Cal Poly President Warren Baker sent out a campus-wide e-mail earlier this month detailing the “Inclusive Excellence Model,” developed by the Association of American Colleges and Universities, which will promote a more accepting and varied learning environment.
The model is described as paving the way toward a more “rich and diverse learning environment where everyone feels valued and included.”
ASI President Angela Kramer said diversity contributes to a well-rounded education and helps students develop perspectives about the world around them.
“It really is important for any university to foster those sorts of opportunities for people to experience differences of perspectives,” she said. “Without it you just don’t have education.”
Kramer is involved in the development of the Inclusive Excellence Model, as well as the diversity learning objectives associated with it.
“With the diversity learning objectives you have a set of guidelines for faculty members to follow when conducting their classes,” Kramer said. “It could be how to foster a successful conversation, or how to meet in the middle with dissent.”
She said that departments will have the autonomy to develop these principles as they see fit, as long as they adhere to the guidelines set forth.
“You need to allow it to happen,” Kramer said. “You need to allow debate and allow people (on) the playing field to say something that may be a little bit controversial.”
Kramer is a self-described supporter of the model, and said that because Cal Poly doesn’t have a racially-diverse population, the school will have to take extra steps in comparison with other universities to ensure that all students feel safe and welcome in this academic and social environment.
“I think with the incident that happened at the crop house, it makes us realize that it happens to other people and that it really affected them,” she said. “A lot of Cal Poly students don’t have those words directed at them. We as a university were really shocked into this reality that not everyone feels comfortable here.”
Provost Robert Koob said that the Inclusive Excellence Model would aid students and faculty consciously see things from multiple points of view. He said that the crop house incident was an example of an underlying problem on campus, as well as nationally.
“I think that it’s something that American society deals with on a daily basis,” he said. “But it does mean we have more work to do here at Cal Poly to diminish that tension.”
Koob said the university tries to teach students to not make premature uneducated judgments about various people and groups.
“They ought to approach every person on campus as an interesting individual and not jump to any conclusions about what that person may or may not be thinking based on what group they belong to,” he said. “I think putting that into practice would be very valuable.”
Kramer said that there are ways to bring greater diversity on campus that can be accomplished within daily student life.
“I would like to encourage my friends and colleagues to step up a little bit,” she said. “That is your place, it’s not being rude, it’s not telling people how to live their lives, it’s about respect. It’s about an educated class about to go into the world. Saying comments and describing people in a way that has traditionally been filled with hate, that’s not an educated action.”
Kramer said she views Cal Poly as an open campus and very relaxed about issues involving diversity.
“Besides the crops house, I personally have never had any issues with hate or intolerance,” she said. “But there is a difference between, ‘I’m not racist,’ and standing up for someone.”
Both Koob and Kramer are aware that although action is underway in dealing with this issue, there is still much to be done, including providing more training for faculty and staff and providing contacts for students to report behavior they are uncomfortable with.
“I do think that we wish to do whatever we can so that that the climate is as supportive as it can be,” Koob said. “But you are never perfect; there is always more to do. But, I do think we are attempting to improve.”
Kramer describes diversity as, “just living with people.”
“We will take every necessary step that is feasible that will change that culture,” she said. “Who are we to tell people who they can and can’t be? It’s not our place.”