Kendra Coburn is an English major and Mustang News opinion columnist. The views expressed in this column do not reflect the viewpoints and editorial coverage of Mustang News.
As this school year rapidly comes to a close, University Housing prepares for the opening of a brand new freshman residential complex in the 2018-19 school year. Boasting spacious double rooms, a convenient central location and a gender-inclusive living style, the new housing community seems like a freshman’s dream come true — or at least, as close to “dreamy” as residence hall living can get.
Unfortunately, the anticipation around the new complex’s grand opening has been quagmired by administration’s painfully transparent attempt to address Cal Poly’s ever-looming diversity problem. Last fall, Cal Poly revealed that the complex will be named yakʔitʸutʸu, in honor of local Chumash tribes. The tribes have taken this seriously, as Director of Residential Life and Education Juliet Duke said.
“They take it very seriously. They don’t put their name on something just to have it. They want to make sure it’s representing them and they see it as an opportunity [for others] to learn more about their culture,” Duke said.
If you’ve yet to have someone tell you how to pronounce it, you probably just glossed over the word “yakʔitʸutʸu” without trying to say it in your head, right? The languages of the Chumash tribe had traditionally been spoken. The Chumash languages contain seven sounds not used in English. To further add to this, University Housing has insisted, at the behest of the Chumash tribes, that yakʔitʸutʸu, as well as the seven individual buildings (elewexe, nipumūʔ, tiłhini, tsʰɨtqawɨ, tšɨłkukunɨtš, tsɨpxatu and tsɨtkawayu) may not be abbreviated when spoken or written. Using the residence halls’ full names is a form of respect for Chumash culture.
To prepare students for the complex’s opening, Cal Poly Housing has launched a campaign to educate students on the Chumash language. You may have encountered interactive posters that teach you how to pronounce the buildings’ names somewhere on campus or watched one of the short videos emailed to the campus body by University Housing. Next year’s resident advisors and Week of Welcome leaders are being trained to enforce the naming mandate in their communities.
All of this adds up to a substantial effort on the part of administration, which will ultimately end in the inevitable: students will come to shorten yakʔitʸutʸu, whether administration likes it or not. At a school where students refer to the library as the “lib,” is there even a chance that future students won’t come to refer to yakʔitʸutʸu as “the yak,” or some other endearing nickname? Even “Cal Poly” is a nickname for the university’s cumbersome full name.
My frustration with the new housing complex’s name stems from the current administration’s overwhelmingly passive attitude towards Cal Poly’s most serious issues. I see yakʔitʸutʸu as a lose-lose situation for students: either we use the full name and administration claims it as evidence that they have begun addressing the problem of racism on campus or we use a short name and administration puts the blame on us for promoting a “non-inclusive” attitude on campus.
Yes, the responsibility to address and resolve our university’s serious problems with racial discrimination falls on everyone — students included. However, it is the role of administration not to pass the blame off on students, but to combat these problems head-on. Perhaps the yakʔitʸutʸu community will become the model of social progress that administration so desperately seeks. Perhaps the future students of Cal Poly will be able to experience a campus that is less toxic and less hostile than the Cal Poly we attend today. Unfortunately, this seems like wishful thinking. The yakʔitʸutʸu community may have sounded like a great idea to a boardroom full of overpaid administrators, but we will have to wait and see whether students can turn this pipe dream into reality.