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Diversity, Equity and Inclusion

Campus Community Talks Equity, Inclusion in Range of Topics At Teach In

Three students sit at a table having a discussion. The middle student, who is wearing a turban, leads the discussion.
Written By Cal Poly News Staff // Photos by Dylan Head

At the seventh annual Teach In on Feb. 9, students, faculty, staff and community members gathered for a day of learning, discussion and deep thinking on equity and social justice topics.

It was clear how much the event has grown since its beginnings in the College of Liberal Arts. This year, the Teach In was separated into five different tracks focused on specific topics including Pop Culture and Media, Pathways to Hispanic-Serving Institutions, and Reproductive Justice.

Two women are talking next to a T-shirt that will be screen printed with a fist.
An Art and Design Activist Artmaking Workshop taught participants how to make different forms of activist art.

“We’re always looking to make sure we have a variety of topics across many different fields so that everyone can find something that they’re interested in,” said Jennifer Teramoto Pedrotti, interim associate vice president for academic initiatives and associate dean for diversity and curriculum in the College of Liberal Arts. “It’s also a good opportunity to see that diversity, equity and inclusion touches every field in some way.”

Pop Culture and Media track sessions ranged from discussions on multiracial microaggressions in TV to resistance in the Star Wars universe.

A session called “’Killing Him Will Risk Eternal War’: Black and Indigenous Tensions and Solidarities in Black Panther: Wakanda Forever” saw Ethnic Studies Department professors Lydia Heberling, Dan Castilow and Jorge Moraga leading a lively discussion about the Black Panther movies, representation in film and the limitations of corporate diversity and inclusion efforts.

Another session on the track, “Woman, Life, Freedom,” was presented by students Alla Albolhassani and Melissa Toussimer. Albolhassani and Toussimer, who are both Iranian-American, broke down the issues at stake in the ongoing protest movement in Iran that has gripped the nation since fall of 2022.

On the Pathways to Hispanic-Serving Institutions track, biological sciences Professor Alejandra Yep, liberal studies Professor Jasmine Nation and their students Hector Reyes, Chanel DeSmet and Evelyn Soto spoke about their experiences creating Nuestra Ciencia, a Spanish-language outreach program for school-age children that teaches them microbiology concepts. The goal of the program is to get kids excited about science, share it with their families, create relationships with college students and combat systemic inequalities and barriers to STEM education.

A brightly lit classroom full of community members pays attention to a panel of students at the front of the room.
A panel of student leaders from College of Engineering clubs lead a discussion on thriving in the college as students with diverse identities.

In another session on the track, “We Have to See to Serve: Latinx Students On Being Seen in the Curriculum,” Latinx students from the Humanities in Chicano/a Culture (WLC 312) class spoke about seeing their experiences and culture highlighted in an educational setting. For some, it was the first time they learned about Chicano history in depth — and the first time they felt represented in the curriculum.

“It’s fascinating to learn all of these things that I hadn’t learned,” said Yarely de la Cruz, a third-year political science major and Spanish minor who grew up in Mexico and moved to the U.S. in high school. “I realized how much it mattered to me to hear the Chicano history. There are things we learn that I think everyone should know — why isn’t this basic knowledge?”

Participants in a drum circle gather around the leader, a Black man in the center, as they learn drumming patterns.
Tracy Morgan, center, along with leaders Julie Lynem, left, and Courtney Haile, right, guide participants through a drum circle.

In “Sex Education @ Cal Poly,” one of the offerings on the Reproductive Justice track, Professor Joni Roberts shared research from the Sex and Reproductive Health Lab, which has explored attitudes and knowledge on campus through a lens of reproductive justice since 2021. After challenging the audience on some common myths and facts, Roberts and student researchers Gabriella Snow and Alexa Asson noted that any degree of sexual health education — whether abstinence-based or comprehensive — doesn’t always translate into healthy practices.

To help the Cal Poly community, the team developed the sexual education modules that will be available to every student through the Canvas course software by the end of spring quarter. The modules will feature comic strips, videos and graphics to explore relevant topics: consent, pleasure, queer sex, contraception, STIs and how to have tough conversations with partners and peers.

The other two tracks, DEI in Engineering and Restorative Justice: Beyond Incarceration saw professors and students alike speaking about social justice topics in engineering and incarceration, respectively.

But not all Teach In events fit into the tracks.

In “Why Does it Matter Whose Land We Are On?”, a discussion on Indigenous sovereignty and dignity, Ethnic Studies Department lecturer Becca Lucas, a member of the yak titʸu titʸu yak tiłhini Northern Chumash Tribe, asked attendees to consider the relationship between the university’s Learn by Doing tradition and its connection to the land.

A blue t-shirt that is being screen printed with the words "Support Artists of Color" from a workshop at the Teach In.
One of the shirts created at the Art and Design Activist Artmaking workshop.

As so many students study land-based subjects, from architecture to agriculture, she asked how to reconcile the promotion and use of Indigenous land management practices in class — such as controlled burning, irrigation, weeding and intercropping — without acknowledging their roots, while living in a settler colonial society.

Land acknowledgement is a first step, Lucas said, but also needs a deliverable — for example, the yakʔitʸutʸu residence halls, which prompts students to learn about the Northern Chumash Tribe and language.

“Imagine what our future and present would look like if we did – if we didn’t ignore that past because it’s hard,” Lucas continued. “Once you have the knowledge, you have a responsibility. So, get that knowledge, recognize that power in knowing and then do something with it.”

Not all sessions were strictly presentations, either: one activity, titled “A Space of Our Own,” presented by Journalism Department lecturer Julie Lynem, R.A.C.E. Matters SLO co-founder Courtney Haile and drum circle leader Tracy Morgan, took the form of a drum circle. Within the circle, attendees talked and drummed about what they might want to see in Texture, a Black-centered, multicultural space that will soon open in San Luis Obispo.

A Black man holding a drum speaks to participants of a drum circle at Dexter Lawn.
Tracy Morgan leads a drum circle on Dexter Lawn.

While Morgan taught participants the basics of African drumming patterns, he noted some of the history, messages and community woven into the drumming experience.

“The Teach In represents a day for all of us to stop for a moment and take the time to learn something knew about topics related to social justice,” said Teramoto Pedrotti, adding that her favorite part of the Teach In is hearing snippets of conversations students, staff and faculty have about events they are planning to attend or have attended.

“In almost every talk, you also see students watching their professors join in and debate and discourse with each other about scholarly topics related to social justice. They're learning by listening and by jumping in themselves and seeing their professors in a new light as a scholar in addition to a teacher.”

Cal Poly News writers Gabby Ferreira, Robyn Kontra Tanner, Larry Peña and Cynthia Lambert contributed to this story.