He was the only black student in most of his classes and his dorm. As a minority, Smith (not his actual name, see editor’s note below) found himself isolated from Cal Poly by his race. Monday, he will bring together others who share that sense of separation.
Smith, architecture sophomore, moved from Chicago to Cal Poly, which has a mostly-white student population.
“There wasn’t a place where I could come and be African-American,” Smith said.
Smith eventually found the MultiCultural Center (MCC), where he met students from other minority groups. The students were in the same situation, Smith said. They created an environment where they could learn about one another’s cultures and help each other with their struggles.
The community Smith found inspired him to create the “Cross-Cultural” series, hosted by the MCC. The series consists of meetings for various ethnic groups at Cal Poly. Smith held two meetings last quarter, one for black and one for Latino students. The next meeting, scheduled for Monday, is for Native Americans.
The Cross-Cultural series’ goal is to raise cultural awareness, Smith said.
Students at Cal Poly want to treat members of underrepresented groups objectively, Smith said. They want to disregard race, as though it is irrelevant to one’s character.
“There’s sort of an idea that people need to be objective about who they meet,” Smith said. “It’s that whole ‘I don’t see color’ idea. Whereas, I’m African-American — and I want you to know that I’m African-American — because it’s a fairly important part of who I am. I definitely don’t need you to disregard that.”
The Cross-Cultural Meetings allow minority students to discuss their cultures and how the lack of diversity at Cal Poly affects their lives.
White students make up 68.2 percent of Cal Poly’s undergraduate student body, according to PolyView for Fall Quarter 2011. Non-white students who make up the remaining 31.8 percent are under pressure to perform on the level of the white majority, Smith said. Because the members of underrepresented groups are few, white students see them as representatives of their cultures, Smith said.
“You’re almost sort of a poster child for Latin Americans if you’re a Latin American student on campus just because, typically, students don’t come from communities that have a lot of Latin Americans,” Smith said. “Latin American students notice that, and they carry themselves accordingly. So then it becomes about assimilating.”
Cross-Cultural Meetings let students talk about how Cal Poly’s mostly-white community pressures them to belong. They also discuss other issues, such as insensitive language and discrimination. The meetings follow the structure of a Socratic discussion. In the discussions, students can give their perspectives on controversial issues, share their struggles and give advice to each other.
The main point of discussion in the Latino student meeting was the importance of family, Smith said. In the black student meeting, the discussion largely revolved around the use of the “N-word.” Everyone had the chance to share whether the term should be used and, if so, in what context, Smith said.
Adam Yee, a food science sophomore, attended the meeting for black students. Although Yee is not black, he said listening to the discussion taught him about some issues faced by black students.
“I learned quite a bit from it,” Yee said. “I didn’t know that there was a preference between being black and being African-American. That was very interesting to me.”
Monday’s meeting is for Native American students who make up one of the smallest ethnic populations at Cal Poly. Only 0.4 percent of Cal Poly’s undergraduate student body is Native American, as reported by PolyView for Fall Quarter 2011.
Clayton Green, member of the Lakota tribe and aerospace engineering junior, is Cal Poly’s American Indian Student Association president. When he first came to Cal Poly, Green said he had trouble playing his Native American music in front of other people.
“I’d feel awkward, like I annoyed people, because my Native American music is a lot different,” Green said. “It’s something you never hear.”
Green said Native American students should attend Monday’s meeting. Learning how to express Native American culture in a mostly-white environment comes from listening to how others did it, he said. He also encouraged students who are not Native American but who take an interest in the culture to attend the meeting.
“There are plenty of opportunities to go out and learn about the heritage, whether you are Native American or not,” Green said. “Whether you want to learn about their struggles, or about their heritage, there are plenty of opportunities.”
The Cross-Cultural Meeting for Native Americans will take place on Monday in University Union room 217 from 6 to 8 p.m.
Smith will continue organizing Cross-Cultural Meetings after the Native American meeting. A meeting for Asians and Pacific Islanders is scheduled for Feb. 13.
This article was written by Brenna Swanston.
Correction: In our article “Minorities bond across cultures” we inaccurately reported ethnic data from PolyView for Fall 2011. We wrote “White students make up 68.2 percent of Cal Poly’s undergraduate student body.” The correct number is 62.8 percent. We also reported that the remaining 31.8 percent were non-white students. That number is in fact 25.9 percent, with 5.9 percent self-reporting as unknown/other.
Editor’s Note: An alias (Smith) was used in place of the real name by request of the source. Mustang Daily does not make it a policy to use aliases in articles, unless the topic is of such a sensitive or possibly inflammatory nature that the source could face irreparable harm to his or her reputation if the name were accurately reported. Any further questions can be directed to firstname.lastname@example.org.