Hanna Crowley | Mustang News

While looking through the Cal Poly class catalog, political science sophomore Milo Wolter felt like something was missing at Cal Poly. 

As Wolter ran down the list of the Ethnic Studies Department’s programs, he noticed that Cal Poly has “Latin American studies, Indigenous studies, Asian-American studies – [but] nothing for Black students,” Wolter said. “It just seemed like such a massive discrepancy.”

To change that, Wolter reached out to ethnic studies professor Alpen Razi last November to work on establishing a Black Studies minor program.

Wolter said Razi helped him draft a minor proposal that accurately reflects the socio-historical realities of Black history and experiences. Similarly, Wolter says, Razi and ethnic studies professor Dan Castilow II also helped him get his proposal in front of Janelle Navarro, the chair of the Ethnic Studies Department. Razi said that Navarro and other faculty in the Ethnic Studies Department have been receptive to Wolter’s proposal. 

The minor would cover a variety of interdisciplinary classes including, but not limited to, ES 254: Introduction to African American Studies, ES 311: Beyonce: Race, Feminism and Politics, HIST 308: The Trans-Atlantic Slave Trade and PSY 260: African American Psychology. The courses listed in the proposal already exist in Cal Poly’s catalog. 

Read the full proposal here.

Cal Poly is among the minority of CSU campuses with no Black Studies or Africana Studies program. 

Wolter said the recent attacks on AP African American studies by Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis, as well as the sustained attacks on Critical Race Theory by conservative pundits and politicians, was a motivating factor for him to work on implementing the minor at Cal Poly.

“The recent news with DeSantis was something that motivated me,” Wolter said. “It just showed me how there’s a national campaign to suppress Black studies, history and experiences.” 

Razi started teaching ethnic studies courses, with a focus on Black studies, at Cal Poly six years ago. He said that during his time at Cal Poly, he has noticed Cal Poly suffers from a lack of courses relating to Black studies. However, with recent “diversity hires” in the College of Liberal Arts, Razi said there has been a “groundswell of resources available from which we can cobble together the basis of a Black Studies program.” 

“It’s only within the past couple of years that the College of Liberal Arts has made a push toward diversity hires and with them there is now a greater ability to teach topics that were previously marginalized,” Razi said. 

Since 2017, the College of Liberal Arts has hired 22 new assistant professors as a part of their cluster hires focused on diversity, equity and inclusion. 

“Black faculty are still underrepresented at Cal Poly,” Razi said. “Cal Poly continues to lose Black faculty…and that’s partially an effect of [Cal Poly being] a predominantly white institution.”

The minor also seeks to partially redress Cal Poly’s retention problem with Black faculty by creating a space for Black students and faculty to connect with other Black students and faculty on campus, according to the proposal. It would also act as a method of attracting more Black students and faculty by “promoting the study of Black experiences,” according to the proposal.

Razi said the response from his colleagues in the Ethnic Studies Department regarding the possibility of a Black Studies minor has been overwhelmingly positive. However, one major hurdle stands in the way of the Black Studies minor: the semester conversion plan. 

The semester conversion prevents any new majors or minors from being established until 2026 when the conversion takes place, according to a resolution passed by the Academic Senate in February 2022. 

“Worst case scenario, I believe, [the semester conversion] will defer the realization of a program like this,” Razi said. 

Ultimately, both Razi and Wolter believe that the minor will be added to the Cal Poly catalog in 2026 and that the semester conversion is only an administrative hurdle that will be overcome in due time.