The evacuation of Fremont Hall left many freshmen without a sense of home at Cal Poly. However, the burden caused more than displaced students, it started a conversation.
After a mudslide caused the evacuation Feb. 18, students faced a new label: refugee.
A whiteboard in Muir Hall addressed the students as “Fremont Refugees,” telling them to be thankful in spite of their support for “banning immigrant refugees.”
This message carries a sting. Fremont is associated with the College of Agriculture, Food and Environmental Sciences, stereotyped as people from agricultural backgrounds who are primarily conservative. This includes being conservative toward immigration law.
One whiteboard message forced questions of larger societal and political issues, like President Donald Trump’s effort for a travel ban, upon these uprooted freshmen.
Cal Poly Vice President of Student Affairs Keith Humphrey called this attitude against Fremont students unacceptable.
“We heard some students were doing some things that were unwelcoming,” Humphrey said. “This is a challenging situation.”
Humphrey said this incident was addressed and confronted. He believes it’s something students could learn from.
“It’s an educational experience,” Humphrey said. “We have fantastic students. We want them to stand up and help their fellow Mustangs.”
While raising eyebrows, the message also brings forward the issue of stereotypes on campus and offers Fremont students the chance to share their perspectives.
Fremont Community Council President Mark Borges continued the theme of education and growth. The environmental management and protection freshman spoke in front of his peers at a meeting hosted by administration on Feb. 22 for the evacuated students.
“I think a lot of times people try to make things political that don’t necessarily need to be political,” Borges said. “If we look at the blank statement of what’s happened here — we were evacuated from our dorm — that’s what happened.”
Borges explained that other freshmen students may not be able to relate to Fremont’s struggle of leaving home, but will inevitably be in the same position.
“It’s an emotional experience and I think it’s overlooked,” he said. “A lot of students on campus don’t really understand that because it’s not happening to them, but I know that when the time comes at the end of the year when they have to move, I’m sure they’re going to experience the same thing.”
He said other students are mostly accommodating, but admitted to awakenings from the forced removal.
“It’s a learning experience in itself,” he said. “We definitely don’t think about how much of a comfort zone that dorm has become until it’s taken away from you.”
Fremont students are being relocated across campus according to housing availability and their preferences. However, despite this separation, the freshmen still feel part of one community.
“It [the evacuation] just brought us together,” environmental management and protection freshman and displaced Fremont resident Kylie Kuwada said.
She spoke about how easy it is take something like a residence hall room for granted. Kuwada also shared her thoughts on the stereotype Fremont residents face.
“There is the ‘Fremont is the white, Republican, rednecks or the AGR-majors,’ and that was very stereotypical — what those people wrote — because that is entirely not true,” she said. “The fact that they are saying the refugee thing, I just think was uncalled for, what they wrote.”
Food science freshman Sara Blawski thought the comparison made on the whiteboard was valid, and saw the connection to larger political topics.
“I think it was kind of a fair comparison,” she said. “It might have been an inappropriate moment to do it, it might have been an inappropriate format, but I don’t think it was totally out of left field.”
Though she understands the refugee comparison, Blawski felt accepted by the community and other residence halls during this transition.
“Thank you to the majority of people because a lot of people have been super accepting of us and [have] been nice and making an effort and we really appreciate it,” she said. “Give us a chance. Everyone could use a fresh perspective.”
This attitude of positivity and openness is something Fremont students want to promote. Whether or not they’re met by it, the emphasis is in the hope to end stereotypes and feel at home again on campus.
Forestry and natural resources freshman Nora Stankavich encourages looking beyond these political differences.
“Give them a chance because I was born in southern California,” Stankavich said. “So coming here was a culture shock from all these farmers and they are genuinely the nicest people I have ever met in my entire life. It just takes time to get to know them.”
This call to action might offer the proper message, but it won’t mend all the pieces. Stankavich expressed how she will continue in the struggle to adapt to her new setting in Poly Canyon Village.
“I feel like I’m always going to be a guest now,” she said. “I’m never going to feel that home sense that I felt in Fremont.”
Correction: A previous version of this article stated Sara Blawski was a food science and nutrition freshman. It has been corrected to say food science freshman.