Civil rights activist Dolores Huerta spoke to a packed Chumash Auditorium Thursday, May 10 regarding campus climate and social activism.
“I was so happy to see how many people went and to see that many people did care about what she had to say and about seeing a changemaker speak,” communication studies sophomore Kylie Clark said. “After seeing her I personally felt really empowered, especially when she had the entire audience shout together about having a voice and being able to use that influence.”
The Cross Cultural Centers organized the event and Huerta’s appearance was just one of many events taking place as part of the Office of University Diversity and Inclusion’s Inclusion Excellence Month.
“I’m hoping that [these events] inspire people to not just be angry and upset but to actually make the campus a better place and to make change,” Clark said. “A lot of the talks are giving specific ways that you can make the campus a better place.”
Clark recently attended a talk called “White Skeptics” which discussed how to talk to white individuals who do not think racism or discrimination still exist.
“I think a lot of people, by going to talks like that might see how they can actually use their power and their minds to make a difference and to change campus if they are upset about what’s going on,” she said.
Huerta has been a part of the fight for equality for more than 50 years. In 1962, she co-founded the United Farm Workers of America with Cesar Chavez, which later became the United Farm Workers union.
The 88-year-old, mother-of-11 labor leader shared her journey as a community organizer, giving advice to Cal Poly and San Luis Obispo residents on fighting for equality.
“This campus should not bear the stigma of being a racist campus,” Huerta said in her presentation. “That’s shameful … We gotta change it. We gotta make sure that this campus here reflects the state of California, reflects the diversity of the people in the state of California and all of you that are working to change this, I just want to say, keep on doing what you are doing.”
Huerta said one of the biggest issues contributing to inequality is misrepresentation in the U.S. Census. Many undocumented immigrant families do not fill out census forms because of fear of persecution, according to Huerta. She argued that this leads to a lack of representation and structural support for these communities. To have a voice, she said, we have to utilize our right to vote and to campaign.
“In the U.S. Congress, we have to elect progressive Congresspeople so that we can stop all of the racist and the misogynist [homophobes],” she said. “The only way that we can change policies is by making sure that we elect the people to all of these public offices, that’s it. There’s no other way.”
Huerta compared issues present today to those of the Civil Rights Movement that occurred in the 1960s, calling this an “economic revolution” as opposed to a cultural revolution.
In a recent study from a high school district that expelled and suspended more than 2,000 students, Huerta said Black students and Latinx students are expelled 600 and 500 times more than white students, respectively. The only solution is education.
“They have to have positive behavior intervention systems … They’ve got to have one month of African-American heritage month, one month of Latino heritage month,” she said. “These teachers have to have cultural competency training.”
Huerta’s last message to Cal Poly was to remember that we are all one people, one human race.
“We only have one life on this earth,” she said. “Think of how you are going to dedicate your life to make this world a better place. That’s the important thing.”