An open letter: Is Cal Poly in crisis, or are we overreacting?

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*** Aliyah Purnell is a business administration junior, a senior contributor for The Wire, and the president of the Cal Poly Black Student Union. The views represented in this article do not necessarily represent the views of Women in Business and its members. 

This whole week, leaders of cultural organizations at Cal Poly have been receiving emails, texts and Facebook messages all asking the same questions. How do you feel? Are you interested in interviewing or commenting? What is your club going to do about this? What are you going to do about this?

The truth is, I didn’t know the answers to a lot of those questions, because I didn’t think I would ever have to address such an abhorrent and emotional issue such as blackface and other racist latinx stereotypes.

Before this incident, Cal Poly has had a history of inaction when there have been attacks on underrepresented groups on campus. Before this incident, students have experienced horrible things and have been told time and time again that they are overreacting. This is not new.

Something else that is not new, and is not restricted solely to the events at Cal Poly, is the constant invalidation of protests, and even emotions. It has become common place to write people off when a person has not experienced a similar situation first hand. This has to stop.

Even if these events have not been your experience, that doesn’t mean that they didn’t happen.

Students at this school, whose main goal should be to learn as much as they can, have been forced to neglect what should be their top priority.

It doesn’t mean that people haven’t felt unsafe because of what happened. It doesn’t mean that people haven’t been affected emotionally. It doesn’t mean that people don’t live day to day drained because they have to take on responsibilities or face challenges that their white peers don’t. It doesn’t mean that they can be discredited.

The following is a list of experiences as well as observations and accounts regarding what has happened over this past week.

  • A white freshman yelling out his windows in response to protestors chanting “racists have got to go” while laughing, “There are no racists here”
  • Fellow students avoiding your gaze while walking to class
  • Fellow students looking at you apologetically because of the skin you live in and the place you go to school (especially after events like the nava-ho party and this recent blackface incident)
  • A student who was protesting being pushed by a police officer
  • Having a police offer snicker while you protest, questioning your conviction and intentions for protesting
  • Having someone spit in your face and call you ni***r while walking to a job interview. Then having to proceed to that job interview and act like everything is fine
  • Realizing that to so many people, this was just another protest and that those protesting are just more marginalized people who are complaining
  • Having prospective students of color who ask you how it really is here, and knowing you have two options. One, tell them how you feel walking around this campus, and be completely honest about the negative aspects of Cal Poly. Or two, lie to them to try and get them to come here to increase minority groups but knowing they might be miserable when they get here
  • Having to personally take the initiative to stop students of color on tours of Cal Poly to inform them of clubs like BSU and MEXA and the cultural sororities and fraternities that can offer them support if they decide to come to Cal Poly

Honestly, the list of experiences could go on and on. A lot of those bullets apply to things I have experienced personally, and unfortunately when I tell other people of color, they share the same experiences as me.

From all of this, what I want Cal Poly students to understand is that so many of the people of color you see around this campus put their heart and soul into not only their school work, but their extracurriculars as well. They create clubs, they run them, they work constantly to improve them. They have jobs and apply for internships. They handle family issues.

These students do all of this without the privileges that so many of their white peers enjoy. These privileges include so many things that members of these majority groups most likely don’t even have to think about. Not having to worry if the last name on your resume is “too ethnic” sounding. Not wondering if the reason you didn’t get a job or even an interview has something to do with your accent or what you look like. Being able to spend this past weekend attending a music festival or laying out by the pool while other students spent seven hours marching for safety and basic respect. Being able to walk around a campus surrounded by people who look like you.

We want to see our administration serve their students, all of their students. Not just the ones that have the money to buy their servitude.

That’s why we protest, that’s why we try to shine light upon the things the university sweeps under the rug time after time.

When events like last weekend happen, we want action.

We want to see grown people held accountable for their actions. We want the excuse of ignorance to be forgotten. We want our fellow students to have to learn our history as we have had to learn theirs since the day we set foot in a school. We want to see our administration serve their students, all of their students. Not just the ones that have the money to buy their servitude.

We want our protests, open letters, demands, statements and emails to be read and processed. We want to see change occur at this school. We want to attain our education in a space where we know that we are safe and where we feel just as important as any white student on this campus.

We want all of this so badly that for the past week so many people have gone without sleep, food, attending class, doing homework or going to work. Students at this school, whose main goal should be to learn as much as they can, have been forced to neglect what should be their top priority.

We are tired. I am tired.

I hope that people realize that this is a dedicated group of students and that this will not end until change comes to this campus. And I hope that people realize that change would come a lot faster if they used their privilege to amplify the voices of minority students.

If you are going to continue to say that you are not racist and that you care about minorities on this campus, I ask you to prove it.

1 comments on “An open letter: Is Cal Poly in crisis, or are we overreacting?”

  1. Thank you Aliyah. This is exactly what needed to be said and I encourage you to continue to use your voice in various outlets outside of Cal Poly so that others are aware of the struggle for inclusion and respect that is occurring daily for so many students at Cal Poly and beyond. The University’s response continues to create a safe place for white supremacy with it’s lack of consequences for students who engage in this type of behavior. It is counter productive to the work of so many cultural groups and reinforces the message of impunity for whites. I understand free speech but the University has failed to be a pillar of change. They can’t talk about diversity and not take the risks associated with achieving that goal. Real change takes courage and involves risks. Cal Poly, much like other institutions, are not willing to risk losing donors enough to have a backbone in the fight for inclusion. What they fail to realize is that when you lose some, you gain others who support the movement. Again, thank you for sharing your experience. I know it is tiresome, but do not grow weary in doing good.


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