Credit: Zach Donnenfield | Mustang News

There is no question diversity has been a longstanding issue at Cal Poly — from a noose, Confederate flag and racial slurs found at the Crop Science House in 2008 to the blackface incident at a gangster-themed Lambda Chi Alpha fraternity party in 2018.

But in the past few years, university leaders have called diversity a top priority.

So, what exactly is being done? Here is a look:

Opportunity Grant

Beginning in Fall 2019, all out-of-state students will pay higher fees to go towards an opportunity fee to increase access for low-income and first-generation California students.

The Opportunity Grant will be phased in until 2022, with each incoming class of out-of-state students paying $2,010 extra per year, according to a Cal Poly news release.

The fee will cover all campus-based costs that otherwise would not be covered by financial aid programs and will be aimed toward students in the lowest income bracket first and later expand to more students.

It will also be used to provide advising and academic support to students who receive the grant. Grant recipients will be required to live on campus their first two years.

“We know that if we are going to diversify our student population, we have to pay attention to those students who do not have the kind of access that we would want them to have,” Vice President for Diversity & Inclusion Jozi De Leon said. “It is a barrier for some of our students that are coming from homes in which parents cannot afford to contribute as much for their education.”

Cal Poly | Courtesy

Cal Poly is one the most expensive California State Universities (CSUs) for California students. It also has the highest student fees in the CSU system.

De Leon said the geographical location of Cal Poly and the demographics of the community may also be obstacles in recruiting more students of color.

Another issue with recruiting more minority students, De Leon said, is California’s Proposition 209 — which prohibits public institutions, like Cal Poly, from discriminating on the basis of ethnicity, race or sex.

Prior to Prop. 209, affirmative action allowed for public universities to take factors like race and ethnicity into the admissions process. The purpose of it was to provide equal access to higher education for groups who have been historically excluded, such as women and minorities.

Speakers, Surveys and Initiatives

Cal Poly recently unveiled its Cal Poly Experience (CPX) campaign, which encompasses listening sessions, a campus climate survey and an action plan.

The campaign is part of a partnership with Diversity Specialist Damon Williams and his Center for Strategic Diversity Leadership and Social Innovation team.

One of the main components of the 12-month plan is a campus-wide survey in April which is meant to gauge attitudes, perceptions and experiences on campus to then create an action plan.

Diversity and Inclusion expenditures

The university has also implemented other programs since the Office of Diversity and Inclusion (OUDI) was created in 2010. De Leon’s own position in 2017 was the result of the last campus survey and recommendations to elevate the position from diversity director to vice president.  

The university has also expanded the BEACoN mentoring program, which connects and provides stipends to underrepresented students and professors to work on a research project, and has also increased funding for the program this year, De Leon said.

Some of the research projects last year included looking at the founding of Atascadero and its history with racism and colonialism, researching breast cancer risk in Chinese immigrant women and producing a Master Plan for the Merced River Trail.

In 2017, the College of Liberal Arts (CLA) conducted a diversity cluster hire to try to increase diversity within faculty. From the cluster hire, seven assistant professors joined the CLA. The university is in the process of hiring more faculty through the cluster in other colleges as well, De Leon said.

Part of the agreement for tenure-track faculty hired through the diversity cluster is that they must continue their work and expertise in diversity and inclusion at Cal Poly.

Those tenure-track faculty members will receive $10,000 to support their work in diversity and inclusion. The funds will go toward participation in the BEACoN mentoring program, the creation or conversion of a class that includes diversity and inclusion, one presentation a year on a diversity-related topic, participation in the Teaching Inclusion and Diversity Everywhere (TIDE) summer program or the development of a startup or professional development support on diversity and inclusion related to the university, according to the academic personnel website.

“Another area that is really important to us is, how do we diversify our faculty so that students have faculty that look like them that they could work with?” De Leon said. “It does not necessarily mean that we have faculty that are from underrepresented groups, although that is important. What we want is faculty who have expertise and skill in embedding diversity topics into their curriculum.”

Why change is needed

In comparison to other CSUs, Cal Poly has the lowest percentage of Black students and the highest percentage of white students.

Enrollment of some minority groups on campus, such as African American and Pacific Islander students, have fluctuated by less than 0.2 percentage points since 2010 — others have remained below 1 percent.

Cal Poly has also been ranked by USC’s Race and Equity Center as one of the worst public universities for Black students and one of the worst institutions in the nation for Latinx students by The Education Trust.

Cal Poly’s ethnic diversity during President Armstrong’s tenure

“African Americans seem to be targeted more in some of those incidents that have happened on this campus, quite frankly,” De Leon said. “It is difficult to attract people when the headlines read about blackface and the Crop House incident. That history lives there, and it is hard for people to overcome some of that history.”

However, any significant results, De Leon said, will take a while to actually happen.

“I hear from students that they do not feel it, they do not feel like anything has changed, while I’m thinking, ‘Oh my God, so much has changed since I arrived,’” De Leon said. “It takes a while for for you to begin to feel that things have shifted.”

Diversity in California and Cal Poly

Students respond: Is it enough?

After the Lambda Chi Alpha blackface incident, business administration sophomore Darian Dudley said Cal Poly has “dropped the ball” when it comes to mending the relationship between minority groups on campus and administration.

“I feel like after the Lambda thing … it was just a lot of emails and a lot of talk and not a lot of action,” Dudley said. “They brought in some diversity specialist or whatever, but it is just them saying they are doing things, but not a lot [is] happening.”

While some students have noticed changes in university efforts when it comes to diversity and inclusion, there is still progress to be made.

“I mean there is the Cross Cultural Experience,” economics senior Arly Rivas-Lovo said. “They just started Core this year. It is creating opportunities for representative engagement. Changing a [predominantly white institution’s] climate will take time, and changing the mindset of its leadership will take longer. I just hope incoming Hispanic and Black students know these resources do exist.”

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