Jeremiah Hernandez is an ethnic studies senior. The views expressed in this column do not reflect the viewpoints and editorial coverage of Mustang News.
My name is Jeremiah Hernandez; I am a native resident of Santa Maria, CA, a transfer student from Allan Hancock College, and a current senior in the Ethnic Studies department at Cal Poly. I am also the 2017 CSU Trustees’ Awardee for Outstanding Achievement representing Cal Poly. While I’ve been humbled over the last year with the honor of this award, this prestige has often been taken in stride because of continued racism and anti-Blackness on our campus, seen again with Lambda Chi Alpha this past weekend.
I find the actions of Lambda Chi Alpha as nothing less than ignorant and disgraceful. As appalling as these actions are, what may be more unfortunate is that it was not a surprise to me by any means. I had heard stories about Cal Poly my entire life, saw events and mishaps on my local news and had my own interactions with students as well. Although, none of these accounts prepared me for the displacement that I would experience as a newly enrolled Cal Poly student. With statements, microaggressions and mockery driven by stereotypes and entitlement coming from students and faculty alike, this institution of higher education can feel more like a social battleground than a place of learning. Indeed, for an individual who doesn’t fit into the status quo of Cal Poly (read: middle/upper-class caucasian), it is a consistent battle of knowledge, wit and endurance to obtain a coveted degree from this institution.
Some may have read thus far only to dismiss my statements, and you’re welcome to do so. But to dismiss the sheer number of students who have made similar claims is as ignorant as the actions displayed by the fraternity members themselves, and that dismissal is a manifestation of anti-Blackness. Not only must students of color work to obtain the education we are here for, but we must engage against the fictitious and fallacious ideologies that are maintained about us throughout this campus. Moreover, not only must students of color demonstrate a higher standard of knowledge and understanding to avoid being viewed as lacking and dismissed completely, but we must do so without a critical mass of people of color because Cal Poly has never admitted or hired enough of us to represent the state we reside in.
While statements from administration and greek life ring with keywords like equality and diversity, there is still a vital lack of both, along with a lack of equity, justice, safety and wellbeing for many students. Just as it has been throughout the last century, Cal Poly has a particular tendency of maintaining its elitist population and reputation since it remains the whitest and wealthiest of all public universities in our state. All the while, they do little to provide stable and effective support to those students who are needing it the most. Furthermore, while this racist incident proves that anti-Blackness is alive and well at Cal Poly, we also need to deal with the incredibly high rates of sexual assault on our campus that are often in tandem with greek parties and events.
As the 2017 Board of Trustees Awardee for Outstanding Achievement, I would like nothing more than to be proud of my soon-to-be alma mater. However, with the consistency of racist incidents here I have no words to express the distress and disappointment I feel about being a student of color at Cal Poly. I feel like the institution has failed and abandoned students of color while benefiting from our tuition, our various fees, and most of all our accomplishments. As a result, I ask that potential students, of any and all races, ethnicities, genders, sexualities, and creeds, think critically about attending this institution and understand that the clout of displaying a degree from Cal Poly may come at the cost of your mental, emotional, spiritual and possibly physical health.
The one thing I am proud of is my fellow students of color who have consistently taken action to make positive change on campus and beyond. While I face the social issues of Cal Poly for a few hours any given day that I step on to campus, I still go home to my family in Santa Maria every night. On the other hand, my peers deal with these issues 24 hours a day as both students of Cal Poly and residents of San Luis Obispo. To each and all of you, I give my utmost support, respect and appreciation. You are the ones who make me proud to be a student of Cal Poly.
With all of this in mind, I stand behind and in support of the Black Student Union, and applaud their prompt action of a released statement and hosting of an Emergency Town Hall meeting. I stand with all of my peers, staff, faculty, and administrators of color who have been affected by the bias, racism and discrimination that travels throughout campus and the community of San Luis Obispo. This is not the educational environment we deserve.
Racism and discrimination have no place at Cal Poly and must be removed at any costs. Each and every one of us has a role to take in this matter, and this letter is a part of mine. The time for change is long overdue, and that change needs to happen now.
All power to the people.
Jeremiah F. Hernandez
*This letter has been edited for clarity.