She had set her eyes on the presidency ever since she came to Cal Poly as a freshman, when her brother Jason was president. Since she finalized that decision her sophomore year, Jana Colombini has not faltered in her commitment to Cal Poly and its students. Leading a campus during a time of strong student activism and political frustration required her to hold tight to her platform of Care, Communicate and Connect to provide space for student expression, while furthering positive change in the campus community. Last week, The Wire was able to sit down with outgoing ASI President Jana Colombini to discuss her time in office.
You recently moderated the Dynamic Diversity Panel at the Women in Business Defining Her Future Conference. What compelled you to be a part of that opportunity?
I think Women in Business is amazing. I love the whole organization and the conference-type feel to the event, I love what it stands for. I’m not a business major, so I’ve been interested in what WIB does and how we can bring that to other sectors around campus and into other industries that are historically male-dominated. I’m an Agriculture student, so I really resonated with the [organization’s mission], and so when students in WIB reached out to me, I was totally down for it, I was excited to get involved and give back in a small way, because I appreciate so much of what the organization does on our campus.
How did you incorporate diversity into your cabinet decisions? Have you seen it as beneficial?
Of course someone can’t just select people for positions just based off of their gender. What was cool though was, without doing any sort of special recruitment, we had a very diverse applicant pool. Those 24 applicants were far more diverse than Cal Poly alone. It was amazing to see, it kind of made me feel great that between myself and Chief of Staff Anthony [Haddad], we were creating an inclusive environment. People felt comfortable coming into student government, and didn’t feel as if it were an elitist organization or they needed millions of qualifications just to serve. I’ve learned so much about other cultures and other religions because of my cabinet members, and it’s helped a lot because it brings in all of these different perspectives that we may not think about.
How did you create that inclusive environment?
I think it had a lot to do with my platform resonating with those students. My platform revolved around Care, Communicate and Connect, and under the aspect of Care was increasing diversity and inclusion. I went into my campaigns saying Cal Poly has an issue with diversity and inclusion on campus, and I want to fix it. I was very straightforward with what I was looking for as far as what I wanted to do this year. I’d like to think that they just loved my platform and they loved Anthony and I and wanted to apply because of that, and somehow we created a friendly, kind of homey, charismatic environment that they wanted to be a part of.
What was it like to be president during a time of such strong student activism?
It was difficult. I’m [not the kind of person] who is always going to be out there, holding the sign and marching. Some say that means I’m not an activist and I’m not pro-activism. I say I ran for president because I’m an activist, because I want to make a change on campus. The way I demonstrate my activism is by running for office, to create a change in a way that I wanted to create the change. I was able to lead through this activism by making sure students had a place to do it and not speaking against them or for them. Some students would wish I was out there holding the sign with them and I totally respect them for that, but as the student body president I represent both sides of the table, all sides of the table, on every issue. It’s been tough. I want to be out there, but then I have to think about how I’m also representing the students I’d be protesting against. I remove myself and try to remain neutral, but make sure we’re still on a path to diversity and inclusion and that those who have constantly been marginalized have their voice heard.
Comment on a recent Senate Resolution that you think is important or you hope to see as a trend for the future of Cal Poly.
There was a resolution passed last night [5/10/2017] about feminine hygiene products being offered for free around campus. That was a very controversial resolution on a multitude of different aspects, the main being cost. The authors of the resolution went out and did their homework and got the answers and presented it to the board, and it passed. I think that’s an important trend for Cal Poly because we identified a group of students who makes up half of our campus who would use this and discovered something to help them, and the members of the board were able to understand, on an impact level, why this was important. We made sure that underrepresented and marginalized students have a voice in student government and that we are thinking about low-income students.
What has ASI done this year to allow equal opportunity for all students on campus?
We are trying to make ASI as inclusive as possible, and I think we have made huge strides towards inclusivity within our organization. I say just inclusivity because you have to have inclusivity first before any sort of diversity. People get mad at the University, saying we need more students of color on this campus. Okay that’s great, so then we get more students of color, but there’s no retention. We’re recruiting diverse people and that’s awesome, but we don’t have the resources they need. We can recruit black students for instance, but we don’t have a Black Resource Center, we don’t stress black role models who have graduated from Cal Poly, and we don’t focus on asking them to dance, we only focus on inviting them.
So we’ve done the first step of undocumented student ally training for all student government members, we’re done a veteran’s net ally training, we did an inclusive leadership training and the vast majority of our full time staff went through LGBTQ+ ally training.
I also have a Secretary of Diversity and Inclusion on my cabinet, and it works out well because she also works for the Cross Cultural Center, so that has made for incredible collaborations and we’ve been able to sponsor a lot of their events.
The biggest thing that ASI has done this year as far as Diversity and Inclusion and creating that equal opportunity on campus is allocating through our UU Advisory Board around $650,000 to renovate the Rose Float office into expanded Cross Cultural Space, adding 1,000 square feet onto their space. To put that into perspective, their current space is 200 square feet. We’re trying to lead the way for the University to show how easy it is to create equal opportunities for students and to change the system so that it works for everyone.
Is there anything else you’d like to say to our readers?
I have been denied positions on this campus before for being female, and the best way to get back at someone for not selecting you for a position is to be far better than that person will ever be, and to prove to that person truly how qualified you are, even for something beyond that position they did not select you for that you are now in, and you are now doing an excellent job at.
And, never ever let anyone put you down because of something that you cannot change. That stuff exists on this campus, unfortunately, but it helps that we have female presidents to prove that we are qualified and we deserve this power and these positions.
*THIS INTERVIEW HAS BEEN LIGHTLY EDITED FOR STYLE AND CLARITY
THE OPINIONS OF THIS AUTHOR DO NOT NECESSARILY REFLECT WOMEN IN BUSINESS AS A WHOLE.