Student voices radiate during ASI racial justice policy planning event

Associated Students, Incorporated (ASI) leadership hosted a student-centric policy planning event focused on campus racial justice ahead of the release of the organization’s 2020-2021 action plan. The Student Community Planning on Racial Justice event, hosted virtually on Aug. 14, is expected to be the first in a series of ASI town halls designed for student recommendations and demands to shape ASI policy.  

ASI President Lucy Yu, ASI Vice President Manshaan Singh, and ASI Officer of Diversity and Inclusion Moriah Easley served as the event’s hosts.  

Easley, a third-year kinesiology student, set an open and transparent tone for the meeting telling attendees, “don’t be afraid to criticize university administration or even ASI for that matter. This is a space for students by students and to figure out how to best serve students.”  

At the peak of the event’s attendance, there were about 80 meeting participants. Throughout the event’s one hour and thirty-minute run-time, dozens of students opined on both ASI and Cal Poly Pomona policy concerning racial justice resulting in a diverse and lively discussion between students and student leadersa dynamic not frequently present in similar past events.  

Gavin Smedt, a fourth-year biochemistry student who was an active participant in the meeting, partly attributed this dynamic to the lack of administration and faculty present during the event. 

“I’d say the walls were broken down. It’s not like we had that fear of thinking, ‘Oh, I might have this professor or this administrator might come into contact with me later on and they might have different opinions and then affect their treatment toward us,’” Smedt said.  

The event was divided into an open commentary section and then four areas of focus to guide the event’s conversations. The four focus areas were racial justice in the classroom, university housing, policing and mental health. 

ASI President Lucy Yu answers students’ questions during the allotted open commentary section of the event. (Courtesy of ASI)

During the open commentary section, Smedt asked the event’s first question pertaining to program funding specifically for Black, Indigenous and people of color (BIPOC) as well as increased faculty discrimination and anti-bias training. 

In response, Singh, a fourth-year environmental biology student,  pointed to the recently approved Academic Senate resolution on anti-racism that sets out as a goal working with ASI to prioritize Student Success Fee funding for programs that “that promote the understanding of racism and anti-racism.” 

As for faculty training, Singh stated that upcoming union negotiations for Cal State University (CSU) faculty, police and staff, could provide an opportunity to include such training within union contracts.  

Yu and Singh had repeatedly advocated for including bias training in CSU union contracts during their election campaign last semester with the expectation that labor negotiations would occur this summer.  

However, according to Singh, those negotiations have been postponed to next summer due to the COVID-19 pandemic. He views this as an opportunity for students, as they now have a year to decide union contract stipulations to lobby the CSU’s sole student representative, Cal State Student Association President Zahraa Khuaibet, a current CSU Northridge graduate student.  

As the event transitioned to its four specific areas of focus, student opinion and input continued. 

Racial justice in the classroom 

ASI Vice President Manshaan Singh responds to student recommendation on addressing racism and racial justice in the classroom. (Courtesy of ASI)

Third-year hospitality management student Alexis Orea shared concerns about faculty members not sufficiently emphasizing Title IX requirements nor discrimination policy during syllabus introductions—leading, according to Orea, to incidents of peer-to-peer racist and discriminatory incidents.  

As a possible solution, Yu, a fourth-year hospitality management student, floated the idea of requiring discussion of Title IX and discriminatory policies not just during the beginning of each term but rather “reinforcing it throughout the semester.” 

When later asked whether this could be a viable solution, Orea said, “I think it can. However, I feel like professors, as well as (department chairs), have to lead by example and (punish) those professors that are choosing not to do it, because, in a sense, those professors are also the problem with what’s going on on-campus. 

Also during the classroom discussion, Smedt raised the issue of professors not taking the time to learn how to pronounce some student names.  

“Sometimes the smallest thing can make such big impacts,” Smedt later said. Not learning to pronounce “culturally inspired names” is “kind of like erasing their heritage and their background,” Smedt added. 

As an example of the kind of collaboration and discussion this event fostered, fifth-year political science student Mario Mendoza recommended adding a name pronunciation feature to one of CPP’s most used online services—BroncoDirect. 

Mendoza, who works at the university’s Educational Opportunity Program and frequently interacts with BroncoDirect, said, “I noticed that BroncoDirect is very much of a portal where (faculty) tend to get a lot of information. So, when they get rosters, having the name pronunciation in there would be beneficial.” 

Mendoza mentioned that he noticed this name pronunciation feature on Facebook which prompted him to suggest it at the event. Canvas, a popular education software used by Mt. San Antonio College, has integrated the NameCoach tool to achieve this goal as well. 

Racial justice in university housing 

ASI Officer of Diversity and Inclusion Moriah Easley transitions the event to discuss achieving racial justice in university housing. (Courtesy of ASI)

More student opinions and recommendations followed the transition to housing discussion. 

Speaking as a former CPP resident advisor (RA), Smedt noted that RA positions are at-will meaning employment could be terminated for any reason at any time—barring an unlawful reason. Therefore, Smedt suggested more forceful discipline for RAs who exhibit racist behavior. 

Orea agreed with Smedt’s suggestion but also added that housing should host more events and programming that “promote inclusivity and diversity.” 

During the housing conversation, there was a slight detour where the topic of family housing at the university was advocated by multiple students. CPP does not currently have family housing options for students who are married, in a domestic partnership, or are parents to children. While family housing is more common in the University of California campuses, CSU Northridge and CSU Monterey Bay.  

Orea, who is a student-parent, stated that a current stumbling block in the process to bring family housing to CPP is that there is currently not enough information or statistics on the university’s student-parent population.  

“I think initially what we need to do is have a lot of surveys going out not just through the centers, but through ASI and through the BRIC,” Orea said. 

She added, “The way I see it is if we could afford new dormitories for another number of students, we could find somewhere to house these families that come to our school and are part of our campus.” 

During this discussion, Yu stated that family housing is slated to be on ASI’s Action Plan. 

Racial justice in university policing 

Yu moved the event along to its policing discussion by first framing the discussion with the backdrop of Floyd’s killing by a Minneapolis police officer sparking a nationwide debate “around police reform, police defunding and police abolishment.” 

Yu added, “We have a University Police Department and our campus police are not immune to the problems of racial profiling and being weaponized against Black students. While the police are, in theory, present for the safety of the campus, it also cannot be ignored that students have stated that they do not feel safe around police.” 

Responding to a chat question about a third-party on campus to hold university officers accountable, Singh revealed that Nicole Butts, presidential associate for inclusive excellence and diversity, is working on a police oversight committee. There have not been any official announcements from the university of such a committee’s formation and Singh added that the committee is “not set in stone yet.” 

Mirroring the national debate on policing in America, student opinions on the roles of police officers on campus varied. While some students in the Zoom chat were adamant about police eventually being removed from campus altogether, other students felt that services such as the department’s safety escort service made them feel safe and the department instead should undergo further training. 

Mendoza raised concerns about the impact of UPD patrolling on campus. He stated, “I understand that they’re there to patrol or whatnot but a lot of the times they’re in areas where, I would say, (there are) a lot of minorities and it kind of gives them that sense of like, ‘Why are you in this space?’” 

He added after the event, “The presence and how they carry themselves can be detrimental to the students. They don’t come with the intention of comfort and that’s where a lot of the times it can cause a lot of students to panic.” 

Racial justice in mental health 

The conversation regarding racial justice in mental health began with a simple, yet familiar refrain in the chat, “Hire more counselors.” 

Long wait times have presented students with a consistent struggle in trying to access the university’s mental health services.  

Decreasing waiting periods for counselors was another highlighted policy proposal present in Yu and Singh’s election campaign. Yu told the attendees that the ASI Board of Directors also views the hiring of more counselors as a priority and that ASI is also advocating for more diverse counselors. 

This seemed to be in line with the concerns that many students voiced. Smedt was just one of many students who wished for the university’s mental health professionals to be more representative. 

In the chat, Smedt said, “It would be helpful to have therapists at CAPS (Counseling & Psychological Services) that specifically focus on BIPOC struggles and the experience of consistent discrimination.” 

Following the event, students were asked to reflect on past efforts by ASI and the university to address racism and discrimination on campus and whether events like these could be a catalyst for necessary change.  

Martinez said, “First off, I just want to say that I cannot speak on the experience of the Black community, but (as a person of color) it seems that with ASI in the past, it hasn’t been so much of a conversation.” He explained that in his past experiences with ASI presidents, they have delegated these issues to other student leaders or other organizations. 

He added that the progress that has been made so far, such as the increased focus by CPP and ASI on these issues, is because “students are now deciding to create a movement, create a change, and start to have these conversations and push to have these conversations….The university doesn’t acknowledge until we start creating that presence.” 

Compared to past presidents, Martinez stated that Yu “seems to be the most willing to start moving forward for change and the one who has been most involved with students.” 

He also hoped that future events occur monthly, so student government remains updated on student feedback and sentiment.  

Orea similarly stated that in her time at CPP, the university and ASI have not done enough advocating for students who have faced racism and discrimination on campus. 

When asked if she had any hope that the changes proposed during the meeting would go into effect, Orea said, “I do have hope, but I am also realistic.” 

For these changes to occur, Orea argued, “We can’t just depend on ASI. We have to tell ASI what to do, have them create the programs or the events, and then have students and faculty actually support the events in order for us to see significant change as soon as possible.”  

Orea, who is a part of the LGBTQ community, and who has not approved of previous ASI actions that in her view have devalued the concerns of trans and non-binary students, was in favor of a similarly structured event where students could voice their opinions and recommendations on issues facing LGBTQ students on campus. 

Smedt was also enthusiastic about joining events like these in the future. “I felt more connected than I have ever, probably, on campus because this group that showed up…and participated in this conversation, we all shared at least one ideology, that racial justice is important.” He added, “It feels awesome because we can connect in further conversations.”  

ASI student leaders were not available in time to speak with The Poly Post on the extent that these student recommendations will shape the upcoming action plan, expected to be released near the start of the fall semester.  

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