When English professor Ryan Hatch leaves his front door, it takes him more than two hours to drive to Cal Poly from his home in Koreatown in Los Angeles – about 186 miles away – to teach modern contemporary drama and literary theory.

Hatch is just one of many professors who goes the distance, for a variety of reasons, to teach at Cal Poly.

Hatch said he and his husband are “city people” at heart, and have not been able to find a flourishing LGBTQ+ community in San Luis Obispo like the one they previously had in New York City and have now in their current residence.

“We are queer – which is to say we really have always lived our lives somewhere where there is a functioning queer culture that’s an interesting culture to be a part of,” Hatch said. “That doesn’t yet exist in San Luis Obispo, and I’m not terribly optimistic about it coming into existence.”

Hatch said that he has not necessarily faced homophobia in San Luis Obispo, but there was not enough of a culture to keep him and his husband in the area. Hatch said the three-hour drive to work was “less exhausting” than living in San Luis Obispo, which lacked a lot of the culture he had come to depend on.

“I like teaching. I like my work,” Hatch said. “And so, it has just worked better for me to kind of live a double life than to make San Luis Obispo work permanently for us.”

In addition to lacking a thriving LGBTQ+ community, Hatch said that San Luis Obispo lacks diversity.

“Diversity doesn’t just come out of thin air,” Hatch said. “When I leave San Luis Obispo and get back to Koreatown where I live, it’s hard to even know how to put into words the relief I feel to be in a place that is simply actually diverse, where it’s just a daily reality where there’s no question of, ‘is this real or not?’”

Hatch also said that it speaks to something about the culture at Cal Poly and San Luis Obispo that three people in his department, “a queer guy and two women of color,” make the commute in and out of San
Luis Obispo.

Hatch said in addition to renting a room from a colleague during the week, he spends around $200 for gas each month.

“The salaries that we’re paid in the [College of Liberal Arts] – it’s hard for any of my colleagues to really live the lives that they want to live, based on how little they’re paid relative to the cost of living in a place like San Luis Obispo,” Hatch said. “So this does place that added pressure to be
very creative.”

Adjunct women and gender studies professor Ednie Garrison drives 60.2 miles each day from Lompoc.

“I would love to be able to live [in San Luis Obispo],” Garrison said. “I miss out on so much of the culture of the community of things that happen here on the campus because I can’t, I can’t justify the money to drive.”

Garrison, who has been an adjunct professor – a professor not on the tenure track – at Cal Poly for three years, currently lives with her sister and nephews in the 4,000-year-old Chumash village.

“The only way I can afford to work at the pittance they pay me here is because I live with them,” Garrison said.

Before working at Cal Poly, Garrison taught at the University of California, Santa Barbara. Between the two towns, Lompoc was the cheapest option for her and her three dogs.

“It turns out that on the Central Coast and on the south coast, Lompoc is the only, quote unquote, ‘affordable’ city between above Paso [Robles] and down all the way to [Los Angeles],” Garrison said.

Garrison said her true passion lies in teaching, which she has been doing since the 1990s. However, on her professor salary, Garrison estimated that if she were to find a place in San Luis Obispo right now with space for her and her dogs she would have to pay 125 percent of her salary.

“I do my research too, but I really really love teaching. And every time I try to leave academia, the thing that always draws me back is the need to be with students,” Garrison said.

While Hatch and Garrison use their cars to get them back and forth, associate journalism professor Dan Eller has begun his 12th year using the bus system to get from his home in Cambria to Cal Poly — as well as everywhere else, for the most part.

Before coming to Cal Poly, Eller worked as the director of communications for California State Parks for 23 years. He started taking the bus from Cambria to the San Simeon Visitor Center and has since “never looked back,” he said.

The whole journey takes him about three hours — an hour and a half each way — twice as long as it would take him to drive. But he said he enjoys taking public transportation because he is able to get work and emails done, and saves money in the long run.

Eller said he and his wife have reduced to one car and put around 2,000 miles on the vehicle per year, compared to the 13,476 miles per year the average American drives according to the United States Department of Transportation Federal
Highway Administration.

A first-generation college student, Eller began his career in custodial services at 18. He enrolled in a few classes to “give it a shot” and in 2010 was able to walk with a doctorate from the University of California, Santa Barbara. Eller said his students’ success comes first in his life, as he wants the chance to give back.

“Each day we’re here in higher education, we should be honored,” Eller said. “It’s a privilege bestowed to a very small amount of people in this world.”

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