kriss was able to learn more about Japanese culture at Cal Poly, especially during his second year. Kriss is currently in a Japanese class which he has been in since the fall quarter.

According to Kriss, in his “activity-based” Japanese class, the teacher will go over Japanese vocabulary and intersperse Japanese culture if something current is happening. For example, a couple weeks ago, she spent the first 10-20 minute going over Children’s Day which is a Japanese holiday.

Furthermore, Kriss has recently become club president as he started in the winter quarter of the 2018-2019 school year. Two of his main duties include creating culture slides for weekly meetings and hosting weekend events every weekend.

The culture slides always include a Japanese phrase of the week which Kriss thinks is “useful or funny.”

“As I am not part of the culture a lot of the phrases are simpler, and more research based,” Kriss said.

Along with creating and presenting slides, Kriss also ties in Japanese culture into weekend events. For example, according to Kriss, JSA went to the beach a couple weeks ago. To coincide with going to the beach, the food of the week was watermelons because there is a traditional Japanese game called Suikawari which involves uniquely shaped square watermelons.

https://www.flickr.com/photos/rumpleteaser/997972838

“I basically keep rabbit-holing into things I am interested in and things that I think other people will be interested in as well,” Kriss said.

“For the people who come from Japan it is very cool for them to see that people are trying to learn their ways and customs correctly here in America,” Yebisu said.

Through all of his duties, Kriss gains a lot of stress being the JSA president.

“Sometimes it gets a little too much but most of the time it is okay… because I enjoy what I do,” Kriss said.

Although there are traits that he notes he needs to improve on, his fellow club members praise his passion and hard work.

“Personally, as a fifth generation Japanese American, seeing someone else who does not even have that background but is trying this hard is very motivating,” Yebisu said.

Student Club Acts as a Shield From Culture Shock

The Korean American Student Association (KASA) at Cal Poly acts as a shield from culture shock for its members who come from predominantly Asian areas.

“A lot of my friends from high school told me specifically not to come here just because of the culture-shock,” sophomore KASA member Michael Yiu said.

Yiu comes from San Bernandino Valley and an area which is mostly Vietnamese and Chinese.

“But when [students] discovered KASA, that was when they started to feel comfortable,” sophomore KASA president Joonwoo Bae said. “It is like KASA is a shield from the shock for them.”

A lot of what helps KASA act as a “shield” is because of the sense of family and community the club offers.

As President of KASA, Bae has to gather all of the board members, which include titles such as social chair and cultural ambassador, and plan out the club’s events in an organized manner. He also has to hype up the club’s events in order to motivate people to go to them.

“My job as president is not supposed to have a special skill it is more like a glue stick for everyone,” Bae said.

Club events is specifically where members bond with one another, creating a stronger community.

“The most that I can do in my opinion is to set up a platform or an event where people have an excuse to come out and meet other people,” Bae said.

The very first event that Yiu went to for KASA was when they were giving out boba and playing a game called Codenames. That game “spiraled me” into becoming more “extroverted” because the game made him communicate with his teammates and other members.

“Afterwards, I went to another event and another event,” Yiu said. “As you get to know the people better it is much easier to be more extroverted.”

According to Bae, one of the club’s main goals is to provide social aspects to its members.

“As you spend more and more time with your club and board members you grow really close to them and form this solid community,” Bae said. “Naturally KASA becomes a family.”

According to Yiu, Bae must be comfortable enough to introduce himself to anyone as he is the figurehead of the club.

“You have to give [members] a sense of belonging inside the greater community,” Yiu said.

While Bae lacks experience as club president, as this Spring quarter is his first quarter being president, Yiu believes that he has done a great job.

“If Joon is around you know that you are going to have a good time regardless of what you are doing,” Yiu said.

Members such as Bae have created a comfortable comfortable for Yiu since everyone is “very helpful.” But the club itself really changed Yiu as a person.

“I was super introverted when I was in high school but going through the club phase my freshman year has made me become more extroverted and comfortable,” Yiu said.  “I have to thank KASA for that.”

CP Student Profile: JSA President

By: Kyle Har

Cal Poly’s Japanese Student Association (JSA) President is different than most presidents of ethnic clubs on campus. JSA president and sophomore business major William Kriss does not come from a Japanese background. Despite his alternative background, Kriss always felt “accepted” and “comfortable.”

“Initially, I did not join JSA because I am white,” Kriss said. “I thought they would just be like ‘who is this kid,’ but eventually I did join, and I really liked it.”

According to Kriss, before joining the club, he was pretty quiet and he never saw himself getting into the position he currently is in.

“But because it was something I felt accepted into and I felt really comfortable, it helped me get out of my shell,” Kriss said.

Being the president of JSA, Kriss sees that he has two main categories of duties.

The first is from “the outside” in which he hypes up members to get them to come to events, coordinates with other clubs and presents Japanese culture slides in club meetings.

According to Kriss, the culture slides teach JSA members about Japanese language, food, holidays, etc.

“The culture slides are fun because I must have to look those up because I do not really know anything,” Kriss said. “I get to learn a lot and I get to teach everyone which is fun.”

In addition to presenting culture slides, Kriss tries to bring club members closer together by coordinating weekend events which usually involve food. While these events attract bigger crowds, Kriss feels that smaller hangouts bring “people closer together.”

For example, JSA will host a gathering called Ocha-Kai which is Japanese for tea time. According to Kriss, JSA reserves a room every Friday and they will bring tea, snacks and video games.

“I think the people who come to [Ocha-Kai] feel most connected to the club,” Kriss said. “That is how everyone gets closer.”

The second category of Kriss’s duties involves the JSA board members. According to Kriss, there are 11 other board members alongside him.

“Internally, I try to get the board members to do the best they can and hopefully grow up and do well,” Kriss said.

Through all of his duties, Kriss tries to represent the club’s mission statement. According to Cal Poly’s club directory page, the Japanese Student Association is a cultural club focused on spreading and appreciating the Japanese culture within the club and Cal Poly as a whole.

While the aim of JSA is to “appreciate and spread” Japanese culture, it is also a community. For example, JSA has group chats with every single member in it. For Kriss it shows him that the club sees him as not just some “random dude.”

“Things like that make me feel like I am part of something bigger,” Kriss said.

Cal Poly Spends $243,000 on Diversity Expert

On Thursday, January 24th Cal Poly announced that they will be partnering with diversity expert Dr. Damon Williams in part of the university’s Inclusive Excellence Action Plan.

According to a letter by President Jeffrey Armstrong and Vice President for Diversity and Inclusion Jozi De Leon, this 12-month call to action will help Cal Poly accelerate achieving their diversity and inclusion goals.

According to the letter, during this 12-month period, Dr. Williams will be conducting a three-part project:

  1. Conduct a campus climate survey in April 2019.
  2. Guide students, faculty, staff and administrators to understand the results of the survey and to develop a responsive plan of action.
  3. Help Cal Poly develop accessible measures of progress toward achieving that action plan.

From March 12-14, Dr. Williams and his team held CPX (Cal Poly Experience) listening sessions for various groups of students, faculty and staff. Each separate group of participants went to a different classroom to share their stories about their experience at Cal Poly.

For example, undocumented students went to room E11 in the science building (No. 52) on March 12.

Different sessions were scheduled to create space and “meaningful dialogue.”

These sessions were entirely confidential and open to the entire campus. 

Fulfilling the first step of his project, Dr. Williams sent a personalized email to all campus community members on Thursday, April 9. 

The CPX survey is mainly intended to ask respondents about the university’s overall climate. 

In addition, the goals of the survey is to assess the current campus climate, better understand the on-campus experience of members, gather data to help improve graduation and retention rates and to create an actionable plan. 

Cal Poly Student Not Optimistic of New Inclusive Excellence Plan

By: Kyle Har

San Luis Obispo, Calif.- Despite Cal Poly’s $243,000 partnership with Dr. Damon Williams, Cal Poly freshman Demetrius Ly does not believe the Inclusive Excellence Action Plan implemented by Williams and the university will improve campus diversity.  

“I think spending about $250,000 on the program itself to help [diversity] is good for [incoming students] looking at the demographics,” Ly said. “However, I do not think it is completely necessary.” 

According to Mustang News, Cal Poly partnered with diversity expert Dr. Williams on Thursday, Jan. 24. 

As part of the action plan, Williams and his team have conducted listening sessions where various groups of students and faculty were able to share their experience on campus. In addition, Williams sent a CPX (Cal Poly Experience) survey to all Cal Poly students and faculty. According to Cal Poly’s CPX website, the survey will ask respondents to address questions about the university’s overall climate.  

Cal Poly, one of the whitest California institutions, is implementing this inclusiveness action plan in hopes to improve diversity.  

Source: SLO Tribune

“Honestly, that is pretty wild how Cal Poly’s student body is [over] 50 percent white when all of the CSU’s is less than 25 percent,” Ly said. “This shows how Cal Poly suffers from diversity all together and how it is now caught up.”

Source: Cal Poly

“In the decade span, it shows that not much of a push has been made by Cal Poly to introduce a more diverse student body,” Ly said. 

Despite the university’s efforts, Ly, a minority student and member of the Filipino club, does not think this campus “cares too much about minorities.”  

He feels this way because of the lack of the administration’s attempt to act upon the notorious blackface incident that occurred last year.  

He admits that he does not know how to improve diversity. However, he only believes that students can only be more conscious if “they are exposed to it.” 

“People will get [diversity], but they won’t take it in,” Ly said. 

For example, this school year, incoming students were forced to participate in an online course called Building Bridges Diversity which covered topics about microaggressions and stereotypes.  

“Everyone understands [microaggressions] and people get it, but in practice, it is not very applicable,” Ly said.  

The lack of diversity on campus has made Ly initially feel “culture-shocked.” He recognizes the university’s efforts of improving campus diversity but is only “angered” that it is not happening at an accelerated pace.  

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