My story matters: A student voice series

This story is part two of the “My Story Matters” series – a collection of individual stories being published to bring awareness to the racial injustices Cal Poly Pomona students have been experiencing on campus. This story highlights Jayla Littlejohn, a second-year psychology student and an African American woman, who alleges she experienced harassment on the basis of race at a campus facility.

Over the past summer, Jayla Littlejohn was hired for a seasonal job at the Los Olivos (LO) dining hall and went to LO to turn in her I-9 Employment Eligibility Verification paperwork. She was met by Jessica Gusman, a business management student, who hired her for the position. 

According to Littlejohn, Gusman walked her to the back where she could turn in her paperwork, where they approached two other female African American student employees. Littlejohn reports that Gusman told the other two women, “Hey, look guys, I found you a sister.” Littlejohn noted the two other employees looked visibly uncomfortable with the comment, as was she. Shocked at Gusman’s boldness, Littlejohn did not know how to respond to the comment and chose not to say anything.

“I didn’t want my response to be turned into ‘She’s the angry black woman’ or now I’m an aggressive student because I’m black,’” Littlejohn said. 

Eduardo Rangel | The Poly Post

On July 26, Littlejohn began her orientation for her new position at Los Olivos, along with several other new employees. While Gusman was going over policies on wearing jewelry in the workplace, Littlejohn recalled her saying, “I don’t care how fly you think your hoop earrings are, we can’t wear them here,” while turning to face her directly. According to Littlejohn, Gusman said this with what she would describe as “the stereotypical black accent.” 

“She did a lot of hand movements and turning her head sideways and kind of mimicking the behavior of the way black women are portrayed in society,” Littlejohn said. She recalled that she was not wearing any earrings or any jewelry that day and was dressed in business attire. 

According to Littlejohn, Gusman would speak to the room in her normal voice, but each time she would turn and look directly at Littlejohn, she would change her accent and her body language.

Gusman then moved on to instructing the staff what to do if they encountered any “suspicious figures” while at work and how to go about handling such a situation. 

“She then described what this person may look like, you know, if we see someone with baggy pants and a hoodie or a backpack, and the way I received that was as though she was trying to describe again, a stereotypical version of a black male. The first thing I thought of when she said that was Trayvon Martin,” Littlejohn said. 

Gusman continued on with the orientation and began discussing policies regarding workplace relationships. According to Littlejohn, while Gusman said workplace relationships are not prohibited at LO, she stated, “It’s a bad idea because there’s drama and people can get into fights on the job. She then, once again, turned to me, started to speak in an accent and said, ‘You know how y’all get,’” Littlejohn said. 

Littlejohn quit her job at LO shortly after this experience as she did not feel comfortable working there. The day she went in to quit, Littlejohn stated that she recalls Gusman appearing aggravated before dismissing her. 

According to Littlejohn, after she began her new job at Jamba Juice in the Bronco Recreation and Intramural Complex, there was an occasion wherein Gusman came to her new place of work, and after being served, made extra requests for things as if to send Littlejohn back and forth to accommodate her. 

“I just thought that was unprofessional and felt like (she) didn’t need to come to my place of business if (she) had an issue. She has not since spoken to me in regards to any of that or apologized, even though I know she’s aware of the situation,” Littlejohn said. 

The Poly Post reached out to Gusman for a direct comment regarding the allegations, which she declined. 

Littlejohn has since filed a Title IX complaint for harassment on the basis of race and has also filed several complaints through different avenues, such as the CPP Foundation Human Resources, online reports and in-person reports.

“I no longer have faith in Title IX, I no longer believe they are unbiased.  I don’t believe this idea of Title IX being the middleman, because I submitted a report and nearly half of my statement was changed,” Littlejohn said. “There were things entered that I did not say; there were things taken out that I had put in that I had asked to be added; a lot of statements were changed to ‘I feel.’ Overall, it’s very clear that my experience as a black student is not as important as the reputation of this institution.”

On Aug. 30, Littlejohn was told by Title IX that it would take 60 working days to complete the investigation, with the potential of an additional 30-day extension. Nov. 27 will be the 60th working day since then. So far, Littlejohn has not received any updates regarding the status of her complaint. 

“I feel like I don’t belong here,” Littlejohn said. “I feel like this university does not want me. I do not feel like this university sees me. I feel invisible as a human on this campus and seen as a statistic … that’s the only form of visibility I have. Because they preach that they’re a diverse community but they exploit the black community for a positive image in their statistics, and they use black students for funding and I think that’s why we’re here. I don’t think we’re here because we’re wanted. I think we’re here because of numbers and because they get money for us.”

Littlejohn has spoken directly with CPP President Soroya M. Coley to detail the incidents she’s experienced on campus. “When I asked her what was she going to do about it … what is she going to do to change this, because I don’t feel safe here and I don’t feel good here, her answer to me was that, ‘Every institution is aspirational and we can only hope that all the members on this campus will follow the rules, will be respectful; we can only hope that they will not commit such egregious acts.’ But that she does not have the right to fire some of these people, she does not have the right to take their positions, which is why she is working on starting another committee,” Littlejohn said. 

“We had a whole town hall, and this is the second town hall that President Coley has sat through and has not said anything in response to many stories and many comments from students on this campus. So, with that, the fact that professors, that staff, that students and President Coley are able to turn a blind eye to an entire community on this campus speaks volumes about what it means to be a black student at Cal Poly.”

Littlejohn remains concerned about how CPP’s administration plans to act on students’ reports regarding these types of incidents on campus. 

“What is it gonna take? Is it gonna take a black student being killed or slammed on the floor and harassed for people to actually care? For people to actually see us? What is it gonna take for us to be seen, to be acknowledged, and for some type of change to happen? Because we’re not asking for much. I’m asking to be treated like a human being, a person. I’m asking to be able to go to class and just do my work. I’m asking to go to work and just do the job that I’m getting paid for,” Littlejohn said.

The Poly Post will continue to report “My story matters: A series” to bring to light the discrimination and racial injustice many students are experiencing at CPP to further push the university to listen and begin taking action. If anyone has a story to share for this series, we encourage you to contact managing@thepolypost.com.

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