UPDATED: Cal Poly announces diversity initiatives, excludes ‘Queer Studies’

UPDATE: A statement from Cal Poly's Director of Diversity and Inclusivity has been added at the end of this article.

Despite a last-minute appeal from a student group, California Polytechnic State University did not include a “Queer Studies” program among the diversity initiatives announced last week.

In an open letter published Thursday by Mustang News, the Cal Poly Queer Student Union outlines its support for the idea, which was first mooted in November, arguing that establishing a Queer Studies minor would help to promote inclusivity on campus.

“Coming at a time of student activism unlike ever seen before at Cal Poly, a minor in Queer Studies would show students that Cal Poly is taking active steps to make the campus more inclusive to queer-identified individuals,” the group contends, asserting that “the current invisibility of queer identities within the Cal Poly curriculum has augmented the creation of a campus climate that is unwelcoming towards those within the queer community.”

The letter further claims that the lack of a Queer Studies program causes homosexual students to feel “invalidated,” leading many to transfer to other institutions that do have such curricular offerings.

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“In a world so focused on interpersonal interaction, technical progress, and administrative responsibility, understanding the vast array of perspectives held under the queer umbrella is imperative,” the Queer Student Union concludes. “The Queer Student Union believes this minor is necessary for the success and retention of queer-identified students, and that continued delay in the creation of queer-centered curriculum will deeply, negatively, affect queer students’ lives.”

According to The College Fix, the Queer Student Union has been agitating for the new field of study for months. In November, members of the group stood in front of a stage during a visit by California State University system Chancellor Tim Wise with duct tape over their mouths while holding signs calling for a Queer Studies program. The following month, the group secured an endorsement of its aims from the Women’s and Gender Studies Department.

The idea for a Queer Studies minor was originally proposed as part of a 41-point ultimatum delivered to administrators in November by SLO Solidarity, an unrecognized amalgam of student groups. In addition to the minor, they also demanded a Women’s, Gender, and Queer Studies major, as well as mandatory gender or ethnic studies courses for students in every major.

[RELATED: Cal Poly students submit laundry list of diversity demands]

Yet, The San Luis Obispo Tribune-News reports that none of those offerings were among the 23 initiatives that administrators outlined in letters to students Friday reporting on the school’s effort to promote inclusivity and diversity on campus.

In a letter sent to the school community Friday, Cal Poly President Jeff Armstrong identified 15 measures that are currently underway, along with eight others that require additional consultation before the university moves forward with them.

Although the list of tentative initiatives includes items such as “more intentionality in diversity-related [general education] curriculum” and instituting “new diversity-related curriculum/requirements,” both fall well short of officially enacting the students’ demands, and neither has been given a targeted date for implementation.

On the other hand, the university does plan to implement other measures—such as creating an anonymous online bias-reporting system and developing anti-stigma education around mental health issues—as early as the Fall Quarter of 2016.

“As President Armstrong has said, diversity and inclusion are critically important to the success of all Cal Poly students, faculty, and staff,” Jean DeCosta, interim executive director of the Office of University Diversity & Inclusivity, wrote in a separate letter. “We are committed both to diversifying the community and to creating and supporting a campus climate in which all can flourish.”

Campus Reform contacted President Armstrong’s office to ask whether he has taken a position either for or against the Queer Studies program, and received the following reply from Jean DeCosta, Interim Director of Diversity and Inclusivity:

"As President Armstrong and I both indicated in our notes to campus Friday, this ongoing conversation is critical to the future of our campus, and Cal Poly administration shares the ultimate goal of all campus community members who've spoken out: to make our university as welcoming and inviting as possible to all students, employees and visitors. It is important to point out that the Draft Diversity Action Plan released Friday is just that: a draft. The conversation about campus diversity and inclusivity is in no way finished. The draft document was released in part to show our campus community that university administration is making progress on addressing the issue and in part to help stimulate further discussion. The draft plan outlines efforts already underway, and it gives indications of other efforts that may be undertaken in the short and longer terms. As the discussion continues, university administration expects additional suggestions and ideas to be raised for improving campus climate. Such improvement will be a continuous process, and administrators will continue to listen to input on how to make Cal Poly the best it can be for all members of our campus community."

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