Darian Marshall is a political science freshman at Cal Poly. The views expressed do not necessarily reflect those of Mustang News.
In deciding whether or not to accept my admission to Cal Poly as a Black student, I knew I would be part of a very small minority. I’d read the horror stories, I’d analyze the demographics, and although the knowledge of my minority status frightened me, it only strengthened my resolve to come to Cal Poly and insert myself into spaces where voices like mine aren’t represented. My first year and my plans to further entrench myself in campus culture was cut short by COVID-19. What my time back in home gifted me, however, was the gift of self-reflection, something that was heightened by the murder of George Floyd and the nationwide conversation about racism in American institutions.
I became very active on social media through posting about the Black Lives Matter movement. An influx of my non-Black friends and followers messaged me, asking for ways to better support the movement and me. On Wednesday June 3, I created and posted a guidebook onto my Instagram entitled “How to Dismantle White Supremacy at Cal Poly SLO.” This guidebook outlined actions that the average Cal Poly student could take to unlearn the inherent white supremacy built into predominantly white institutions. Some steps were simple, like taking a class about Black history and culture and supporting clubs that provide resources for Black students. Others involve more work, like donating to Black organizations and having tough conversations with family and friends.
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a lot of people i’ve met in slo have asked me how to be a more effective ally and activist, so in an attempt to localize my efforts i created this! this guidebook isn’t affiliated with the school and it’s not supposed to be a comprehensive list; you shouldn’t constrain yourself from finding other ways to impact the system. but this is a start. (huge thank you to @desouzanat and @_lilpeanut for their help in compiling info for this)
At the time of writing this, the post has amassed over 3,000 likes and 160 comments and was reposted by a number of Cal Poly students, cultural clubs, Greek life organizations, and even Cal Poly Orientation. The waves of support in response to this post was the first time in my college career where I truly felt seen and heard. Nonetheless, what stood out to me the most was the lack of acknowledgement from the official Cal Poly page. No matter the number of student government members or alumni or campus clubs that received my message, the university itself never did.
In a recent email, President Armstrong told us to “fully feel the pain of this time and to recognize the many people among us who are and have been hurting.” In order to do this, it’s necessary for the university (and everyone connected to it) to reflect on racist acts in Cal Poly’s past that have been moved on from without taking the time to fully process and reflect on the harm they have done. The school has responded to confederate flags, blackface and racial slurs by protecting the “freedom of speech” of its students. After incidents like these, it begs the question: Whose voices are being freed, and whose voices are being suppressed? Protecting unfiltered racism and sending out a vague email that never really addresses the issue sets a precedent that further acts will be tolerated by administration. The repetition of anti-Blackness in the actions of their peers makes Black students less likely to voice their concerns, and less trusting of an administration that does nothing to protect them.
Cal Poly’s motto is “Learn by Doing” ─ It’s incorporated into our orientations and our curriculums flawlessly. What I’ve found in my first year is that when it comes to addressing the blatant racism that Black and other minority students face, the university preaches a lot about learning, but never really gets around to doing. The statistic I tend to repeat the most because I find it the most intriguing is the fact that Cal Poly’s Black student population has remained at less than one percent for years before my admission. It’s difficult for me to understand how a university can expect to incorporate widespread change and learn from Black people on campus when we’re already spread so thin.
I want to commend the thousands of Cal Poly students and alumni that have taken the time to recognize their privilege, read the guidebook, and share my message. It’s clear to me that Black students and non-Black allies are tired of empty platitudes and meaningless emails. Whether or not action and tangible change takes place has yet to be seen, but I remain hopeful that once we are reunited in person, the campus culture will shift in a way that’s more inclusive and supportive to Black students.