African American students share the importance of celebrating Black History Month on a predominantly white campus. Hanna Crowley | Graphic Illustration

During the month of February, Cal Poly celebrates Black History Month to acknowledge the importance of black history in America, according to MultiCultural Centers’ (MCC) Lead Coordinator Jose Leon. Events run throughout the month to recognize the Black community on campus.

“I think that there’s a saying, especially in cultural center communities, that every month is a history month of every community. We can’t just say that February is Black History Month; every month is Black History Month. It’s just that this month we’ve decided to place special acknowledgement on all of the efforts and contributions that the Black community has made to this country,” Leon said.

Established in 1986, the MultiCultural Center was created as a result of student demands to the university to address issues that many students of color and marginalized students experienced on campus, according to Leon. This month, the MCC is putting on events to celebrate Black History Month.

The month started out with a Martin Luther King Jr. event, highlighting contributions of the civil rights movement specifically through the efforts of Martin Luther King Jr.

Then the “Black and Brown Get Down” was hosted Jan. 25 in the Julian A. McPhee University Union (UU) room 207 to build community and demonstrate solidarity on campus.

The MCC put on screening of a Black history movie screening to “I Am Not Your Negro” in room 220 of the UU Feb. 1. Another Type of Groove (ATOG) held a Black History Month themed slam poetry night in Chumash Auditorium Feb. 7.

At the end of the month, the MCC will put on an event called “The State of Blackness,” discussing the state of affairs and the state of the Black community at Cal Poly.

“I think being at a predominantly white campus, one of our main responsibilities is to educate and allow everyone to understand that communities of color and [marginalized] communities have made contributions to this nation and this campus specifically and this campus has benefited from the diversity that’s offered through ethnic and racial minorities,” Leon said.

According to Leon, the purpose of Black History Month is to acknowledge and understand that Black people have impacted and shaped this campus in positive ways, whether through protest and activism or contributions to research and science, Cal Poly has been impacted by the presence of the Black community despite the community’s size at the moment.

Currently, black students make up less than 2 percent of the student body, according to Leon. The number hovers at about 300 out of approximately 20,000 total students, counting individuals who fall within the mixed race category.

“It makes a major impact, just because it’s not that many African Americans, the community doesn’t have a lot of us, so maybe the outlook on it may not be as big on Cal Poly’s campus compared to, like [Historically Black Colleges and Universities], but I feel like it’s still representing what’s in our small population that we have and we just celebrate because we don’t forget,” sociology freshman DeJon Stuckey said.

Leon said from talking with students and looking at the 2014 Campus Climate Survey, Black students are among many groups impacted, by the lack of community presence.

“If you don’t have staff and faculty and peers on this campus, it’s difficult and hard to build community. There isn’t a Black community within San Luis Obispo for people to turn to, so people typically usually turn on campus internally to each other whether it’s staff or faculty or students,” Leon said.

Cal Poly’s campus climate could be improved to increase the number of Black students on campus, according to Leon.

“We could do better by the Black community in terms of our admission rate and our retention and graduation rates, and I think that’s what we’re moving towards as a campus, understanding that we need to fix those disparities internally and understand[ing] that the richness that Black people bring should also come through the celebration through graduation, promotion into graduate school and full-time employment,” Leon said.

Additionally, the Black Student Union reemerged on campus, an active organization that represents the needs of Black students. A sign of the uptick and the increasing number of Black students.

Integrating the importance of Black history and cultural awareness into Cal Poly’s curriculum is the first step to improving the lack of diversity on campus, Leon explained.

“Often times, we think it’s limited to history and themes of sociology, but we need to acknowledge that Black folks have contributed to all areas, especially the sciences and engineering, which our school is known for …  Just as many times as contributions of women are forgotten in science, so are that of Black folks,” Leon said. “It’s just doing a little bit of research, there’s all of these things at your fingertips to be able to provide a richness that may be lacking from the current fields of study at Cal Poly.”

Correction: A previous version of the story had the title “Cal Poly celebrates Black History Month, despite less than two percent identifying as African-American”. It has been changed. 

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