Challenging the Status Quo: Learning to Unlearn

michal-lomza-338227-unsplash.jpgWelcome back to another Friday, you made it through another week! For me, these weeks have been slow, rough, and draining— today I wanted to remind everyone to take a few steps back from life for a moment, to rest and recharge with me. But something more important has come up and I have to talk about it. So look out for my rest and recharge post next week, after a new Poetry Place on Tuesday, it’ll be a good one.

Here is what I want to talk about today instead.

Though I am late to the party that no one wants to be at, apparently another photo has surfaced of a student doing blackface at Cal Poly more recently, this time making fun of the original incident that occured last month.

Is anyone else tired?

First of all, I appreciate the fact that fraternity members who knew of the picture are allegedly the ones who brought it to public attention. Like I’ve said before, oftentimes fraternities come with a bad reputation, but they do have some good in them. This just isn’t about them anymore.

This is about the status quo.

Today I sat in on a forum, of what we hope is the next step forward on campus in changing the way things are, where we were introduced to Diversity and Inclusion Specialist Kimberly McLaughlin-Smith of the University of North Carolina Wilmington. tim-marshall-82948-unsplashShe outlined for us her mission and insight as well as offered a panel of faculty and students to go deeper into the issue.

Within the next six months, she will be working closely with our campus to help create more of a community than we currently have and foster a more inclusive campus. Though I do think it’s important to bring someone in from the outside, as she seems incredibly capable to help make change, I think it’s also important to acknowledge the students and the faculty that are on the inside of this.

As of today, we are Cal Poly. Whether we want to be or not.

Right now, this campus needs change, but the problem is so much larger than us. The issue is so complex that it draws on history— white supremacy if you will— and that history involves slavery, the foundation of America (liberty and a lack thereof), the Trail of Tears, the Chumash land that Cal Poly is built on, etc. More times than not, this history has to do with people dominating over others; not because they deserve to or they are more qualified to do so, but because the color of their skin makes them feel like they are.

This is the status quo.

Mrs. McLaughlin-Smith said something in the forum earlier that got me thinking: “Exposure to anything is everything; the alternative is the same.”

Sometimes learning something new means unlearning something you already know.

So if, growing up, we are exposed to people of color being treated like less than others for something they cannot control and should not be ashamed of, this exposure can become everything. And if, learning to become a practiced and intellectual member of society, we are not taught important racial history both in and beyond American standards, this lack of exposure can become everything.

Both can do a whole lot of damage.

aditya-saxena-386012-unsplash.jpgWith the way things are, the lack of repercussions for racist actions or even the lack of value in simple humanity is problematic— hold the door open for someone, be polite to a woman, remember that Cinco de Mayo is not Mexican independence day, do not throw around the n-word like it’s a game and you’re trying to get the most baskets… Because if nothing is done to make a change happen, nobody exposes anyone else to the implications of an action or a history or a hope for something better, how can we aim for anything more than the status quo we are already living in?

Right here I am challenging the way things are because I know they can be better than this. Honestly, at 20 years old, I may be farther away from having all the answers than I was last week. I don’t even know if I’m asking the right questions anymore. Not because I know less than I did before, but because I’m acknowledging just how much I don’t understand.

I don’t understand why people think it’s okay to belittle others for who they are.

I don’t understand why so many of us see something wrong in our society yet are given so little power to do something about it.

I don’t understand what it’s like anymore to get up in the morning and not worry about being yelled at, or catcalled, or jumped on my walk to class or home.

I don’t understand why the color of my skin should tell someone an entire story about me without them even knowing my name.

Is this the status quo, or is this just my status quo?caleb-wright-14715-unsplash.jpg

If even one person on my campus and so many others feel like this, feel like they don’t belong there or deserve to be there or be here in this country, there is no liberty in that.

Today, I want you to think of your own status quo and what it means to you. For just a moment, humor me maybe, challenge it. Now what can it really look like?

Share your thoughts with me in the comments below, after all, you’re part of my status quo too. See you Tuesday.

Enough is Enough Cal Poly

zachary-nelson-192289A week ago, I was getting ready to take part in one of Cal Poly’s best events all year: PolyCultural Weekend. As a weekend for cultural clubs to invite prospective students to stay with us and spend the weekend on campus, learning about the culture and diversity we do have to offer as a school, it was incredible.

This year, not only did I get to host for the first time with two wonderful hostees, but I also got to participate in the dance performance for the Black Student Union; if I may say so myself, it was fantastic. So many people put months, even a year of work into this one weekend, and it went off without a hitch.

Or at least it would have.

All three days held so much spirit and energy and pride for the homes all of us have found at Cal Poly through our cultural organizations, last weekend I felt secure in telling my hostees and so many others that they would be safe here— Cal Poly can be a home for them.

Before my hostees even walked off this campus, I was proven wrong.

Too many times this week have I heard: there is a time and place for everything… In spite of the news stories like the New York Times or the Washington Post, Cal Poly has added quite a bit to its reputation just this week regarding just what kind of place it is.

In light of a fraternity student going in blackface to a party among others in his company mocking Latino culture or immigration and several stereotypesjames-motter-516818-unsplash including that of a “gangster” or a “cholo”, I have a hard time supporting a University that will not support its students of color. Did you know that this school was ranked top 7 in worst institutions for “in fostering Latino student success.” That statement is an excuse to brush off clear racism, to avoid the discomfort of acknowledging the struggle minority students go through, especially at a place like Cal Poly.

In saying there is a time and place for everything, does this mean there is there a time and place for racism too?

If there is one thing I know, it is that every minority here has felt the eyes of our peers this week and the lack of diversity has never been more obvious. Instances like this only turn more attention toward us and there is nothing we can do but take it and try to make it into something more productive. Yet some of us have kept our heads down all week, ashamed of our campus or the attention, and more importantly, insecure in the skin we carry ourselves in because of we know people use it as an excuse to be inhumane.

We are tired.

During an emergency Town Hall Meeting on Monday night, I sat in a room filled with both people of color and caucasian allies that were all there for the same reasons— to speak out against these actions on our campus and stand in solidarity with one another. In that room, many of my fellow black students spoke out, saying that this place never felt like a home until we found a home in each other. We shouldn’t be the only ones supporting one another. The lack of support from administration, our President Jeffrey Armstrong, and even African American staff members that leave the school within a year of coming here is not sufficient for us.

It is not enough.

jeronimo-bernot-259463-unsplashThis morning, I participated in a protest with 300 other students from both of Cal Poly and other institutions— including high schoolers— during the first day of our open house weekend when prospective students come to Cal Poly and truly take a look at the campus they might decide to spend the next 4 (maybe 5) years on. We spent several hours marching around campus to let people know that the way we have been treated, that this school is a good one, but it has a lot of problems and we will not be quiet any longer. Last weekend’s incident is one among too many others regarding racism on this campus and we are done with turning the other cheek.

We are tired.

I am one of approximately 166 black students on this campus.

  1. Among at least 21,000 students.

And yet this school doesn’t seem to be making enough progress as a whole to show they care about changing those numbers. We don’t feel safe here, not even when I watched our president go up on stage during Polycultural weekend and tell all the prospective students that he wants us here— that he “supports his people of color.”

Does supporting our people of color include protecting the black student who was walking to an interview only a few hours ago when someone spit at her and threw the n-word in her face? Is this okay to have to hear on a school campus that claims to be better than racism: “Tell you and your n*gger friends to go back to Africa and stop protesting at my school.”

We are tired.

Of the racism, the unequal treatment, the discomfort, the dismissal of hard topics— what about a hard existence on a campus like Cal Poly?

I’ve spent the week trying to figure out how much I wanted to get into the protests and the marches and the rallying against something like this, but I have no choice but to speak up— if we don’t speak up for ourselves, who else will? Because every day I thought I would feel a little better or a little safer and dawid-zawila-279998instead I am just getting angrier and more frustrated with how little power it feels like we have over what happens to us here. Our voices are all we have.

So this is me speaking up, in a way that I believe I need to. I am taking action in my life to change things here at Cal Poly, through Greek Life, BSU, and even being an orientation WOW leader specifically for cultural students.

This reality, lacking color or for many students feeling proud of what we’re doing or where we go, is not okay and I am making steps toward the change I want to see. So what are you going to do?

Cal Poly, what will you do?