BIPOC faculty and staff ask Cal Lutheran leaders for equity

Isabella Breda, Lindsey Potter, and Lexi Ibarra

Around 3 p.m. on Friday, Sept. 18, the People of Color Collective sent a letter to the California Lutheran University Board of Regents, Convocators, the President and cabinet members asking for structural change, with aims to dismantle racist institutions on campus.

“There had been … some serious incidences of racism, anti-black racism on campus, and this is just the tip of the iceberg,” said Paloma Vargas, director of Hispanic Serving Institution Initiatives, professor of Biology and member of the POC Collective in a Zoom interview. “What we realized after that forum [with Dr. Shaun Harper] … was these incidences … have been things that have been happening to faculty and staff for years. And had gone unaddressed.”

The POC Collective is a group of Cal Lutheran faculty and staff members that initially gathered because they felt they needed a place to debrief after the May 20 Race and Equity Workshop with Dr. Shaun Harper, held via Zoom, Vargas said.

“The POC Collective was born out of a need to debrief,” she added. “There was quite a bit going on in the chat of that forum … certain individuals claiming [to have experienced] racism when they are not people of color, they are not BIPOC, they are not in marginalized groups.”

About 65 faculty and staff members joined the Zoom link for an impromptu debriefing session, and now the collective is made up of about 70 people.

The letter outlines three primary action steps: adding a “position and voice on the Cabinet, the Board of Regents, and the Convocation,” actively moving toward the removal of the Gallegly Center and developing an anti-racist team that will serve on the committee to write the 2022 strategic plan.

The ideas within the letter came from a running list of issues members of the POC Collective felt needed to be addressed, said Rona Koe, assistant director of The Writing Center and member of the POC Collective in a Zoom interview. Everyone included in the POC Collective had access to the letter for two months to provide their input, Vargas said.

“Our meetings were kind of … open-ended, free flying, agendaless meetings and then from that came … just discussion about what do we need?” Koe said. “And with a new president coming on board and maybe an opportunity for a new leaf to be turned over, we thought, well … what would we ask for? And so I do believe more people had started with the letter, but then there were four of us that kind of ended up putting all the nails in there.”

Koe, Vargas, Nicole Gonzales, assistant director of Student Life, and a few other members of the POC Collective who wish to remain anonymous were responsible for “fine tuning” the letter, Vargas said.

Some of the POC Collective’s requests stem from students’ activism earlier this year.

Earlier this year, following several racist incidents on campus, Cal Lutheran’s Black Student Union engaged the student body in anti-racist trainings, led a walkout and wrote a letter to the cabinet requesting institutional change.

While faculty and staff have been working toward an equitable campus for years, this year was a tipping point, Vargas said.

Koe added, “And you know, there is risk … there are faculty that are untenured that may experience repercussions. There are, you know, staff positions. There’s [a] COVID financial crisis right now. You know, we don’t know if some departments are suddenly going to be deemed as not as essential as other departments.”

However, there is power in numbers, Vargas said.

The letter, which was shared with faculty, staff and some students, had received 142 signatures of support by 4:45 p.m. Friday.

“We need to be serious about who we are. We need to acknowledge our own privileges. We need to acknowledge our own biases,” Vargas said. “[One of the main goals is] definitely [university leadership] addressing the points of the letter. To have the cabinet, the members of the Board of Regents, [and] the Convocators all understand that we are serious and we are a cohesive group and we have sought support from many other groups on campus.”

Gonzales said that she feels all Cal Lutheran community members should read this letter because the authors are faculty, staff and colleagues of people on campus.

“The least you can do, whether or not you choose to sign the letter, or you believe what the letter says, to at least give people the, not support necessarily, but to at least give us that much right of at least reading it,” Gonzales said.

This article was updated Sept. 19 at 11:50 a.m. to correct the spelling of Gonzales and to reflect that Paloma Vargas said the events in the spring semester were the tipping point for faculty to speak out. A previous version of this article stated that students led the way for faculty to speak out.