Que Dang, the coordinator at the MultiCultural Center (MCC) watched a dream become reality last year when the MCC hosted the #IAmCalPoly exhibited at the Robert E. Kennedy Library. The exhibit includes photos of students as “storytellers” — sharing their experiences as a way to highlight the rich diversity on campus.
“People were able to take a photo and talk about their own identity,” Dang said. “It really created an opportunity for students to voice their authentic experiences as well as be proud of their identity.”
This year the exhibit is back and features storytellers, in comparison to last year’s seven. This year’s exhibit adds faculty and staff members alongside the students as storytellers.
“A lot of times students of color open up a Cal Poly magazine or look at a Cal Poly website and say ‘I don’t see myself,’” Dang said. “There is this image that Cal Poly is predominately white or greek, or blonde-haired and blue-eyed, and a lot of our students were saying ‘I don’t feel a part of this campus.’”
These photos unveil a deeper look into the lives of Cal Poly community members. The messages students share in the pictures encompass conversations they don’t typically have in a classroom. One storyteller, Stacey, shared that she is a proud mother and first generation student at Cal Poly. She is pictured with her son.
Dang said the reaction she gets from the storytellers is what makes the project worth it.
“Students come up to me and tell me ‘I never felt like I belonged here until I saw my photo up there’ — it is a validating experience,” Dang said.
Volunteer hours, student photographers, student designers and the guidance of Dang, psychology and child development professor Jennifer Pedrotti and exhibits and campus arts curator Catherine Trujillo are what moved the project forward. Funding for the cost of print in the exhibit came from the Office of Diversity and Inclusivity. The exhibit will be used in the upcoming summer orientation programs to highlight the campus climate.
Assistant Vice President of Student Affairs and Dean of Students Kathleen McMahon said the exhibit is an amazing representation for the vast diversity at Cal Poly. McMahon said creating a more inclusive campus is something Cal Poly needs to continue to work on every day.
“The whole question of ‘What’s your experience like at Cal Poly?’ and some of the statements about how people don’t feel included — is important, but hard to hear,” McMahon said.
Being a part of the exhibit takes courage. If we foster a place for students, faculty and staff to share their stories, then the school will be more likely to draw others from diverse backgrounds, she said.
“Cal Poly should reflect the diversity of California, and that is not predominately white,” McMahon said. “So we have a ways to go, but there are a lot of great steps being taken to get us there.”
Construction management junior Tyler Rhode said he noticed the students on campus making strides to help other students feel included.
“I see opportunities out there. It’s more on the students, I know there are a lot of programs out there that are even major-based that I can take advantage of and I know there are lots of groups for minorities to feel included,” Rhode said.
May is Inclusive Excellence month at Cal Poly and the exhibit will be open on the first floor of the library and at the MultiCultural Center in the Julian A. McPhee University Union (UU) until May 20.