Cal Poly is pushing for more inclusivity and support for underrepresented students on campus, according to Assistant Dean of Students and Director of Cross Cultural Centers Bryan Hubain.
Cal Poly’s emphasis on using pronouns such as “he, she or they” led to the growth of many other initiatives to raise awareness of these issues on campus. The Cross Cultural Centers (CCC) — comprised of the MultiCultural Center, Pride Center and Gender Equity Center — have become leaders of this through increased involvement during Week of Welcome (WOW), analyzing data about gender identities and installing more gender-neutral bathrooms on campus.
Hubain said that with these goals in mind, they changed the “Mustang Way” to relate it to Cal Poly’s values of inclusion, equity and respect.
“Really understanding people’s narratives, where they’re coming from and just be[ing] curious about each other [is important], and I think that’s how we take the step to becoming a more inclusive campus,” Hubain said.
English freshman Grace McGuire said having resources on campus is a good step in the right direction for these groups at Cal Poly. McGuire uses both she/her/hers pronouns and they/them/theirs pronouns.
“The LGBTQ population, we’re sort of underrepresented. There are resources for us, and I really appreciate those resources and I think they’re vital to our existence and thriving on campus,” McGuire said.
Because the CCC is partially funded by student success fees, Hubain said it is the Centers’ duty to the students to make sure they feel included at Cal Poly.
The CCC have partnered with several departments on campus. This new initiative has interns in different areas on campus with an educational outreach goal to encourage more awareness of underrepresented groups at Cal Poly.
The initiative is taking effect in on-campus housing, where some students who work with the CCC double as resident advisors. They also partnered with New Student and Transition Programs’ WOW team to train students to identify common issues such as microaggressions and encourage conversations about them.
“During WOW training and what I teach leaders, we talk about drug and alcohol abuse, we talk about mental illnesses, we talk about inclusivity and culture … we talk about facilitating tough conversations, while still having that fun environment that WOW is supposed to be,” WOW team leader and liberal studies sophomore Camille Erskine said.
In addition, a new campaign was launched to increase awareness about the initiative. The Chancellor’s Office has mandated that all schools collect voluntary data about gender identity, gender expression and sexual orientation.
At Cal Poly, changes have already started to appear on campus — such as the gender-inclusive residence halls — based on this data.
“Being data-driven and making decisions based on data is really important and so we are trying to encourage every single student to go in and report their gender identity, gender expression and sexual orientation because that’s a way we are able to provide services and resources for them … our priority is always the student first,” Hubain said.
This data allows the university to know that there are underrepresented groups on campus, on the basis of race, gender identity, sexuality and other factors. It it not necessary for the university to know how specific students identify, but knowing there is at least one informs the school to provide necessary resources.
The gender identity campaign also encourages the use of inclusive pronouns on campus. Within the Dean of Students’ office, there is a push for using them, especially when implementing new members into the staff.
“We lead by pronouns, so it’s our name, our pronouns … it throws some people off sometimes, but it’s really important that we do that. So it’s those little things you find make all of these ripples,” Hubain said.
He added that Cal Poly students especially love when someone leads with pronouns to help them create a sense of trust.
“We really like to use pronouns … we do that during WOW a lot hoping that it will continue, and I know some professors do that during the first week of class, just encouraging people to be themselves … If I might look like a girl but I identify as a guy, then you can say that just through [pronouns] right off the bat and I feel like that makes people feel more inclusive,” Erskine said.
Currently, the CCC are working with Cal Poly Information Technology Services on how to incorporate pronouns in class rosters. Right now, students click the personal tab on the Cal Poly Portal, select their gender identity and share their preferred name, making it public to the university.
“That’s a way of being inclusive because when a student is transitioning and saying ‘This is who I am,’ and a faculty member can actually call them by their name, that’s powerful, because there’s a lot behind a name,” Hubain said.
The gender identity campaign has also pushed for the CCC to start incorporating more gender-neutral bathrooms on campus.
“We’ve already identified a couple of spaces in the [University Union] for a gender-neutral restroom … the Cross Cultural Centers is really a place to have those conversations. We’re pushing the agenda and really saying, ‘How can we include students so that they don’t have to go to another building just to use the restroom?’ and they shouldn’t have to because they pay student success fees like everyone else,” Hubain said.
McGuire said it is crucial to have these accommodations for students to feel safe and welcome on campus.
“I think [gender neutral bathrooms are] crucial to the safety of our gender-neutral students,” McGuire said. “I would say that there’s an element of unsafety (sic) when there’s not a place that there’s no danger of harassment or any sort of violence present that exists in those gender-neutral bathrooms.”
Editor’s Note: A previous version of this story included a graphic illustration of a skeleton depicting the gender spectrum.