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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.”


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