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Celebrating Identity with “#IAmCalPoly”

By Larry Peña and Becky Zieber

Photos by Kate Baird

It can be easy for underrepresented students to feel alone in their identity and background. This past year, Cal Poly’s Multicultural Center (MCC), the Kennedy Library, and the Office of University Diversity and Inclusivity relaunched a special effort to celebrate those unique identities across the Cal Poly community through a photography project called “#IAmCalPoly.”

“Over and over at the MCC we hear from students who feel like they’re the only one from their background,” said Que Dang, a former coordinator at the center who helped launch the project. “We know that’s not true, and we wanted to be able to show our underrepresented students that they’re not alone.”

“#IAmCalPoly” began in 2014-15 as a forum to let students share what makes them unique. “The goal was to empower students to use their voice to talk about their identities in their own terms,” said psychology professor Jennifer Teramoto Pedrotti, another coordinator of the project.

The first year, students were invited to discuss the way they saw themselves, the way others saw them, and how they navigated the differences. They were photographed holding signs describing themselves on their own terms. The project was primarily student run, with students doing most of the photography and design work.

To widen the scope even more, in its second year “#IAmCalPoly” included faculty and staff as subjects, highlighting the role of mentors in building an inclusive campus community. The photos from this year’s installment were displayed in a gallery at Kennedy Library during spring and summer quarters and will be featured in a campuswide campaign called “Inclusion Starts with Me” during the 2016-17 academic year.

“The last two years of the project were about giving voice to underrepresented students, and now it is about how we all work together as a campus,” said Catherine Trujillo, another of the founding coordinators and exhibits and campus arts curator at the Kennedy Library. “It is an opportunity to hear firsthand from somebody about what they are experiencing, and that can really promote understanding.”

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