Cal Poly’s recent campus climate has drawn attention to yakʔitʸutʸu, the new residential community scheduled to open Fall 2018. The residential living community was named in honor of the yak titʸu titʸu yak tiłhini tribe, known post-colonially as the Northern Chumash tribe.
Since Cal Poly is located on land previously belonging to the tribe, the university thought it would be a good way to connect Cal Poly to local history, Director of Residential Life and Education Juliette Duke said.
“We’re trying to infuse it throughout the community,” Duke said. “[It is] a way to just bring some more culture to our campus and show this amazing culture that has been a part of the local community and the campus that no one really knows about.”
Vice President of Student Affairs Keith Humphrey has worked with the Northern Chumash tribe as the residential community is being built, according to Duke. The Northern Chumash tribe said they are excited about the collaboration with Cal Poly’s in picking the names and programming in the community.
Northern Chumash Co-Chair Violet Cavanagh said the tribe has been involved with the project for the past two years. Her father, Tribal Administrator Fred Collins, is in the president’s circle and has been attending meetings about the new residential community.
“We’ve been involved with the project since the beginning; it was actually our idea,” Cavanagh said. “The president of Cal Poly wanted to do some more diversity and inclusion which is still desperately needed … so he asked my dad to help him with that.”
Cavanagh said other yak titʸu titʸu yak tiłhini groups were also brought on board to help with the tribe’s language. While this is a step toward diversifying the campus, the biggest goal right now is simply creating a safe space for students on campus.
“I don’t know if it’s going to improve [the diversity issue on campus]. I think it’s just a recognition,” Cavanagh said. “I think what needs to improve is the actual staff in relationship [to] teaching … It obviously brings awareness to where people are living, but really the root cause of the problems on the campus really have to do with teaching and administration and establishing a safe place for students to be, the naming of the buildings doesn’t have that much of a reach.”
Students shared their opinion on Cal Poly’s choice of the names and how it may affect the campus.
Theatre arts senior Austine Delos Santos said just bringing Chumash culture to Cal Poly does not solve the diversity issue
“I think it’s a great idea for Cal Poly to try to diversify its campus, especially given the context of it being a campus founded by white men and also being on stolen land from Chumash tribes,” Delos Santos said. “However, I think there needs to be more of an initiative to educate about the names and the culture and the respect behind it.”
Duke said there are more ties to the Chumash community beyond the buildings. They will include native plants and place murals in the building relating to the Chumash culture. The community is also planning to have a resource room within the complex to educate students about Chumash culture.
The buildings were named after locations around San Luis Obispo County. The names are derived from native Chumash languages, rather than English, to make it a true collaboration, according to Duke.
“Those names of those buildings are set for life, they’re not going to change, and what a great way to honor that culture by having the building have those names,” Duke said.
Delos Santos said they are fearful of students disrespecting the names due to lack of education and context.
“We are on Chumash land and we need to be able to respect it and we need to be able to know its history and appreciate its history,” Delos Santos said.
Delos Santos said buildings with culturally significant names are not going to be enough for change.
“It’s pretty and it’s nice and it’s well done, but does it help people to be more inclusive in their hearts? I don’t know,” Delos Santos said.
During Open House and other campuswide events, University Housing has brought out mobile soundboards for campus guests to learn more about the names of the new buildings in the yakʔitʸutʸu community, according to Marketing Coordinator Julia Bluff. They have also led presentations about the new housing community for several student organizations, including Mustang News, Poly Reps and campus departments. Additionally, the Cross Cultural Centers have taken an active role in shaping the campuswide conversation
An estimate of $7,500 has been put toward this training and education.
Bluff said housing has also developed a resource page for the community and the names were featured in the spring and summer Cal Poly magazine. They have tabled at the Cal Poy president’s annual Evening of Green & Gold and at the SLO Housing Summit, where community leaders were present.
The housing department has also been working with linguistics professor Alicia Moretti, who has also worked with the tribe to document their languages and culture. Many of Moretti’s students are working on projects focused on educating the campus on the names.
Right now, Housing has “street teams” that get people on campus to practice the names. The current University Housing staff is making sure they are able to pronounce the names. They said the biggest thing Cal Poly can do is get educated.
“First-year students are only going to do what they see and so if they come in and everyone’s calling it different names and not being respectful, then they’re going to be that way,” Duke said. “We’re just setting in the minds that this is how it is.”
Cal Poly hosted an event at the University Union and Dexter Lawn May 23 to 24 to help students pronounce the names of Cal Poly’s new residence halls. More than 1,000 prizes were given away for correctly pronouncing the Chumash words.
Bluff said they will also focus their education efforts at new student orientation programs SLO Days and Week of Welcome.
Despite the training and education being put toward this, Duke said people are going to do what they want to do, regardless of what Cal Poly does to inform them. Setting the tone for learning the names is how they can start to create a Learn by Doing atmosphere.
“We expect that for every community regardless of what their names are, so our expectation is holding everyone to that high standard,” Duke said.
Cal Poly experienced the same situation with Poly Canyon Village, as many students had a hard time learning how to correctly pronounce some of the buildings’ names.
“How is it different from ‘Estrella’ and ‘Huasna’ and names that you don’t normally say in another language?” she said. “You just practice it … it’s the same thing, you just need to get comfortable saying the words.”
Housing assignments based on learning communities have not yet been assigned, as they depend on numbers of enrolled students. Another new feature of the yakʔitʸutʸu community, Duke said, is that they plan to create a mindful community.
“What I hope is that the majority of the people in that community will be excited and really fall in love with the culture and the idea that they get to live in that building and learn that culture,” Duke said.
Duke said creating this community on campus is a part of diversifying the campus, but it is only a small step toward that goal.
“Hopefully it’s something that continues on and [has] more of a presence on our campus,” she said. “I think it’s a step in a good direction.”