This year, SLO Solidarity has brought issues of inclusivity and diversity to light. While winter quarter was relatively quiet, the group plans to do more in spring. Still, some students are unsure about the group’s purpose.
“I don’t really know much about them other than they are activists,” kinesiology junior Alex Saenz said. “You don’t see much about them.”
SLO Solidarity said it is fighting for the marginalized. After offensive remarks on the Cal Poly College Republicans’ annual free speech wall, SLO Solidarity sent a list of 41 demands to administration.
Behind the scenes, SLO Solidarity met with Cal Poly President Jeffrey Armstrong and his team on Jan. 7. During this meeting, both sides discussed the new phase of the diversity action plan that was originally released in Fall 2015. On March 16, the Office of Diversity and Inclusivity announced the draft of phase two of the action plan that was discussed between SLO Solidarity and administration. However, the campuswide email stressed that this is a “working document.”
“This is a working document, reflecting the many large and small efforts being done across the Cal Poly campus to bring about meaningful and systemic change. This approach also recognizes that we will improve as we implement change, and we will learn from our efforts,” the email said. “We will update the plan quarterly, per the commitment to our community made in the January email from the Office of University Diversity and Inclusivity (OUDI), sharing the goals, achievements and learnings as we move forward.”
SLO Solidarity leader and political science sophomore Matt Klepfer said he is not satisfied with the spring diversity action plan.
“The new action plan outlines a lot more of the action steps needed to create our vision for a new Cal Poly,” Klepfer said in an email. “Sadly, however, it didn’t include more steps the university will be taking toward creating a more diverse and inclusive campus. It highlighted a more mythological approach to the action items that were already laid out in the January action plan.”
Before the administration’s announcement, SLO Solidarity took action again after a student reported hateful and racially charged vandalism in his room at Poly Canyon Village. According to Klepfer, the group sent an email asking administration to release the next phase of the action plan in light of these events.
“On Feb. 29, SLO Solidarity sent a follow-up email asking why a new action plan, one with more substance and accountability, had not yet been released,” SLO Solidarity said in a letter to the editor.
The letter continued, informing the student body that SLO Solidarity is trying to change the campus for the better.
“SLO Solidarity remains committed to envisioning and working toward a more diverse, inclusive and equitable Cal Poly,” SLO Solidarity said in the letter. “Sadly, without an action plan ingrained with substance and accountability, the Cal Poly administration may not share our vision.”
The vision of SLO Solidarity has faced opposition by some on campus. Students such as architectural engineering freshman Madi Burgess are still trying to understand what that vision is.
“I think an organization like this is needed on campus, but I am not sure whether this specific group will get things done in a responsible manner,” Burgess said. “So far, I don’t know too much.”
SLO Solidarity doesn’t have a defined structure, according to its leaders. As of now, it’s not an official club on campus. Klepfer and SLO Solidarity leader and political science sophomore Mick Bruckner said the group isn’t set up like a traditional club in that sense. Bruckner said the group is just a collective of students. This allows the group to be more flexible to be able to address certain issues on campus.
“Basically, it’s working to promote diversity on campus. It doesn’t really have a specific purpose,” Klepfer said. “It organically molds to what needs to be done at the time.”
The group has seen some internal disagreement in regard to planning and addressing certain issues. A document from its Facebook page, entitled “SLO Solidarity Event; Thursday, Jan. 21st 2016,” contains a statement section where members could comment about the meeting with administration that week. One anonymous member wrote:
“I have never personally felt uncomfortable as a homosexual student until this movement came about. Now I feel like I have to watch my back. I refuse to go on campus when this movement has any rallies due to my safety as a student. It does not raise awareness. It raises anger and it does not help any cause. I fear for myself now as a Cal Poly Mustang because of SLO Solidarity.”
The action of sending 41 demands to the administration has been debated, inside and outside the group.
Recreation, parks and tourism administration freshman Ally Birmingham did not see the demands as beneficial to campus.
“I think they have the right intentions, but I think the minority group will not have the best reaction to it,” Birmingham said. “Sometimes they will take offense to it and sometimes they don’t want these certain issues like this to be pushed. If the minority group doesn’t feel they are being discriminated against, then it becomes the whites who think they should change things. As a result, it creates a reverse cycle.”
A former member of SLO Solidarity, environmental management and protection senior Kyle Jordan, said he also felt unsure about SLO Solidarity’s actions.
“I think just being involved in student government myself was the best way to approach administration and complex government procedures is do it through the public process. The list of demands, to me, is a little bit aggressive,” said Jordan, who ran for Associated Students, Inc. president last year. “Demanding people to change things isn’t a democratic process. It’s not taking the input from everybody out on campus. Not involving everybody makes it hard for people to support you.”
Students might not see the need for change, according to SLO Solidarity leader and psychology junior Kristin Lee, who expressed her frustration with “white, heterosexual, cisgender male” population and boxed-in stereotypical behavior on Cal Poly’s campus.
Last year’s incoming freshman class had approximately 60 percent of students come from a White and non-Hispanic background, according to the California State University (CSU) Mentor.
“They like waking up being white, straight, cisgender males because they have privileges,” Lee said. “If I wanted to be a dumbass bimbo getting Starbucks every day, I would do that. But I don’t want to do that; I don’t want to sit there and assimilate to everything that involves being in the white lifestyle.”
For now, the group is looking to have another protest during spring quarter.
“We are looking to start protesting during the faculty protests,” Bruckner said. “April has historically been politically active and we are looking to bring diversity issues back in the spotlight.”