After recent shootings of African Americans at the hands of police officers in Charlotte, North Carolina and Tulsa, Oklahoma, members of the Cal Poly community gathered to discuss racial tensions in the United States.
A group of 40 students, faculty and staff came together on Sep. 23 in an open forum style conversation. Attendees included the Dean of Student Affairs Kathleen McMahon and Vice President for Student Affairs Keith Humphrey. Humphrey sent out a campus-wide email announcing the event.
“We would like to call on our Cal Poly community to come together and provide support to each other,” the email said. “We are all affected by the most recent tragedies in Tulsa and Charlotte and we know that some students at Cal Poly are more acutely impacted.”
Business administration freshman Amsi Onyeador said she attended the event because she is deeply concerned about her safety and the safety of her loved ones. Onyeador said she experienced racial issues and saw police brutality regularly growing up in South Los Angeles.
“I feel so personally connected to this issue because I deal with this stuff on a daily basis,” Onyeador said. “I have a brother who’s brown-skinned, tall, he’s six-foot-five inches. Almost every time he drives home from school he gets stopped by the police. I just get really scared and angry.”
Fear, anger, concern and other emotions filled the discussion while stories bounced back and forth. One staff member at Cal Poly told the group he was questioned in his own office during graduate school just because of the color of his skin. Another student said that he worries about leaving his own house every day out of fear of being stopped by police because he is African American. The goal of the forum was to share racial experiences, Cross Cultural Centers Director Bryan Hubain said.
“Speaking to some students in the Cross Cultural Center, they felt like they had a space to share their thoughts and feelings. It was more about those voices that were heard,” Hubain said. “We felt united.”
The open dialogue also included stories from those who moved to the United States from other countries. Civil engineering sophomore Lul Kidane is from Ethiopia and she explained what it was like coming from another country. She first observed racial tension in America at a Cal Poly homecoming game.
“Coming into the country and going to homecoming, I saw how black students who danced to ‘black music’ would exclude themselves from white students,” Kidane said. “That was very strange to me because in Ethiopia we dance to all kinds of music. From there on, since I was a black student, I still felt like I couldn’t talk about these topics because I am not from here.”
Kidane ended up joining the Black Student Union board because she wants to make a difference.
According to Humphrey, the conversation needs to continue on campus in order to solve racial issues not only at Cal Poly, but also around the country.
“I think we need to have dialogue. I think we need to have statements from leadership and continue to engage in difficult conversations,” Humphrey said. “We need to make sure we do everything we can in the classroom, in the residence halls to promote issues of inclusion and encourage to get to know each other.”
Regardless of whether an event such as the riots in Charlotte happens thousands of miles away or down the block from campus, Humphrey said any global event impacts the Cal Poly community.
“I think anything that happens around the world has an impact on us as individuals,” Humphrey said. “We have a responsibility to create a space that helps our students know this community cares and values them no matter the identities they hold and make sure we are helping them create the safest place possible to support their learning.”