Cal Poly’s College of Liberal Arts is hosting its sixth annual Social Justice Teach In on Thursday, consisting of virtual and in-person sessions throughout the day.

The teach-in will be a daylong series of workshops about equity and justice “designed to inform and inspire.” Starting at 9 a.m., scholars, activists and university professors from various disciplines will speak at various sessions. These include professors of ethnic studies, sociology, biological sciences and more.

The teach in schedule, which can be found here, includes four tracks: Art and Creative Efforts, Equity-Minded Education, DEI and STEM and Self-Care and Community Well-Being.

This story will be updated throughout the day as teach in sessions are held.

Update 10:30 a.m.:

Strategies to Combat Systemic Racism and Microaggressions in SLO County: An Interactive Dialogue

About 50 students and staff joined sociology professor Ryan Alaniz to discuss local systemic racism and possible solutions in one of the first Teach In sessions of the day.

Alaniz highlighted his work with the San Luis Obispo Sheriff’s Office, where he authored a report called “Systemic Racism and Microaggressions in San Luis Obispo” as a member of the Sheriff’s Unity Committee.

The report showed how San Luis Obispo County leadership has been predominantly made up of white men over the years, compared to the underrepresentation of people of color in leadership roles. The county’s population is 69.9% white, yet more than 90% of Cal Poly presidents, police chiefs, judges, county legislators and more leaders have been white throughout the county’s history.

“I could not find one position of leadership in our county, not one, where people of color are equally represented to their population,” Alaniz said in his Zoom presentation. “The data is very clear that this there is systemic discrimination happening within our county and especially in positions of power.”

Alaniz also noted an overrepresentation of people of color who are homeless, have lower educational achievement, have lower income or are students who are suspended. In the county, there’s a higher concentration of people of color in the county jail, the California Men’s Colony state prison and low-income housing.

“So 30% of the population in San Luis Obispo County or people of color could imagine in an equitable, just society that 30% of the representation would be people of color as well,” Alaniz said. “That’s where the cognitive dissonance happens — that’s not the actual case within our community.”

Alaniz also touched on microaggressions. Alaniz said Black students have shared with him that they wear Cal Poly clothes to avoid being targeted, even by campus police. Alaniz shared one testimony where a woman downtown told a Black student to take off his Cal Poly sweatshirt because she denied the fact that he was in fact a student.

“It’s quite clear that we live in a segregated community,” Alaniz said. “As much as we like to think of ourselves as the happiest city in the nation, it depends on your race, your class, your educational level — it’s not the happiest for everybody.”

Update 12:30 p.m.:

Trails of Absence: Sai Blank and the Myanmar Crisis Confirmation

As of today, Feb. 17, in Myanmar: 

  • 9,206 people arrested, charged and sentenced 
  • 1,973 people warranted or evading arrest 
  • 1,557 people killed 
  • 714 people sentenced to prison  

With assistant architecture history and theory professor Padma Dorje and 36 participants in attendance, guest speaker Sai Blank, whose real last name was not disclosed, told the story of his experiences in the ongoing Myanmar crisis. 

Since the 2021 coup, Sai has been an activist for the movement — despite not being able to safely protest. He has worked to highlight the situation of political prisoners in Myanmar through his photographs and videos depicting the realities for the people in Myanmar. 

As the son of a high-ranking political figure in Myanmar, Sai presented the situation for his family and himself since Feb. 1, 2021.

The family, Sai’s mother and grandmother were under house arrest while Sai’s father was arrested that very day, released the next (Feb. 2), only to be arrested again on Feb. 10, 2021.

However, in this position, Sai had to give up his “role of an artist” and struggles to be fully involved in the activist activities regarding protesting. 

“I wanted to join the protest with the artists and I cannot because my father will be punished,” Sai said in his Zoom presentation. “It is the most historic and most amazing thing I have ever seen, but if I do that, my father will get more charges, and it will be the actual evidence for betraying the state.”

In addition to talking about his video project, Sai expressed the difficulties of escaping and getting help from human rights organizations. 

After his mother telling him to help his father, Sai must get out of the country, Sai attempted to get help through a hotline. Sai explained that he was patronized for explaining his situation. 

“Little brother, you already find out where your father is. Why do you even bother calling us? What do you expect from us? You are reading the way your father is, where the prison is,” the lady on the receiving end of the call said to Sai. 

He found it to be a very frustrating experience just telling them to declare his father a “political prisoner.”

“It was an awakening moment, I imagine, how many other people are facing the same situation?” Sai said. 

In order to obtain photos and videos for his project “Limbo,” Sai hid his camera in women’s underwear to smuggle it across 20 checkpoints from his place of hiding to join where his mother was behind held as a prisoner. 

When taking a portrait of his mother in front of a gate separating them and the soldiers watching, Sai worried for his mother’s safety. However, she replied, “things can’t be darker than this.” 

“We took the risk, we did what we have to, I don’t really care about my life anymore,” Sai said. “If they see it, they can call me, they can shoot me, and they can kill me.” 

Sai concluded the call with words of encouragement to continue protesting and doing something about the situation.

“We’re going to win,” he said. “Do something, people compare this to the Holocaust and no one did anything then. Don’t make museums about Myanmar 50 years later.” 

Update 3 p.m.:

20 Seconds in Memoriam by Michael Rippens

Artist Michael Rippens brought his installation “20 Seconds In Memoriam” to Cal Poly’s University Union from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. as a part of the Teach In. The installation is an “interpretive hand-washing station paying homage to the hundreds of Filipino American healthcare workers who have sacrificed their lives during the pandemic in the service of caring for others,” according to Cal Poly’s website.

Rippens printed healthcare workers’ names into the sink’s basin, which then become visible as people wash their hands in the sink, “allowing one to spend the recommended 20 seconds reflecting on those front-line workers killed by COVID-19,” the website says.

Update 4:30 p.m.:

Building Bridges for a More Connected World: Why Cultural Competence Matters

About 130 students attended the 11 a.m. session led by Karen Munoz-Christian, the chair for world languages and cultures. She starts the session by explaining why cultural competence matters to her.

“I have seen how beneficial it is for city planners and healthcare providers to work closely with the communities they serve to fully understand the values and needs of community members,” she said. 

She spoke of many of her former students who studied world cultures and learned different languages, which brought them new career opportunities and expanded their horizons.

Munoz-Christian introduced the other five speakers who spoke for the rest of the session.

The first speaker was Martha C. Galvan-Mandujano, an assistant Spanish professor in the world languages and cultures department. She starts by saying how there is a common misconception amongst her students that all immigrants come from Mexico. Therefore, she first teaches her students about the many demographic groups in California.

“I give them an activity and assign articles from every single group so they understand the reasons why they are here, why they came to the United States,” Galvan-Mandujano said.

As a Mexican immigrant herself, she shares her own experiences with her classes. A notable project that her students conducted in order to further their cultural competence was translating a full pamphlet from the County of San Luis Obispo Behavioral Health Department. They wrote about mental illness within the communities they were working with. 

Suzanne Phelan, professor of kinesiology and public health, was the second speaker. She spoke of a recent exercise of self-reflection she did concerning cultural humility. She reviewed the hundreds of papers she wrote in scientific journals and found that she did not show as much cultural competency in her research as she would have liked. 

In her papers, she always has a table reporting on characteristics of participants, which includes race and ethnicity. She says that we measure race and ethnicity more so based on tradition rather than considering its deeper importance. 

“We hardly ever use the words racism or discrimination, or describe how discrimination based on race can majorly and adversely affect health outcomes,” Phelan said.

She said that greater cultural competency can better help researchers in her field consider other important variables that are commonly overlooked.

The third speaker was Cristina Macedo. She is the coordinator for the Cal Poly Women and Infants Mobile Health Unit. She said she recognizes that in her role as a social worker she must be culturally sensitive to all different ethnic backgrounds. 

“The purpose of our Mobile Health Unit is to provide culturally competent medical care to people without insurance who are from historically marginalized populations,” she said. 

The people she works with and serves in her health unit are diverse. Many times her patients might not understand medical terminology and are only used to indigenous health practices. Having greater cultural competence improves communication between patients and healthcare providers. This builds trust and comfortability for asking questions and seeking clarification concerning medical services.

Tim Delbridge, an associate professor of agribusiness, was the fourth speaker. He said that this conversation of cultural competence in the agricultural industry is not talked about enough. 

Many students that he taught work for numerous agricultural companies after graduation, and he said that these students were surprised to find how often they would collaborate with colleagues from countries such as Mexico and Costa Rica, to name a few. 

“They wished that they would have had more preparation while they were here at Cal Poly,” Delbridge said. “They find themselves a bit out of their comfort zone, and it’s a bit of a trial by fire learning to work with people that they haven’t worked with in the past.”

As the agriculture industry is globalizing, he said just how important it is to have skills in language and cultural awareness, and that there need to be more people to fill these jobs.

The final speaker of the session was Jackie Llamas, a licensed marriage and family therapist for the South County Youth Coalition. Her job emphasis is on Latino mental health. 

As an immigrant herself, Llamas grew up without much access to medical care in her language. Her siblings struggled with the lack of help they could receive mentally. 

This was the inspiration for her to become a therapist and be the person to help those who had similar struggles to her growing up.

“I think when somebody comes in and doesn’t know the dominant language of English, and they come in here and know they are going to be helped in their own language, it creates relief and it creates validation,” Llamas said.

Update 5 p.m.:

Findings and Lessons Learned from the 2020 Campus Survey on Sexual Violence

Cal Poly staff presented results from a 2020 campus climate survey, conducted as part of a Department of Justice Violence Against Women grant for universities.

The presentation was led by kinesiology and public health professor Christine Hackman and Kara Samaniego, who directs Cal Poly’s Safer program.

They sent an email survey regarding sexual, gender and power-based violence to every student in Winter 2020, which had a response rate of 12%, aligning with the response rate for similar surveys nationwide.

While 6% of students nationally reported being stalked while at college, 18% of Cal Poly students experienced stalking since entering college. Of the Cal Poly students who reported sexual victimization, 35% said it impacted their academics.

Demographics of Survey Respondents | Screenshot

The survey also confirmed that a low amount of students actually report these crimes.

“I didn’t want to make it a big deal or have to deal with it because it was over — I wanted to move on and forget about it,” one survey respondent said, which presenters noted is a common reaction from survivors figuring out how to heal.

More than half of sexual assaults occurred on or near campus and 55% occurred during respondents’ freshman years.

The survey found that 74.1% of students reported having at least one partner since coming to Cal Poly, 46% of which reported psychological violence and 19% of which reported physical violence.

The presenters also said it “would be amazing” to see an expansion of funding and staff for Safer to continue its protection and prevention efforts.

Samaniego also acknowledged “upsetting” experiences some students have had with police when responding sexual assault.

“The training that police officers should and can be getting is also really important so that that relationship I’d say between a Safer-like office and a police department is only going to improve any interaction that a student may have with police,” Samaniego said.

The staff hopes to conduct the campus climate survey every three to four years. 

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