University Office of Diversity and Inclusivity
This project has been made possible through the help of the Cal Poly University Office of Diversity and Inclusivity.

Two research assistants presented at the latest Change the Status Quo Conference


Change the Status Quo, February 23, 2019

Change the Status Quo, February 17, 2018

ASEE Annual Conference, June 2017

Student of Color Summit, May 20, 2017

Change the Status Quo, February 18, 2017

Inclusion Starts with Me Teach-In, January 26, 2017

Civil Engineering Senior Capstone Class, October 17, 2017


ACC Findings

Advancing Cultural Change (ACC) has identified three emerging themes that document exclusionary behaviors at Cal Poly and students’ and faculty members’ lived experiences navigating major fields of study segregated by gender and race. These themes suggest connections between white male overrepresentation, especially in the College of Engineering and the College of Business; differential expectations in regards to students' classroom experiences and career aspirations; and stratifications in both prestige and economic capital between colleges. All three of these intersecting phenomena negatively impact underrepresented groups at Cal Poly, and are maintained and reproduced by acts of exclusion and bias often hidden within the daily codes of culture on campus.
One third of respondents to the 2014 OUD&I Campus Climate Survey indicated they had been the targets of exclusionary conduct related to their major field of study. Students call this exclusionary conduct “majorism,” meant to insult or reject non-engineering knowledge and the pursuit of liberal arts education. Majorism is an epistemic bias that grants prestige to technical fields and demeans socially applied education. Majorism is found both between colleges and within colleges. ACC findings suggest connections between majorism, students' career aspirations and gender and race segregation in major fields of study both in the student body and faculty ranks.

“Social science fields have been labeled a “soft” science, they are not “real” science, despite the fact that we conduct highly empirical and valid experiments and studies” (political scientist)


“Through enculturation, society, including students at Cal Poly, think that majors of math and science have more value, despite the truth that all majors are needed within society.” (english major)

Racial Bias

Historically underrepresented minority students report feeling left out and alone in classrooms and labs and are assigned menial tasks in project groups. These underrepresented students report both subtle and overt hostility from some of peers of dominant groups, which contrasts with reports from said groups that their fields are an “even playing field,” where race does not matter and everyone has a fair chance to succeed.


“I’m from the Bay Area which has so much diversity. Here [Cal Poly] it is so shockingly white...I grew up in a totally different culture than most here...My roommates aren’t like me. They gang up on me because I can’t connect with them.” (underrepresented minority engineer)


“He stated in his interview that, in his [business classes], he is confronted with questions like: “What sport do you play?” and “Why do you sound so much like Obama?” (female sociologist)

Gender Bias

Women at Cal Poly face both institutional and interpersonal sexism. Women students in male dominated fields like engineering report feeling intimidated and presumed incompetent. Some male peers refuse to collaborate with their female peers, leading women students to feel isolated and unwelcome. Female faculty report being left out of professional networks, targeted by microaggressions (for example, being interrupted often) and held to higher standards than their male peers.


"Gender has impacted their experience in the field of engineering as the women students feel like they can’t brag or advertise their success.  They feel the need to be quiet in class and not announce their achievements out of fear of being perceived as arrogant.  They felt it was not “cool” to be smart and wanted to be liked by the class." (female engineer)


"Women in engineering are not treated as equals to their male colleagues.  I observed multiple times that in class men would flock around the women solely to socialize with them. Guys could hold an engineering related discussion with another guy, but while talking to girls it frequently turned into a guy attempting to impress her with his experience or knowledge."  (male engineer)

Preliminary Recommendations

1. Flexibility with majors in regards to both declaration and switching

2. Cross-major collaborations between both students and faculty. Have events to showcase what different majors and clubs do, in order to encourage Cal Poly community members to learn more about each other, foster new collaborations and inspire interest in other fields.

3.  Redistribution of funds, salaries and resources across colleges, with 360 transparency of allocation.

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