My story matters: A student voice series

This story is part three of the “My Story Matters” series — a collection of stories being published to bring awareness to the racial injustices Cal Poly Pomona students say they have been experiencing on campus. This story highlights Latinx student Cesar Adolfo Cruz Amaya, a fourth-year English education student who experienced racial profiling at his place of work on campus. 

On the morning of Aug. 6, Cesar Adolfo Cruz Amaya arrived at the PolyTransfer office located in the Student Services Building (SSB) to begin his work day. Student employees at the SSB do not have access cards to the building, so he planned to signal to one of his co-workers to open the door for him when he returned from getting Starbucks. Upon arriving at the building, he noticed a staff member talking to someone in front of the entrance door. 

Cruz Amaya had heard rumors of several students running into issues with this particular staff member, whom he has chosen not to name. “As soon as I saw that person standing at the door … the first thought (I had) was, ‘Oh, it’s my turn,’” Cruz Amaya said. 

Eduardo Rangel | The Poly Post

As he approached the door, he stated the staff member stopped her conversation and closed the door, blocking Cruz Amaya from entering, and asked him, “Where’s your ID?” Cruz Amaya responded that he worked there, and pointed at the logo on his shirt, which indicated the department he works for in the building. “But where is your ID?” she asked him again.

“At this moment, I (was) feeling really frustrated because even though this person doesn’t know, I’m part of the undocumented community and that’s a trigger question for me. So then, when I was asked that twice, back-to-back without even being greeted or anything, it was really triggering for me.” 

Nevertheless, Cruz Amaya tried to maintain his composure and remain respectful. One of his co-workers then started to pass by and the staff member stopped her to ask whether Cruz Amaya worked with her. The co-worker said yes while motioning toward her own shirt which matched the one Cruz Amaya was wearing. It was at this point that the staff member finally allowed Cruz Amaya access to the building. 

Feeling emotional about what had just taken place, Cruz Amaya went to his cubicle to decompress. He then decided to write an email to his supervisor’s direct supervisor detailing the incident that had just occurred. 

As he was at his desk, the staff member with whom he had the incident came looking for him. “She came over and the first question that she asked was for my name … and my supervisor. And then she proceeded to try to apologize, and in that moment was when I told her if her apology was sincere, I will take it, but she could not say anything. I also told her I would not stand for it and that I felt disrespected.”

Cruz Amaya expressed his frustration to the staff member due to her not taking the time to get to know the students who are working in the SSB, while they all know who she is. “I’m wearing my polo to be able to identify myself (and) where I work in the building so this doesn’t happen, but even then, that’s not enough,” Cruz Amaya said to her. “That’s when she moved on to say, ‘When my boyfriend wears a hat or grows out his beard, I don’t recognize him either.’” 

Despite his frustration at her response, Cruz Amaya made sure to stay seated during the entire interaction. 

“I have an activism background and I’ve done a lot of trainings where as a male of color, I know how I can be seen as threatening in certain situations, especially with something like this, where a white woman (is) thinking that a male of color is now confronting her … and if I were to stand it would be seen as a lot more threatening and I would have been seen as the aggressor.”

Cruz Amaya let her know he was not interested in her personal life as it did not relate to the current situation. “As soon as I said that…she finally came to a knee and stopped looking over me … and she was like, ‘I’m sorry,’ and she started tearing up, trying to play the victim.” 

He told her again if her apology was sincere, he would accept it, but again she did not answer. It was at that point she walked away. 

Cruz Amaya submitted a complaint to the human resources department within the SSB and was subsequently referred to Susan Hua, interim assistant vice president for institutional equity and compliance (OIEC). Cruz Amaya met with Hua to open his case on Aug. 20. “The case still hasn’t (been) resolved,” Cruz Amaya said. 

After filing his complaint, the OIEC met with both parties to take their statements. Afterward, they were given notes from their meetings to review and approve for accuracy by a certain deadline. 

On Nov. 12, Cruz Amaya emailed to inquire about the notes and was told she had turned them in on Nov. 8 and they were being further reviewed by the OIEC. 

Because of this incident, Cruz Amaya’s mental health has been affected, he said, causing him to lose focus on his studies and his grades to suffer because he is constantly thinking about his case. “This person definitely understands what their privileges are and how they can exercise them whenever they need to. But as a student, I don’t have any of those privileges that I can exercise as well. All I’m told is ‘There is counseling you can go to if you need to, but you’ve got to search that out,’” Cruz Amaya said. 

“Me being the victim in this whole situation, why am I the one that’s having to constantly follow up? The only reason I found out that this person had gotten so many extensions was because I kept pushing.” 

Cruz Amaya still works in the building where his incident took place and it has continued to affect his state of mind as he goes into work each day. “In the back of my mind, it’s like, am I gonna run into this person again? And what’s the interaction I’m gonna have with this person if I do?”

Part of the issue he sees in his workplace, specifically, is the setup of the SSB, which does not lend itself to be a welcoming environment for students as it was originally intended, due to the separation between higher-ups and student employees. Because the building is split in two, the H.R. and veteran’s services are on one side of the building, with everything else on the other side. “People from the H.R. area have never even been to the other side of the building,” Cruz Amaya said.

Given the current campus climate on diversity and inclusivity issues, Cruz Amaya wonders what is actually being done to prevent these incidents from happening. “We’re constantly told our staff are being trained to better work with students … but does the school ever check if people actually comprehend the trainings? Or are people just going through the motions and saying, ‘OK, I got this done, I can keep my job’?” Cruz Amaya believes that the administration has only recently addressed the issues of diversity and inclusivity on campus because the WASC accreditation process was coming up. 

Cruz Amaya has been working with his community as well as the African American community on campus to try to enact change for students. “We’re trying to empower others to show that their voices matter as well and that they can, too, make changes to feel welcome on the campus and feel like they actually belong on campus, and that they have equal opportunities just like everyone else…. The color of their skin or the way they act shouldn’t depend how the outcome of things should be for them, or even how they will be treated or looked at.

There’s been other incidents I’m aware of on the campus that, because students have been vocal about it, Dr. Coley has even taken a step in. But this … has gone through this person’s boss, my boss’s boss and their boss, and even H.R. And I still haven’t even gotten recognition from Dr. Coley that I’ve been affected this way. It’s gotten to the point of, why even go to the people on top if they’re not even giving one sense to what’s happening to me?” 

Overall, his experience has made it more difficult to navigate around campus. “It’s building to that campus climate because it’s making … these spaces more like hostile spaces rather than welcoming spaces, where now I’m feeling like I’ve got to look over my shoulder to see who’s behind me and if I’m gonna be needing to put my ‘argumentative hat’ on and defend myself.”

As for the status of Cruz Amaya’s case, Hua confirmed that the OIEC is still in the fact-gathering stage and is “moving into providing the parties with the opportunity to review the evidence thus far so they can in turn provide any additional information and clarification.” 

The Poly Post will continue to report “My story matters: A student voice series” to bring to light the discrimination and racial injustice many students say they 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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