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Diversity, Equity and Inclusion

In Her Corner: A Mustang Provides Peer Counseling through the Black Academic Excellence Center

A person wearing a mask stands in an office doorway with colorful flyers on the back of an open door
Written By Robyn Kontra Tanner // Photos by Joe Johnston

“Black joy starts with Black healing.”

Those words led an Instagram post announcing a new peer-counseling resource in the Black Academic Excellence Center (BAEC) launching this quarter. The resource, Kiki’s Corner, is led by child development student Kianah Corey, who offers Black peer group sessions and one-on-one counseling in a confidential, non-clinical space.

“It's a safe space for students to come for coaching or guidance — or even if people need a cheerleader,” says Corey, a student assistant in the BAEC and a student-athlete on the Cal Poly Softball team.

Through the program, Corey hopes she can provide the kind of care and solidarity she needed when she was a first-year student, when an incident of overt racism changed the course of her college experience.

In 2018, she arrived at Cal Poly with an athletic scholarship and a plan to become a teacher. On her third day on campus, another student hurled a racial slur at Corey twice.

“That kind of flipped the switch for everything in my eyes,” says Corey.

At first, Corey didn’t talk really about that day. She soon realized that she needed to see a counselor to process what happened, but a search for Black therapists in San Luis Obispo County only turned up one person — who was booked for months.

A person smiles while wearing a green shirt and black pants sitting on a bench under a tree
Kianah Corey is majoring in child development while working in the Black Academic Excellence Center and playing for the Cal Poly Softball team.

“Therapists and counselors can be as competent as possible, but they may not have necessarily endured the racial trauma that I have,” she said. It felt like she had nowhere to turn for the support she needed.

Frustrated, but motivated, Corey decided to take a new path. She switched her major from liberal studies to child development with the goal of becoming a professional therapist who could provide care to the Black community. Her confidence in her decision grew as she took courses on family psychology and relationships, and earned hands-on peer counseling experience.

Without those experiences, “I would have never known that I was actually good at counseling and therapy and bonding in a vulnerable state with other people,” she says.

Corey found her way to BAEC in 2020 as social justice movements took on new urgency in the aftermath of George Floyd’s murder. In what she calls “one of the biggest days of my life,” Corey opened up about her experiences in frank conversations with coaches, staff and athletes facilitated by Cal Poly Athletics.

“I’m not usually a public speaker in that kind of way — I tend to just listen,” she says. “But in this situation, I decided to say something.”

Afterward Jamie Patton, assistant vice president of Student Affairs for diversity and inclusion, reached out to her and suggested she look into a student leadership position with BAEC.

“I didn't know about these programs until my third year at Cal Poly,” she says. “I want people to know that it's not too late — so many people who come in here in their third, fourth, or fifth year or grad school, and they're just looking for an outlet.  

“For me it was truly life-changing — I have been waiting to meet these types of people quite literally for my entire life.”

Now that Corey’s classes are in-person and BAEC’s physical space is open, she says the center is her “happy place,” where she spends hours studying and supporting Black-identifying students on their journeys through Cal Poly. The BAEC community and its resources help her find balance among her academics, athletics, and the constant pressure to represent her fellow Black students on campus.

And with Kiki’s Corner, Corey believes students will have more of an outlet to be vulnerable with each other, reflect on their unique experiences from different communities and aspire to change the world in different ways. The name of the program is a nod to the open mind she hopes to bring to peer counseling.

“I hated being called Kiki growing up…because it has this sort of hood background,” she says, noting that she grew up in the predominantly-white community of Rancho Murieta near Sacramento. “Then we had this conversation that made me open my eyes — it's kind of like reclaiming the energy. That's why it's called ‘Kiki's Corner,’ so that I'm reclaiming this Blackness in this family-like manner for counseling.”

Now in her senior year, Corey hopes to leave a legacy that helps other Black students heal and thrive. In addition to peer counseling at Kiki’s Corner, she’s working with fellow Mustangs to form an organization for Black student-athletes and helping BAEC partner with Safer to share sexual assault prevention and support resources with students of color.

After graduation, Corey wants to join Cal Poly’s master’s program for counseling and guidance. She says she wants to get a job as a therapist at Campus Health and Wellbeing to ensure students of color have more options when it comes to mental health support.

“I know we're all just small people in a really big world, but I do want to make some sort of impact on Cal Poly's campus and in my eyes — in the most humble way — I feel like I've already done something.”

Visit the BAEC website for information about Kiki’s Corner and more resources.

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