Diversity and inclusion specialist Kimberly McLaughlin-Smith returned to Cal Poly’s campus Nov. 8 to facilitate two discussions on allyship and cross-cultural respect.
“How can people who do what I do help? I want to inspire courage and truth telling,” McLaughlin-Smith said. “Truth telling digs up that underbelly and shows people who they are on the inside. If I can’t see myself, I can’t see my demons so they stay and live inside of me. They need to be addressed.”
McLaughlin-Smith is the Diversity and Inclusion Specialist at the University of North Carolina, a predominantly white campus. She first spoke at Cal Poly during the Baker Forum last spring, after being invited to address the alleged blackface incident. During the talk, she introduced “The Journey to October,” a six month long consultation plan to help Cal Poly become a more inclusive environment.
Vice President of the Office of Diversity and Inclusion, Jozi DeLeon, told Mustang News Journey to October did not happen. Instead, the office is now focusing on a broader Journey to Inclusion, which does not have a deadline and involves more guests.
“We’re now bringing in more speakers, but her involvement is still critical,” De Leon said. “Her consulting is not ongoing as discussed, but it is her presentations and having her come and provide learning opportunities.”
McLaughlin-Smith said the original plan was altered after accounting for student needs and time.
“Journey to October was a concept I developed based on the information I was given at the time,” McLaughlin-Smith said. “After talking to a lot of students on campus and looking at their needs, a reshuffling and reconfiguration happened in terms of timing and what was possible. Journey to Inclusion will be ongoing beyond my work.”
Allyship talk and training
During the morning session in Chumash Auditorium, McLaughlin-Smith lead a discussion on white allyship. The talk was geared toward faculty and staff, but students were also present.
McLaughlin-Smith spoke on the importance of identifying why you want to be an ally and acknowledging your own implicit biases, as well as practicing patience with those who have opposing views. In her words, “woke takes a minute or two.”
She played videos of her colleagues Dr. David Campt and Debby Irving. Campt developed a White Ally Toolkit with allyship guidelines that Cal Poly faculty and staff will now have access to. Irving is a white woman who speaks on coming to recognize white privilege in her own life in her Tedx Talk, “Finding Myself in the Story of Race”.
“Sometimes white population members feel as if they don’t have a voice and don’t belong in these conversation, but they do have a voice and we need those voices,” McLaughlin-Smith said. “We need allyship because the kind of freedom that comes in the skin of someone who is majority can sometimes open doors to let people who are not like them come through.”
Respecting different cultures
McLaughlin-Smith’s afternoon session in the Performing Arts Center Pavillion focused on engaging with and respecting people of different backgrounds and cultures. The talk was created with students in mind and utilized spoken word poetry.
McLaughlin-Smith encouraged students to listen empathetically and consider how words can affect people differently.
“Empathetic listening means bringing your ears your mind and your heart to engagements with people who don’t think like you think, who don’t look like you look and who don’t live like you live,” McLaughlin-Smith said. “And don’t listen with response in the forefront of your mind, listen in order to understand people and to ask questions instead of make assumptions.”
The audience watched videos of spoken word performances by D Knowledge and Amal Kassir. D Knowledge focused on the United States treatment of indigenous people and Kassir spoke on the importance of accepting people in their full humanity and avoiding assumptions.
McLaughlin-Smith’s thoughts on Cal Poly
Referencing her diversity work at other universities, McLaughlin-Smith said she does not think Cal Poly’s problems are unique.
“There is not a lot that stands out at Cal Poly in terms of what is going on here, as it relates to people who are different from one another relating poorly,” McLaughlin-Smith said. “That is common at college campuses across the country.”
While she said she believes the university is going in the right direction, she hopes Cal Poly will invite her back if more racially insensitive acts happen in the future.
“I would like Cal Poly to see me as an ongoing resource,” McLaughlin-Smith said. “When Cal Poly calls, I will come.”