As the nation grapples with the killing of George Floyd, a black man in Minneapolis, at the hands of a white police officer and the larger, systemic racism that has claimed countless black lives, Cal Poly Pomona’s Office of Inclusive Excellence and Diversity held a virtual community event on Jun. 2.
The Community Reflection on Anti-Blackness, attended by 300 people, allowed various voices to express, with great emotion, the sentiments that this killing and the subsequent unrest has spurred both on a grand scale and as they relate the campus community.
Presidential Associate for Inclusive Excellence and Diversity Nicole Butts explained the intentions for the event.
“We, again, are here to hold space for the grief and anguish people are feeling,” Butts said. “For those of you who are joining us who are not part of the African American or black community, we welcome you, and we thank you for being here with us today. This is not an opportunity for spectatorship, we are not using this time to educate people on racism or anti-blackness. We are not here to challenge or debate what people are feeling or the decisions that they’re making. We are here to hold space.”
With this caveat in place, Analena Hope Hassberg, an associate professor in the Ethnic and Women’s Studies (EWS) Department, provided historical context for the hostility that has plagued black Americans in this country. Delineating events such as the killing of Floyd, the Civil Rights movement of the mid-20th century, the American Civil War and the emergence of the transatlantic slave trade in the 15th century, Hassberg concluded that the events of the past few days are only “part of a longer continuum of an ongoing struggle for black Americans to be recognized and treated as human beings.”
Speaking to what has been dubbed the “Fed Up-Rising,” Hassberg stated, “Every historical instance of uprising is always the boiling over of generations of pain and rage that can no longer be held like a volcano that stays on the verge of eruption—until it doesn’t.”
Daniel Martinez, a clinical psychologist who works at the university’s Counseling and Psychological Services (CAPS), spoke with the purpose of validating many of the possible emotions that those in attendance may have been feeling.
“I just wanted to remind folks that a lot of the feelings that we’re experiencing these days are very difficult to manage,” Martinez said. “You may be experiencing pain, anger, suffering, all of the different feelings that you’re experiencing, I would just want to let you know that they are normal.”
The rest of the event was shaped by the voices of Cal Poly Pomona students and faculty that engaged the hundreds of listeners in an honest and raw discussion of the issues at hand.
DeVoneia Jordan, a Career Center counselor liaison to the Huntley College of Agriculture, was the first to speak. “We are suffering, we are in pain, we are dealing with a lot right now, but it’s not anything that’s new,” Jordan stated, referring to black Americans. Jordan then transitioned to how discrimination against African Americans has permeated within the university.
She recounted the story of a black student who had the police called on him for walking on an unincorporated part of the then-under construction Student Services Building, even after introducing himself. Jordan also highlighted that as recently as last summer, a similar event occurred where a black student had the police called on him by the dean of the College of Education and Integrative Studies (CEIS) under the false belief that he was an intruder in the CEIS building.
Next, Felicia Thomas, a professor in the psychology department, framed her reaction to the events at hand through the stages of grief and stated, “underneath most of these emotions is pain.” She added, “Even if it’s (an expression of) anger please recognize and understand that that’s coming from a place of pain and a place of pain that’s been long-standing.”
When it came to the final stage of grief—acceptance—Thomas said, “Acceptance doesn’t have to mean accepting the status quo.” Instead, she urged for an acceptance that there is a problem and for an inward reflection on campus climate, adding, “Please, let’s not assume that we are above the fray because we’re not. I’m sure many of us in this space right now can talk about experiences that we have had not just off-campus but on-campus as well.”
Students also spoke about their experiences and reactions during the forum. This included two students who spoke intimately about their stories of being incarcerated before attending Cal Poly Pomona.
Lisa McCarthy, a black woman and third-year transfer gender, ethnicity and multicultural studies student, chronicled her experiences. McCarthy believes to have been unfairly treated, and eventually incarcerated, due to discrimination against her on multiple encounters with the criminal justice system.
McCarthy reflected on how being a student at Cal Poly Pomona, and a part of the university’s Project Rebound that assists formerly incarcerated students through mentorship, has helped her overcome those past experiences.
Yet, for McCarthy, events like the killing of Floyd are a painful reminder of societal faults.
“When things like this come up, it all comes back flooding,” McCarthy said. “I don’t understand why those (police officers) aren’t in prison, or in jail at least, because evidently they’re a threat to their neighborhood or their area. Why do they take, automatically, any black man…to jail? And then you have to fight to get out. They give you outrageous bails and things like that.”
Edgar Pazmino, a second-year transfer psychology student, voiced his own experiences on finding his identity through his Ecuadorian roots and the discrimination he has faced throughout his life. Following his incarceration, Pazmino enrolled in Chaffey College and later transferred to Cal Poly Pomona, attributing education as something that changed his life. Still, at CPP, Pazmino remarked that he reported an incident of on-campus discrimination, so far without a resolution.
“All I can say is that no matter what, I am a human being,” Pazmino said. “I feel for my brothers and sisters and I appreciate this platform so that we’re able to speak and hopefully change this whole situation—especially with this white supremacy.”
Alvaro Huerta, an assistant professor who teaches jointly in the EWS and Urban & Regional Planning departments, also took time to address his own personal experiences with police abuse growing up in East Los Angeles as well as proposing concrete actions to address these complex issues as a campus.
“We should recruit more African American students, make an effort to reach out to them and help them apply to Cal Poly Pomona,” Huerta suggested. “We should recruit more African American faculty…. And we should require ethnic studies (to be taught).”
In all, the space that was provided for respondents lent a platform to those in the campus community who were African American and personally, intimately affected by the events of the recent days and a platform to those of all races who wished to express solidarity and allyship in these uncertain times. This was displayed by a constant and steadfast outpouring of support in the virtual Zoom chat to all who spoke during the event.
Butts concluded by saying, “Thank you to everyone who participated, thank you for your courage, for sharing, for your tears and for the support that you all provided to one another in the chat, it was very powerful….We will continue this work, both on campus and in the broader community.”
Students can reach out for aid via any of the following resources:
Counseling and Psychological Services: 909-869-3220, @cppcaps on Instagram
Survivor Advocacy Services: 909-869-3102
Office of Equity, Inclusion, and Compliance: 909-869-4646
Bronco Wellness Center: 909-869-5272, @cpphealth on Instagram
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