Patton said he wanted to open up conversation about race on campus. Rachel Marquardt | Mustang News

Jamie Patton says it is time to teach Cal Poly how to have difficult conversations about race.

The new Vice President of Student Affairs Diversity and Inclusion spoke to all 6,131 new freshmen and transfer students at the newly required diversity sessions. These session were geared toward helping students open up to difficult conversations surrounding race and diversity at Cal Poly. Patton said he wanted everyone to feel welcomed to campus. 

“We are one Cal Poly,” Patton began, echoing an email from the President’s Office sent in May after a photo of a Cal Poly student dressed in alleged blackface at an off-campus party. The student said it was for a game his fraternity was playing, and that he was unaware of the racial implications.

The photo caused protests and forced the student body and administration to focus on Cal Poly’s campus climate.

“You belong here, and I say that to everyone. I don’t care what your skin tone is, I don’t care what your race is, Black, white, Latino — I don’t care,” Patton said. “I don’t care what your identity may be, or your sexual orientation, your political affiliation, none of those things matter. Your disability status doesn’t matter, documentation status, it doesn’t matter.”

Patton stressed the importance of realizing the impact of racially insensitive costumes or actions. In the event that an offensive mistake is made, students should apologize, instead of defending their intent as well-meaning. 

Patton also said there is a difference between equality, equity and justice. Equality is treating people the same despite systematic barriers, equity is when people are treated differently to overcome barriers and justice is when the systematic barrier is removed, according to Patton. 

Agricultural business freshman Tito Hernandez said Patton’s distinction between equality, equity and justice stuck with him after the speech.

“People say that there’s a lot of equality, and yeah, there’s equity, but where’s the justice?” Hernandez said.

According to Patton, Cal Poly’s goal is to ensure graduates are able to work in a diverse, global society. Patton defined diversity as the state of a community of people who are made up of different social identities, including age, gender, national origin and religious beliefs.

Prior to coming to Cal Poly in June 2017, Patton had worked as Associate Dean for students at Ohio University at Athens since 2014.

Cal Poly’s racial issues are present at other universities nationwide, however, Cal Poly administration stands out in its action to improve campus climate, he said. Last year, swastikas were painted on a wall at Ohio University’s campus the day before Yom Kippur. Students at Northern Arizona University, where Patton earned his doctorate and served as Director of Inclusion and Multicultural Services, wore blackface.

“We are not an anomaly,” Patton said. “It takes time, but we are making steps in that direction.”

Cal Poly has a history of being a predominantly white university, which has arguably led to intolerant actions over the years, including Jim Crow-style flyers in 1998, swastikas in 2013 and alleged blackface in 2018. The Jim Crow flyers were put up to advertise for a show on campus by a comedy group, and featured a Black man with missing teeth and a straw hat. The swastikas were drawn backwards on a resident hall room, above a claim expressing hate toward Black people.

“It’s kind of up to us, and people like [Patton], to show people that don’t really see that equality… to not be ignorant about it, and speak their mind about it,” agricultural business freshman Juan Perez said.

Patton’s involvement in WOW is the latest in a series of attempts by Cal Poly’s administration to improve Cal Poly’s campus climate. Last year, Cal Poly upgraded the position of Chief Officer of Diversity and Inclusion to Vice President of Diversity and Inclusion, allowing the employee to report directly to University President Jeffrey Armstrong.

Student Affairs and the Office of Diversity and Inclusion began planning the new training before Patton joined as part of the Diversity Action Initiative administration released in May.

The Diversity Action Initiative outlines a student diversity advisory committee and expansions of campus-wide allyship training. The initiative also has plans for a forum presenting the university’s “Collective Impact” plan to unite campus programs and departments into attacking diversity issues at Cal Poly by the end of Fall 2018. The initiative also plans mandatory implicit bias training for administrators and the redesign of general education courses to have a greater emphasis on diversity and inclusion.

“Everyone’s going to be able to change, and I know that Cal Poly is changing, and I know that there’s going to be a point in the world that everyone is going to realize and stop being so ignorant as they are right now,” Perez said.

Mustang News is dedicated to the covering of all sections of debate on the Cal Poly campus. To see our recent coverage on diversity issues on campus, read our stories on Sigma Nu’s appointment of a diversity chair before the campus considered mandating them, ASI government’s allocation of $15,000 to bring in more diverse speakers and the student activism calling for a more diverse university. 

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