Over 150 Cal Poly students united this weekend under the common theme of creating change.
The fourth annual Change the Status Quo conference, put on by Student Community Services, included 24 workshops addressing the issues of conscious consumption, cultural equality, environmentalism, feminism, LGBT (Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender) rights, health, politics, world and youth.
“It’s basically to educate people and give them the tools to create a difference,” Student Community Services volunteer Megan Mastache said. “It’s all about creating social change and a broad range of topics. The idea is to bring awareness to people about new issues.”
“You may already know about women’s rights, but you don’t know anything about civil rights for Muslim students,” she added. “To learn about all these things, but not leave afterwards being depressed because you realize how much more is wrong with the world, but to leave afterwards realizing you have a whole coalition of students on campus who you can work with to create a change.”
Mastache organized the conference with fellow Student Community Service volunteer York Shingle.
Change the Status Quo kicked off Friday night in the Chumash Auditorium with a presentation of the workshops, a definition of the Status Quo and a performance by slam poet Anis Mojgani.
“A lot of people on campus accept the world the way it is, they accept the status quo,” Mastache said. “They get upset if you point out that something’s wrong. This is to show people that not everything’s perfect, but that’s not a reason to be hopeless.”
On Saturday morning the conference resumed in Chumash Auditorium with an organic breakfast and a keynote speech by Cal Poly graduate Eric Parkinson. In his speech, Parkinson commended the students’ initiative to get involved with the types of issues the conference was addressing.
“These are huge issues and I really have to applaud you for attacking these issues,” Parkinson said. “The topics you’re talking about are really important and aren’t wrestled with enough.”
Parkinson continually referred to what people do with their lives as “life maps,” and how many of the world’s troubles are due to problems with peoples’ life maps. One of the main themes of Parkinson’s speech was how he was able to alter his life map and make change by opening an orphanage in Sri Lanka.
“It’s good to see through people’s experiences,” economics and information system senior Fred Ghansah said. “It helps to see how you can have an impact when you see someone who has.”
Parkinson also said in his speech he has been given obvious advantages because of his skin color, and thinks this is a ridiculous aspect of our society.
“Nobody is given the choice as to what circumstances they’re born into,” Parkinson said. “It’s kind of ridiculous if you think about it, that people walk around saying, ‘I’m beautiful,’ or, ‘don’t you admire the dead collagen cells on my head?’ To take pride in something like that, why? We had no say in it.”
“I ask this question rhetorically, ‘I don’t know if you were consulted or not,’ but nobody was consulted on these things,” he added. “They are just sort of dumped into this skin, this body, this geographic location on the planet. That’s it.”
The crowd reacted to his speech with a standing ovation.
“The whole thing was really inspiring,” English senior Ellen Jewell said. “I liked his emphasis on (Sri Lankan) children and how they are the same as children (in the United States).”
After the speech, students broke up and began to attend workshops for the remainder of the day.
A popular workshop was about “Human Trafficking,” led by Cal Poly students JR Webb and Darlene Molina. Their workshop dealt with the estimated 700,000 women trafficked every year for sexual exploitation.
Other workshops included Another Type of Groove’s “SoulSpeak,” which explored the theme of change through art and the Multicultural Center’s “Urban Nutrition,” which addressed why low-income minorities in America are more at risk for diet-related health problems.
An incredibly gripping workshop was the Muslim Student Association’s “Post 9-11 America: The Civil Rights Struggle Continues.” The workshop featured civil rights leader Amir Abdel Malik Ali, who examined the civil right inequities for Muslims in America through a compelling speech filled with anecdotes of the civil rights violations Muslims have endured since Sept. 11, 2001.
Malik Ali also discussed how the movement for social change in the ’60s applies to today by giving past examples of social injustice towards a race of people. He also provided information on Islam and talked about how the American lifestyle can make people, “deaf, dumb and blind,” to social injustice.
The workshop filled the classroom and received a fairly positive reaction.
“I was excited that there were so many other people there who were open to it,” architecture freshman Amanda Francis said. “I think a lot of people on campus have a misinterpretation of Muslim and wouldn’t be interested in going to something like that.”
Two student organizations that played big roles in the conference were the Pride Center and the Women’s Center. Both organizations put on three separate workshops addressing the themes of feminism, LGBT issues, environment and politics.
The Women’s Center co-hosted a workshop with Code Pink, an organization for women for peace, on “How 100 Pink Women Started an International Movement.” Other Women’s Center workshops included “Feminism and Faith,” which featured female Jewish, Muslim and Christian speakers, and “Ecofeminism,” which combined environmentalism with feminism.
The Pride Alliance Center: LGBT offered “ally training” for students who were interested and want to get involved in the LGBT community. The club held seminars on Marriage Equality and Education Equity, which were aimed at individuals who are becoming teachers by outlining the steps being taken to create welcoming campus environments.
Other clubs and organizations that presented workshops were: Vietnamese Students Association, Americorps, Promisefellows, Associated Students Inc., California Student Sustainability Coalition, Career Services, Environmental Council, Fair Trade Club, Movimiento Estudiantil Xicano de Aztlan (MEXA), Progressive Student Alliance, Poly Greens, Raise the Respect and Rotaract.
“We try to get the clubs on campus that don’t have as much as an obvious presence,” Mastache said. “We put this forum together for them to be able to get what’s important to them out on campus.
Several students explained why they thought it was important to attend a conference that addresses issues like these.
“I’m here because my goal is to become a teacher,” business marketing graduate Laura Kogan said. “I think it’s really important that I’m better educated and to talk to people about issues so they can see why it’s important not to discriminate.”
“These are issues I feel really passionate about, but are easy to forget about,” psychology senior Caitlin Gibb said. “I want to continue to remind myself that I can be empowered and make social change.”
“We live in a community where we don’t see a lot of poverty and discrimination, so it’s easy to forget about,” Kogan added. “It’s a good reminder to not be caught up in yourself.”
“It brings people together around a central issue of our times, which is improving the world and society,” said ASI president Tylor Middlestadt, who attended the conference and led discussion in several workshops.
“I think it’s empowering to get together in one group for the same reason and realize they’re not alone,” he added. “Especially on a campus like this, where people who are motivated for social justice sometimes feel isolated because a lot of the folks here are perceived as being apathetic.”