University President Jeffrey Armstrong and Cal Poly administrators have said increasing diversity has always been a part of Cal Poly’s long-term goal. After the blackface incident in April 2018, however, Cal Poly’s struggle with diversity and inclusion came to the forefront of campus conversation once again.

With the help of diversity specialist Damon Williams and his Center for Strategic Diversity Leadership and Social Innovation team, Cal Poly released their Cal Poly Experience (CPX) campaign Feb. 28.

Prior to Cal Poly’s $243,000 partnership with Williams, which was announced Jan. 24, Cal Poly administration attended Williams’ National Inclusive Excellence Leadership Academy and began building a relationship with him.

University administrators said it is still being determined where the money for Williams’ partnership is coming from. However, they assured Mustang News the money to pay for the partnership would not be taken from tuition, the general fund or student fees.

“We wanted the best for Cal Poly, so we got the best, one of the best experts,” Interim Associate Vice President for Diversity and Inclusion Julie Garcia said. “Like I said, he literally wrote the book on it; he has a book called ‘The Chief Diversity Officer.’”  

Williams spoke at Cal Poly in Oct. 2018 and again in late January. The next time he visits campus, from March 12 to 14, the first phase of the CPX plan will begin.

Williams previously used his survey and assessment methods at the University of Michigan and other universities nationwide.

“They created the instrument and it is a validated survey that has been used by other leading experts, like the University of Michigan,” Garcia said.

What CPX is and how it will happen

The acronym CPX stands for Cal Poly experience, and the ‘X’ represents the crossroads where data and the action plan come together and create change, Director of Marketing and Communications for Student Affairs Yukie Murphy said.

The two-phase action plan will begin with listening sessions for students, staff and faculty facilitated by Williams and his team. Within those three days, 50 sessions will be conducted with three different focus groups to assess the experiences of faculty, students and staff. Sessions are confidential and open to the entire campus.

Garcia said Cal Poly felt students and faculty may be more willing to share their experience with a third party rather than administration. Confidentiality is also intended to allow the Cal Poly community to feel comfortable sharing grievances with the university.

Following the listening sessions, a campus-wide survey will be administered April 9 to students and staff and will stay open for four weeks. Both the listening sessions and survey will be used to collect data over a six-month period on topics like retention rates and graduation gaps.

Alumni and any faculty or students who have left the university will not be included in the survey.

The data will be used to help shape what the university will prioritize when it comes to diversity and inclusion and will impact the final Action Plan.

While students are not required to take the survey, there will be stations with laptops as well as spaces to talk about the survey with others around campus from April to May.

Cal Poly’s last campus climate survey was in 2014, but the low response rate of less than 30 percent made it difficult to utilize the information, administrators said.

“We hope that every member of our campus community will participate in these confidential opportunities to share their perspectives and experiences related to equity, diversity and inclusion at Cal Poly,” Armstrong said in a news release.

Administrators said the survey conducted by Williams and his team is expected to yield a higher response rate than the last, given the sessions and outreach coordinated beforehand.

Another difference to note is the final step in the initiative process, which is a Leadership Institute consisting of workshops and score card trainings.

In June, Williams and his team will present Cal Poly with data analysis and a report including recommendations for the university. The initiative process will foreshadow the plan concerning diversity and inclusion for the next five years.

“It is a 12-month process, not just a survey. It is many different parts and facets,” Garcia said. “I think there is much more opportunity to create the data to help inform lasting change and also help us prepare for that.”

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