Students voice concern about inclusivity and diversity during town hall meeting

“My issue is, as a victim of (racial) profiling this past summer as only a freshman: Why is it that my matter wasn’t handled immediately?” voiced a student at the town hall meeting held on Oct. 23. “If this (campus) is so inclusive, if this environment is for everyone (and) everyone’s welcome, why did it take so long for me?”

Following President Soraya M. Coley’s “Fostering an Inclusive Campus Community” video to the campus, the town hall meeting was held to allow students to directly ask questions regarding inclusivity on campus.
Christina Manuel | The Poly Post

Students took the floor at the town hall meeting to voice their personal, anonymous accounts of racial profiling, like this one, to demand answers regarding why inclusivity on campus isn’t fitting the diverse and inclusive environment the administration is portraying Cal Poly Pomona to be. 

All direct statements made from students at the meeting will remain anonymous to protect their identities due to the sensitive nature of each individual case. 

The town hall was centered around the topic of inclusivity on campus. 

As well, the meeting was held as a direct follow-up to President Soraya M. Coley’s Oct. 17 video message to the campus, “Fostering an Inclusive Campus Community.” In the video, Coley highlights inclusivity as one of CPP’s six core values, and expressed CPP’s “commitment to be both a diverse and inclusive community.”

Facilitating the town hall meeting was Jose Aguilar-Hernandez, assistant professor of ethnic and women’s studies in the College of Education and Integrative Studies, along with Carla Castillo, Associated Students Inc. (ASI) officer of diversity and inclusion.

Before the meeting began, many students were walking around the audience, passing out handouts to the attendees of the meeting. The handouts detailed seven different anonymous accounts of racial discrimination and microaggression experienced by CPP students on campus in their own words. 

“Today’s conversation is an opportunity. I hope … for students and administrators to begin an ongoing dialogue about how to ensure our core value of inclusivity and to make sure it is a lived reality for us, and specifically for our students,” Aguilar-Hernandez said. 

Also in attendance were speakers Nicole Butts, interim director of Diversity, Inclusion and Campus Climate; Eileen Sullivan, interim vice president for Student Affairs; and Sylvia Alva, provost and vice president for Academic Affairs. President Coley was in attendance as a listener in the audience.

In an effort to keep the meeting a safe space for students to voice their concerns, the university did not record or stream the event. 

There was a notetaker present in order to make a note of the issues and ideas being presented by students, so the board of the meeting could address the issues at hand. 

Counselors were also present at the meeting if anyone wished to speak with them since the topics being discussed were anticipated to be sensitive and emotional. 

Butts introduced the new measures the university is taking toward a more diverse and inclusive campus. The first effort Butts introduced was the University Inclusive Excellence Council. 

“This Inclusive Excellence Council will be an advisory board to help us better develop some strategic strategies so we can start to actually cultivate the environment that we all want,” Butts said.

“Another thing that we’re putting together is a Campus Climate Response team,” Butts said. “Many of you may have experiences where you encountered something that you might have thought was discrimination or you might have thought it was harassment, and then you find out it wasn’t either of those things,” Butts said. “Well, just because something isn’t unlawful … doesn’t mean it’s not awful.” 

The Campus Climate Response team will be responsible for addressing such issues.

The school has also launched a search for a senior diversity officer to add to the president’s cabinet, whose role will be working with divisional leaders to improve the university’s efforts in promoting inclusivity on campus. 

According to Sullivan, Academic Affairs has also launched a search for a faculty recruiter “to really support diversification of the faculty.”

Students were dissatisfied with the town hall board’s idea to create an Inclusive Excellence Council and Campus Climate Response team to handle these types of situations as an answer to their concerns and trauma from their personal accounts. The concern regarded the introduction of these new committees dismissed the already filed student accounts, and is focused on future events as a way to move forward and forget the wrongdoings against the students.

“If we’re talking about building on a new foundation, the older foundation does not work,” said one student. “And new councils, new positions and just moving advisors around or moving faculty members around is not making the chessboard any easier to navigate. Because as students on campus, we have to be in public and be in these spaces and know that whoever our offender is, is in a certain building, or is in our space, and we cannot control where we have class. So now my progress or success academically in that class is deteriorating.”

In order to make the university aware of such problems and students’ complaints, Butts said an online portal will also be implemented for students to file their cases through. 

She also stated they are reevaluating policies so that they are more transparent and students know what the status of each case is.

This year, CPP also began incorporating diversity training into new student and faculty orientation. In addition to that, “all of the faculty on campus now have access to the National Faculty Development and Diversity Institute, where they can actually engage in ongoing learning and training around diverse issues,” Butts said.

It was not clear whether existing staff, faculty or administrators are required to undergo diversity training.

Alva also mentioned the university has launched an inclusive excellence speakers series where “thought leaders, who reflect the diversity of our campus … will speak on issues of importance and significance to the community.”

It was Butts’ presentation of the new committees that prompted students to begin speaking up, capturing everyone’s attention by describing their accounts of discomfort, racial profiling and wrongdoings against students from university employees, faculty, administration and staff. 

“I wouldn’t have come to this school if I knew it was gonna be like this,” a student said. “If I knew I wasn’t going to feel safe on this campus, or if I knew my mental health would be depleting so much as a black woman on this campus … I would not have come to this school.”

As students continued to question the board, they became concerned as to why the speakers were not explicitly answering their questions. One student repeated his question after not being satisfied with the lack of response the first time he asked. 

“I was looking for an answer. Like, why is it that there is still staff and faculty working who have discriminated against students and put the safety of black students at risk? Like, why are they still working here? Why hasn’t there been any type of disciplinary action taken?”

Alva responded that while administrators do have a responsibility to review and handle the occurrences being reported, they also have to consider the rights and privacy of the employees involved. She ensured that actions are being taken with regard to these cases, but they cannot comment specifically on personnel matters.

One student also questioned the board as to why he did not receive any communication regarding his filed case involving an incident wherein the campus police were called on him over the summer for no direct offense. 

“You go through these experiences and you’re traumatized. And it’s like, talking about police on this campus … so many things could’ve went wrong and it’s so lucky it went right.”

Currently, it’s unclear when the online portal to register concerns, complaints and other measures will take effect. 

As for now, the students who attended the meeting to get answers regarding each unique instance largely remain unsatisfied as they are still awaiting answers and a change to the CPP community.  

“I don’t take pride in being a member of this campus, that’s a problem,” one student said. “I don’t see myself in Cal Poly, because Cal Poly refuses to see itself in me.”

A follow-up town hall meeting is scheduled for Thursday, Nov. 21 at 5 p.m. in the Andromeda Suite in the Bronco Student Center.

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