Over a year has gone by since Cal Poly’s most infamous racist episode: the “blackface incident” involving Lambda Chi Alpha. Although the school has made some attempts to right its wrongs with a diversity focused CPX survey and other fraternity and sorority trainings, diversity and inclusion are still lacking at Cal Poly.
“I think that Cal Poly wants to stay this way, I really do” said fourth year journalism major Ariana Afshar. “They’ve built a disadvantaged institution for minority students, and then they just expect us to somehow thrive.”
Quinn Fish, fourth year Ethnic Studies and Journalism double major, as well as a managing print editor for Mustang News, points to the town of San Luis Obispo as a major obstacle in retention of students and faculty of color. “The town is super white, so even if you recruit staff, faculty, and students of color, they don’t want to live here,” said Fish.
The passing of Proposition 209 in California, which prohibitions public institutions from discriminating on the basis of race, sex, or ethnicity is another factor that may have done more harm than intended good. “Because we no longer can do affirmative action as a public university in California, it’s hard for the university to put money specifically towards that. It’s kind of like donors have to do that,” said Fish.
With the fraternity being let back on campus after just one year of probation – a sentence shorter than other fraternities have received for alcohol violation – the school’s priorities became very clear. The university’s track record regarding racism and a lack of action by administration begs the question, will Cal Poly ever change?
Amir Afshar, Ariana Afshar’s father, explained how the onus has been placed on students of color to make change happen, “I am a parent of two young children whom are attending universities. My advice to them is whenever you see an unjust behavior… and you strongly feel that the issue is a potential obstacle to make you feel as not being a part of the society, then you should participate in progressive movement within the framework of the law”
Thankfully it’s not completely up to the underrepresented students to make themselves heard. Mustang News is one of the organizations on campus that has been picking up some of the university’s slack. The widespread media coverage of the “blackface incident” put massive pressure on the administration to take some visible action against racism on campus. “Because we’re a public university, the university can’t control any of our media. So we can do things like that – we can be hyper-critical of administration,” said Fish.
Social media is a means for action that everyone can take part in, not just the newsroom staff, and it has served as a critical starting point for the movement for diversity and inclusion on campus. “Social movements now come from social media… A lot of things are happening now because we have social media that wouldn’t have happened ten years ago, like we see pictures of kids dressed like ‘Gangsters’ or ‘Nava-hoes’ or whatever it is,” said Fish.
According to a recent article by Mustang News, next year’s incoming class will be the most diverse class ever with 45% minority students. There may be hope for Cal Poly yet, but the work is not anywhere close to complete.