A recent report released from the County of San Luis Obispo Sheriff’s office addressed the local systemic racism that minority groups face every day in San Luis Obispo. Its main focus was on underrepresentation of people of color in positions of power and the increase of hate crimes.
The report was written by the Sheriff’s Unity Committee and is titled “Systemic Racism and Microaggressions in San Luis Obispo.” There are 19 members of the committee: six are Sheriff’s Office deputies, two are civilian employees and the rest are San Luis Obispo community members. Seven of these 19 members made this report. It was endorsed by Sheriff Ian Parkinson.
“Within the conclusions of the report, I find very powerful indicators of systemic racism,” Parkinson said at the beginning of the report. “I invite everyone to join us in improving and correcting our shortcomings to enhance inclusiveness of all.”
The report is 34 pages long, beginning with an explanation of systemic racism and how it has made its way and maintained its position in San Luis Obispo by means of overrepresentation of white people in leadership roles.
Since the university’s founding in 1901, every single one of Cal Poly’s presidents have been white. As for the overall underrepresentation of minority groups in higher positions at Cal Poly, 96% of foundation board members are white.
There is also a history of hate crimes at Cal Poly. In May of 2018, the fraternity Lambda Chi Alpha hosted a “gangster-themed” party where a student did blackface. Both a Black and a Latina Cal Poly student were walking downtown when a woman approached them saying “You are not a Cal Poly student. Take that sweatshirt off.” Most recently, in early 2021, a dorm room was broken into and notes with racial slurs were found left in the room.
In order to address these hate crimes and push for a future where they no longer happen, the Unity Committee was formed in September of 2020. It unites a diverse group of leaders in the community to discuss the systemic racism that is prevalent in San Luis Obispo.
Cal Poly sociology professor Ryan Alaniz, who is the Criminal Justice Chair for the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People in San Luis Obispo, is a member of the Unity Committee, and also one of the main contributors to the report. Given his position in the NAACP, he was invited to join by Commander Keith Scott.
“We are not on-the-ground folks — we are a bunch of leaders who can connect the community together,” Alaniz said. “Instead of organizations working on their own, we can help recognize that there’s other folks that can supplement their work and be more effective.”
As a sociology professor, Alaniz said he wants to educate his students on how to be more well-informed individuals. He starts his class by recognizing that there is indeed bias everywhere, and this bias has a profound impact on how we see the world around us.
By sharing some of his own life experiences, including how he has recognized and continuously tries to overcome his own implicit bias, he said he hopes to provide his students with a new perspective, one that they may have not seen before.
Alaniz grew up working in the agricultural fields with his father who was a tractor driver on an agricultural farm. Alaniz said he also spent time living in South America as a young adult and witnessed the lives of “some of the poorest folks in the Western Hemisphere.”
“I want to bring those perspectives into class and help balance student perspectives, or at least give them the recognition that what they learned so far may only be one way of understanding the world, as well as empower them to continue educating themselves in a constructively critical way,” Alaniz said.
Alaniz notes the creation of The Office of Diversity and Inclusion at Cal Poly as being a big step in the right direction for the school. According to their website, the office is committed to nurturing a “respectful and inclusive campus climate.”
Along with this, Alaniz said other faculty on campus are supportive of his mission.
“There’s a lot of faculty who are deeply passionate about this and are really doing their best,” Alaniz said.