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Faculty and staff members of the Cal Poly Psychology and Child Development Department write to express our support for the SLO Solidarity movement. On Dec. 1, 2015, a member of this student-led movement to address inclusion on Cal Poly’s campus received a death threat. As the police investigate this threat, we as a community should take time to reflect on the broader environment in which hate speech and death threats are taking place and organize for change.
Although the mobilization in response that we have seen at Cal Poly demonstrates a desire to create a multicultural community, we have a great deal of work ahead of us. Research shows that people from traditionally underrepresented groups are deeply affected by such incidents. Members of targeted communities typically experience depressed feelings and a loss of safety. Being targeted because of a central identity (e.g. race, sexual orientation) is a profound and painful rejection.
We must all work to create an inclusive campus by intervening when others promote stereotypes and discrimination. When we question and challenge discrimination rather than remaining a bystander, we begin to shift the social norms on our campus. Challenging bigotry makes our community safe for all people. Free speech is a right and it also can have the consequence of harming others and so should be exercised with responsibility.
As educators, we have the tools for increasing multicultural awareness and facilitating intergroup dialogues. Every Cal Poly student should have access to these tools as we prepare them to be successful in a global, multicultural society. Research in psychology and child development indicates that prejudice can be reduced by personal acquaintance and cultural familiarity. We each can take the opportunity to get to know individuals with different backgrounds and learn about the histories and cultures of groups other than our own. When we get to know people from different groups, we begin to see the limitations of stereotypes. It also fosters empathy and compassion for people who may face different challenges. It also allows us to appreciate and value different perspectives and cultures.
We call upon all members of our community to meet hate speech with louder and more passionate calls for justice and inclusion, joining with SLO Solidarity. We call upon Cal Poly’s administration to continue and increase efforts to create an inclusive community. We also encourage everyone to gain further knowledge in this area (see www.understandingprejudice.org for some resources). In particular, we encourage members of majority groups on campus to ally themselves with students from underrepresented groups and carry some of the weight of the fight for equity.
In the words of Martin Luther King Jr., “The arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends towards justice.” We commend the SLO Solidarity members for their efforts toward social justice and stand with them in the face of hate and ignorance.
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