When asked his views on the Trump administration and its effect on his role as an educator, political science professor Renford Reese reached out to his computer and started playing a recorded voicemail of a man critiquing Reese’s article in the Daily Bulletin on how President Trump spurred activism within the National Football League.
The 76-year-old veteran with colon cancer told Reese he didn’t know what he was talking about, was racist and should be ashamed as a professor.
Reese called him back, to the man’s surprise, and explained how his goals toward equality were synonymous with the veteran’s love for America, and the conversation ended with renewed respect for Professor Reese.
Despite the fissures that Trump’s administration continues to wedge in the political landscape, professors at Cal Poly Pomona maintain bridges for tolerance and diversity when political discussion springs up.
They work to create an objective space that encourages constructive and informed debate by encouraging students to express their diverse opinions on an equal platform.
CPP’s campus is uniquely placed within Southern California, nestled between the Inland Empire, possessing a higher percentage of Republican leanings than Los Angeles, the deepest blue part of California’s political map, according to the Public Policy Institute of California.
CPP comes in third in racial diversity, according to the US News and World Report, and is fourth in the nation for helping students from low-income backgrounds pursue a college education.
Reese openly identifies himself as a progressive.
He additionally runs the Prison Education Project, which is the largest network of volunteers educating others on the prison system in the United States.
While he is open about where he stands, he expressed the importance of creating the right environment as a professor.
“No one leaves my classroom ever feeling undermined,” Reese said.
Despite the liberal lean of other Southern California universities, CPP is more tolerant of conservative views than one might think, according to fourth-year political science student Jake Messenger, who is president of the Republican club on campus.
“It would seem that someone with conservative or libertarian views would not fit in. That’s just not true at CPP,” Messenger said.
“It has allowed me to stand out in front of the faculty and engage in very conducive conversations on a myriad of issues. The professors may be more critical of ideas or solutions I propose. However, in the long run I definitely feel as if that is beneficial.”
Urban and regional planning professor Alvaro Huerta gives attention to each point of view to create a safe space for healthy dialogue to occur.
While Huerta requires his students to back up their opinions with facts, he also moderates class discussions so that one viewpoint doesn’t dominate the conversation.
He also does not tolerate personal attacks.
College students face many fears after they graduate.
Fourth-year urban and regional planning student Gabriel Lozano, a past student of Huerta, is concerned about student debt, rising tuition costs and thinks that Trump’s targeting of California exacerbates those concerns.
He wants to go to graduate school but fears he won’t be able to afford it.
“I think about that every day. Am I ever going to be able to get a job, will I be able to pay this off? What quality of life will I have?” Lozano said.
He sees Huerta’s class discussions focusing on policies and personal issues rather than the emotional weight of political discussion.
On hot topics like immigration, he mentioned that undocumented students don’t feel comfortable talking about their immigration status with the possibility of losing their educational funding after Trump’s stated repeal of Obama’s California Dream Act.
“I’ve worked with a lot of people who are very stressed with it personally,” Lozano said.
But Professor Huerta, who is the first Chicano to be tenured as a professor within urban and regional planning, acknowledged students’ bravery and pride in being immigrants.
“There are many Dreamers that are fearless,” Huerta said.
Growing up with immigrant parents on welfare, he talks about his own experience, and he encourages students to feel more comfortable talking about their experiences, whether in public or in private. Lozano sees Huerta staying positive for his students, encouraging them towards their potential and ability to make a difference.
Some professors don’t desire to bring up Trump at all, such as mathematics professor Jill Shirley.
She prefers to keep her personal life separate.
The Trump administration may add to professors’ sense of purpose, but they maintain the way they present information.
Huerta has always been outspoken against racist policies and believes Trump can illuminate their inequities for others.
Reese also feels the same way.
“[Trump] created so many teachable moments,” Reese said.
In some ways, Reese views Trump’s presidency as a paradoxical blessing, having united both liberals and conservatives on a shared resentment of Trump’s effectiveness as a leader.
“He’s galvanized these diverse coalitions, because he’s alienated – talked in a pejorative way about so many different demographics and so many different sub-groups,” Reese said.
“He’s lit a fire under them, he’s inspired them, he’s empowered them.”
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