Update 6:33 p.m.:

Keynote Lecture — Black Lives, Indigenous Lives: From Mattering, to Thriving

Scholar, educator and author Dr. Andrew Jolivétte (Atakapa-Ishak Nation of Louisiana [Tsikip/Opelousa/Heron Clan]), began his talk by asking attendees to put the name of the Indigenous land they were listening in from in the chat. Students were tuning in from land of the Northern Chumash, Ohlone, Tongva, Nisesan and more. 

He expressed his passion for poetry and throughout his talk, read several poems from his published book of recipes and poems, “Gumbo Circuitry.” The first poem he read was about Black joy and circuitry. It was about how we are all connected, and how Indigenous people and people of color are more than the sum of the tragedy caused by colonialism and racism. 

He later shared a poem titled “Ruptures” which is about settler sexuality and a poem titled “Thrivance.” He spoke about issues such as slave ships, missionaries, instances of explicit racism, indigenous displacement (which he believes needs to be talked about more), and more.  

As he read his poems, students and faculty wrote words of encouragement and praise in the chat. 

Dr. Jolivétte gave the following advice: to breathe and take a moment for yourself when needed. He urged listeners to pay attention to the joy and magic that’s still present in life. 

He urged listeners to know and understand the land you stand on and he said that we need more kinship rather than allyship. 

His last poem was titled, “Give it All to the People.” He ended by sharing the importance of cultural protocols, which are “customs, values and guidelines for particular cultural groups,” according to Macquarie University. 

He asked asked listeners to imagine how classrooms would look if they had cultural protocols to accommodate the various different backgrounds that students come from.

Update 5:27 p.m.:

“Menstrual Health Management in Low Resource Countries”

When kinesiology and public health professor Joni Roberts shadowed a nurse in a Malawi clinic, she noticed the women – many without underwear – tucking an old, balled-up cloth in between their legs while menstruating. The nurse told Roberts that for many women, real menstrual products are inaccessible and too expensive. 

Months later, Roberts watched women frequent the clinic for cervical cancer screenings, and it clicked.

“If women aren’t using sanitary products, and the products they’re using aren’t being cleaned well, then this increases the opportunities for infections,” Roberts said. “This was a really big issue for me, because I was like, ‘this is such a preventable issue; this is something we can easily fix.’ So that became my mission.”

At today’s Social Justice Teach-In, Roberts delved into menstrual health management and how she’s helping students develop solutions and spread awareness of sexual health issues.

Worldwide, 500 million girls don’t have access to adequate menstrual resources and facilities. Roberts added that as a taboo, or stigmatized topic in some low-resource countries, girls aren’t educated on what’s happening to their bodies when they get their period. 

“They literally took showers like three or four times a day because they thought something was wrong with them,” Roberts said. “They could not understand why they were just constantly bleeding because they had no idea what was going on.”

Roberts said the two main consequences of inadequate menstrual care are that girls stop going to school—losing out on educational and economic opportunities—and are also more likely to face violence and be pushed into motherhood at an early age.

The issue may seem distant, but students at Cal Poly are chipping in. 

Roberts consulted students on their project of designing reusable pads for Ugandan women last year. Students will be presenting their work to the International Society for the Study of Women’s Sexual Health next month. 

Roberts encouraged students in the teach-in to continue researching and getting the word out. 

“I think most people underestimate how much of a problem this is,” Roberts said. “The more you can get the word out, the more we can realize that this is a problem that we aren’t paying attention to.”

Update 2:53 p.m.:

Axes of Antisemitism: Our History & Our Horizons — A discussion with Two Rabbis 

After the anti-Semitic hate crime that occurred this past weekend at the Alpha Epsilon Pi fraternity house, Rabbi Chaim Hilel and Rabbi Micah Hyman offered a session about the history of antisemitism and highlighted where it came from and what it is like now.

Hilel began the presentation about the history of antisemitism, saying that it is history that guides our future decisions. He used an example of a fallen signpost, which is meant to show the direction of certain destinations. With it now failing to provide direction, Hilel said that the only thing we know for sure is where we came from and where we want to go, and history serves a similar purpose.

“History is a way of learning,” Hilel said. “What can we learn from [mistakes in history]?”

Hilel said that although we can find the origins of antisemitism, it’s much harder to explain it.

“I can’t explain why there’s antisemitism,” Hilel said. “It’s a choice that somebody made, which is irrational.”

Throughout history, myths have been made about Jewish people as a way to incite harm against them, Hilel said. This is present in art, which he said was the main method of informing people and forming their opinions. The progression of the portrayal of Jewish people in art began as one of “pity,” Hilel said, yet it progressed until they were portrayed as “sub-human.”

Although these myths are present throughout history, Hilel said they continue to be spread today. Hyman spoke of a personal experience in which someone had felt his hair for horns, a myth used to equate Jewish people to the devil.

“These links between past and present are not so far,” Hyman said.

Hyman said that today we can either make our tongues spoons or knives: to use our words as either a means of positive action or for harm.

Solutions to antisemitism, Hilel and Hyman both said, is to have open and positive conversations with people, just like the session they hosted.

“The answer [to addressing antisemitism], I think, is this [session],” Hilel said. “This is how we meditate and how we will get rid of it.”

Going forward, Hilel said that the best way to show support for Jewish students is to humanize them.

“It’s my friend, it’s my classmate, it’s my sibling,” Hilel said. “That’s real support.”

Update 2:21 p.m.:

“A Restorative Justice Framework for Campus Sexual Harm”

From vandalism to sexual violence, the practice of restorative justice is increasingly becoming an alternative to the Western criminal justice system — community members came to Cal Poly’s Social Justice Teach-In this morning to explain why. 

As an educator with the local Restorative Partners organization, Ginny Jenkins said restorative justice is by no means a new practice, as it has roots in Indigenous and ancient cultures. Jenkins said the process provides “more healing and less involvement in systems that inadvertently cause harm,” as many people of color, especially women, have historically not felt safe utilizing the criminal justice system. 

While the carceral system asks questions such as “what punishment do they deserve,” restorative justice fosters a conversation among the people who caused harm and people who experienced it, delves into the needs of those who have been harmed, examines the underlying causes of the act and then finds the appropriate process for seeking justice from there.

Jenkins, who is working with attorneys in San Luis Obispo to expand restorative justice practices, said the punitive process can actually reduce accountability when someone who caused harm fears being alienated from their community. 

“If the primary response to harm done on campuses … is to just suspend or expel a student, you’re just removing them from the community,” Jenkins said. “No one is going to accept accountability or responsibility for their actions if they’re fearing that they’re no longer going to be able to participate and be involved in school.”

According to a 2020 Cal Poly campus climate survey, only 10% of sexual violence survivors reported their experience. Safer’s Department of Justice Grant Coordinator Ashlee Hernandez said that one of the main reasons students don’t report is because they don’t want to harm their perpetrator’s reputation. 

While there are developed models of restorative justice on multiple college campuses, namely University of California, San Diego, Cal Poly’s program didn’t fully launch until last summer and is still growing. 

Hernandez shared feedback from students who participated in restorative justice for sexual harm at other colleges, including a testimony from one survivor of abuse:

“The alternative resolution process allows me to have a voice. It gave me the opportunity to make a direct impact statement to my abuser, where I could express all those thoughts I wish I had said to him sooner after he hit me. It was definitely not easy, but I finally got the closure I needed. It allowed me to feel empowered.” 

Any campus group can request that Safer present a gender-based and sexual violence prevention workshop to their members. Mustang Band Director Christopher Woodruff said that incorporating a Safer presentation into their fall introductory training was a great opportunity for the band program.

“We can’t recommend it highly enough for campus organizations that bring students from across campus into a close-knit community,” Woodruff said in the Zoom chat. 

Update 11:54 a.m.:

“Georgia Elections, The Riot, and Race: An Exam of the Events of 1/6/21”

Interim Vice President for Diversity and Inclusion Denise Isom, psychology professor Amber Williams and history professor Thanayi Jackson led a session delving into the events of Jan. 6 at today’s College of Liberal Arts Social Justice Teach-In.

Each professor started off by giving their own accounts of what they felt on Jan. 6, with a particular focus on how politician and lawyer Stacey Abrams helped flip Georgia and bring Democratic nominee Raphael Warnock to victory during their election the day before.

“I was feeling like Stacy Abrams is an absolute and utter boss,” Isom said. “I cannot get over how extraordinary she is and how she went from defeat to fighting like mad, and the nation was saved.”

Next, the professors analyzed the events of the insurrection that followed that day.

“The rest of the day was just a cascade of dismay, sadness, anger and then of course, given my position at the campus it was also, what is it that I want or need to say about this right now?” Isom said.

She explained that one of the first thoughts she had following the events was how race was an underlying factor to everything occurring, from the beginning of the day with the Georgia elections, to the end of the day, with the violence that took place at the Capitol.

The professors then took turns showing and discussing powerful images from the insurrection at the Capitol.

Using a photo of a noose tied outside the Capitol that day, Jackson launched into a discussion about how the insurrection is, unequivocally, a racial issue.

“There’s only one lesson from lynching, and that is that it’s a response to Black success—that’s the only lesson,” Jackson said. “I don’t care how you’ve been taught it. It is a counter-revolution; it is always political.”

Update 10:58 a.m.:

“Housing is Healthcare:  Harm Reduction Approaches and Housing First! for People Experiencing Homelessness”

Highlighting the reported spike in unsheltered homelessness amid the pandemic, biological sciences professor Candace Winstead and psychology senior Kristina Toma presented their research and firsthand experience on effective responses to homelessness at their CLA Teach-In session this morning.  

Winstead and Toma are both volunteers with the local SLO Bangers Syringe Exchange and Overdose Prevention Program, which provides outreach and supplies to unsheltered residents managing drug use.  

People facing homelessness experience a mortality rate of three to four times the general population and are often immunocompromised, Toma said. However, she added that the federal government has not required officials to gather data about infections and deaths within the homeless population. Leaving it up to states and municipalities has caused COVID-19 to spread and homeless services to close, Toma said.  

“They are largely invisible victims of the pandemic,” Toma said.

Winstead and Toma spoke to the current situation in San Luis Obispo — where there have been COVID-19 outbreaks in shelters and encampments being cleared out. 

SLO Bangers volunteer Toffi Boreham said that a common excuse for encampment sweeps is that officials are redirecting people to services instead, but this only serves as a barrier for people to access the care they need. 

Despite this roadblock, the group continues to push for a Housing First model. This model provides immediate access to permanent, subsidized and independent housing that does not reject people based on their sobriety and criminal record status. Winstead said this model includes support services and case management — an approach that has been proven to improve housing retention and reduce a city’s costs for services, according to multiple studies Winstead presented at the teach-in.

After experiencing the Housing First approach, 72% of participants said their health was better than it was before the program. 

“My self esteem, hope and sense of trust has increased,” Winstead said, reading aloud participant feedback. “They actually treat people who are homeless like human beings.” 

Nationwide, 16% of college students at two-year institutions and 11% at four-years are experiencing housing insecurity and homelessness. In San Luis Obispo overall, the most common reason for homelessness is reported to job loss, and based on self-reported health conditions, 36% reported alcohol and drug use. 

“There is definitely a stigma that everyone who is homeless is using drugs,” Winstead said. “That’s not true.”

Update 10:05 a.m.:

“Utilizing DEI to Debunk Neutrality in the Classroom”

Anu Dhillon and Megan Lambertz-Berndt, both communication studies professors at Cal Poly, presented on “Utilizing DEI to Debunk Neutrality in the Classroom,” one of the first sessions of the day at CLA’s Fifth Annual Social Justice Teach-In today.

According to the Communication Studies Department’s website, Dhillon’s research examines the issues of race, ethnicity and identity in interpersonal and health communication. She believes in fostering an inclusive and equitable learning environment, where students feel comfortable to reflect upon and share their experiences. Lambertz-Berndt’s research explores how homogeneous — or similar — affinity groups both hinder and facilitate organizational diversity efforts. Lambertz-Berndt adds that this can be explained by elements of varying social identities and perceived privileges along with specific attention to white affinity group structures.

During their session, they discussed the ways that diversity, equity and inclusion (DEI) are important in every classroom and how neutrality is not. 

The professors began by proposing a set of group norms that are vital to foster an environment of DEI in the classroom. The norms were taken from Glen Singleton’s book “Courageous Conversations About Race,” and are as follows:

  • Stay engaged
  • Embrace discomfort 
  • Expect/accept nonclosure 
  • Speak from the “I” perspective 
  • Note your proximity to privilege or oppression

Next, they asked attendees to answer the question “Is the CLA shouldering DEI related discussions?” in breakout rooms and the main session. 

Throughout the discussion, students expressed that they rarely hear DEI conversations in classes outside of CLA.

Mark Cabrinha, professor and Cal Poly College of Architecture and Environmental Design Associate Dean of Academic Affairs was among the attendees of the session.

“I would certainly hope that in two to three years the sense of CLA shouldering DEI shifts, and would be a very real ‘data; point to see if we are making real progress across curricula on DEI,” Cabrinha said.  “From what we are doing, I would expect this to be the case… it’s important to see real change, not just reactions.”

The event wrapped up with one final question from Dhillon and Dr. Lambertz-Berndt: “Why is it problematic to remain neutral in the classroom?” 

Attendee Courtney Burks, who is a lecturer at San Jose State spoke up in response. 

“Neutrality is productive for the hegemonic group,” Burks said. “If I participate in neutrality I uphold white supremacy. I think it’s our responsibility to dismantle these structures of power and show that neutrality is not part of the classroom.”

Original Story:

Scholar, author and professor Andrew Jolivétte (Atakapa-Ishak Nation of Louisiana [Tsikip/Opelousa/Heron Clan]) will be the keynote speaker at Cal Poly’s College of Liberal Arts (CLA) Fifth Annual Social Justice Teach-In, which will be held via Zoom on Feb. 11. His presentation, “Black Lives, Indigenous Lives: From Mattering to Thriving,” will take place from 4 to 5:30 p.m.

According to the CLA’s website, Jolivétte is professor and chair of the Ethnic Studies Department at the University of California, San Diego and the inaugural founding Director of Native American and Indigenous Studies at UCSD. His work is dedicated to examining Native American, Indigenous, Creole, Black, Latinx, queer, mixed-race and comparative critical ethnic studies.

Jolivétte is the 2020-21 MultiRacial Network Scholar in Residence for the American Personnel Association and the Series Editor of Black Indigenous Futures and Speculations at Routledge. He is the author or editor of nine books in print, including the Lammy Award nominated, “Indian Blood: HIV and Colonial Trauma in San Francisco’s Two-Spirit Community.”

Register for Jolivétte’s presentation and all other sessions on the CLA website.

The teach-in will be a daylong series of virtual talks and workshops centered around equity and social justice designed to inform and inspire. Starting at 8 a.m., scholars, activists and university professors from various disciplines are also scheduled to speak. These include professors of ethnic studies, physics, sociology, biological sciences and more.

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

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