This past weekend, Cal Poly Student Community Services hosted its 10th annual “Change the Status Quo: A Student’s Role in Shaping Society” — a conference designed to bring people together who share a passion for making a difference in their community and the world.
The theme — Educate, Motivate and then Activate — aims to give participants tools to be effective advocates for creating social change.
While the actual event took place on Saturday in Chumash Auditorium, a free preview night on Friday in Phillips Hall from 5 to 7 p.m. gave people an inside look into the event. The preview included slam poetry and a documentary featuring keynote speaker, attorney, author and advocate Carissa Phelps.
“The preview night basically shows what tomorrow will be about,” AmeriCorps member and Change the Status Quo coordinator Cassie Pitkin said. “People may not necessarily be ready to pay the $15 fee, so it is a way to get people familiar with the event and want to come.”
One of the main advantages of attending the preview night was a chance to speak to some of the workshop presenters that showcased their presentations the next day. Since there were 29 workshops and time for only four sessions, those who attended said they got better acquainted with the message behind some of these workshops and figured out which ones they would attend the next day.
“This preview is a good way to find out more information about what people are passionate about and how they want to make a change in the world,” AmeriCorps VIP Fellow Veronica Heiskell said.
Heiskell along with Kris Gottlieb, member of national LGBT organization Parents, Families and Friends of Lesbians and Gays (PFLAG), ran the “Gender Exposed” workshop.
“The mission behind ‘Change the Status Quo’ is very much in line with our mission of breaking down the gender binary myth and better understanding others,” Gottlieb said. “It is nice to talk about our message personally with everyone.”
One of the poets that night, psychology junior Blake Williams, recited two poems he wrote entitled “Maybe If We Were Superheroes” and “Dance Break” that discussed problems that today’s youth deals with, such as sexual abuse and poverty.
“I believe that ‘Change the Status Quo’ inspires people to make positive changes in their lives and others lives as well, and I hope my poems do too,” Williams said.
Saturday morning at 8 a.m., some attendees participated in a free yoga session before check-in at 9 a.m.
The conference began promptly with keynote speaker Phelps.
Phelps shared her story of how she was a victim of domestic minor sex trafficking when she was forced into prostitution at the age of 12.
Before this, Phelps said her mother was unable to deal with Phelps’ rebelliousness and dropped her off at Fresno County Juvenile Hall. Since the county could not take her because she did not break any laws, Phelps slept in the lobby for three days until she was taken to a group home. She ended up running away, and thus began her life in and out of group homes, eventually turning to the streets and prostitution.
It wasn’t until Phelps was sentenced to six months in jail at the age of 13 for stealing a car that she was given the chance to turn her life around. She was put in a program that offered group therapy where counselor Ron Jenkins noticed her academic potential.
Phelps said she was given the tools to learn and succeed and for the first time felt that adults truly cared for her.
She went on to earn a bachelor’s degree in mathematics summa cum laude from Fresno State, a doctorate from the University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA) School of Law and a master’s from UCLA’s Anderson School of Management. She said she now works to better the lives of children who were just like her, who have suffered from abusive and traumatic events in their lives.
“Getting past your struggles is a healing process and it is not easy,” Phelps said. “But what you come out with is a unique life experience, your thumbprint on the world that adds up to what you will contribute to society.”
Mechanical engineering senior Ryan Ramelb said Phelps’ message and the message of “Change the Status Quo” go hand in hand.
“Some things in society need enlightenment,” Ramelb said. “People think that things can’t change but they can if people work together.”
After Phelps’ discussion, the rest of the day was dedicated to presenters’ workshops that dealt with particular issues that our generation faces. Time was allotted to attend four 50 minute workshops — two before lunch and two after.
One of the workshops, “Stupidity or Sanctity? The Education Battle,” dealt with identifying what lies at the center of our nation’s education issues and works on implementing solutions to these problems.
Public policy graduate student Missy Sparks, who helped run the workshop, said she and other Cal Poly graduates developed this grass roots group of students because they were interested in talking about issues based on K-12 education in the U.S.
“We discuss the No Child Left Behind Act, Proposition 98 in the state of California and other global education systems that may work better than ours as well as local movements that are happening that are geared toward what works best for a better K-12 education,” Sparks said.
Another workshop at the conference was “Our Personal Journeys: Mental Health Awareness on Campus,” which aimed to spread awareness for mental health.
“Suicide is the second leading cause of death on college campuses,” said Transitions Mental Health Association marketing and outreach coordinator Shannon McOuat. “We really want to offer support for college youth dealing with stress, depression and suicidal thoughts.”
Business administration sophomore Vivian Ly attended two other workshops — “The Climate of Changing Perceptions”, which dealt with examining and correlating climate related correlations in the world and “Jack in the Box: Sexual Assault and Stereotypical Masculinity,” which discussed stereotypical masculinity on male attitudes, outlooks and actions.
Ly said these workshops will definitely help people broaden their outlook on social and environmental issues today and give them more insight into what they can do about these issues.