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Equitable Archival Practice at Kennedy Library

Historically, Cal Poly exists as a predominantly white institution built to serve students from all over California and the world. As time progresses and societal expectations change, the choice of which students are deemed worthy of being served has changed. For decades, it was predominantly white people who were chosen to attend Cal Poly. In the 1930s, women were barred from attending and the first female-identifying student was not let back in until 1956.

Over the years, Cal Poly has seen its student make-up change incrementally. While these changes have seen the white population percentage decrease, white students still make up 54.04% of the student body, while other student populations, like African American students who made up .77% of the student body in 2020, have seen little change in their representation on Cal Poly’s campus, per recent campus statistics. These overwhelming numbers have led to the establishment of a culture of privilege and whiteness that is prevalent on campus today. In recent memory, acts of racism, homophobia, and xenophobia by Cal Poly campus members have made headlines that point to the overarching problems of white supremacy and nationalism that exist on our campus. By choosing to be intentional in the way we describe, we are carefully selecting the language we choose when describing our materials and which materials are worth their recognition for their historical significance.

Our materials pertaining to cultural organizations on campus vary widely depending on the year and which organization is being identified. From year to year, terminology used to racially categorize people has changed as time goes on. As you interact with the archives more, you will begin to recognize how Cal Poly’s response to social progress changed over time. It is our job, as archivists, to understand the historical context of this language, recognize its inherent racism and/or shortcoming, in order to critically engage with how we might use our position to make a difference for the Cal Poly community.