A group of Cal Poly faculty and staff members have established the Central Coast Public Humanities Collaborative to support storytelling projects that cultivate greater understanding of communities on the Central Coast, especially from those whose voices have not been heard historically.

The team includes Farah Al-Nakib of the History Department; Padma Maitland of the Architecture Department; Steven Ruszczycky of the English Department and the Women’s, Gender and Queer Studies Department; Tom Trice of the History Department; and Grace Yeh of the Ethnic Studies Department.

Amid the COVID-19 pandemic, the collaborative focused on gathering and sharing Central Coast residents’ stories during the outbreak through its Central Coast COVID-19 Snapshots project. The team invites community members to share their experiences through interviews, online submissions or a collective journaling project to help create a space for communities to process such a significant and world-altering period. Additionally, the team offers community members workshops in which they can learn about resources and receive guidance on ways to document their experiences. Community members can sign up for the journaling project, submit stories and learn more at centralcoastsnapshots.online.

“How people have experienced the last few months with the pandemic, the stay-at-home orders, and the different working conditions is incredibly varied based on race, economic status and where they live,” said Yeh, who coordinates the Central Coast COVID-19 Snapshots project. “There is no singular experience during this time, and we need to be sure that we understand how our underrepresented and marginalized communities have been affected.”

Looking forward, the team hopes to the lay the foundation for a stronger culture of collaboration within the humanities at Cal Poly, with other academic fields at the university, and with the community at large. The team is also collaborating with the Kennedy Library’s Special Collections and Archives and Creative Works. Through work with students and community researchers and storytellers, who will be trained to share their practices with their fellow community members, the collaborative will ensure that their work is done “with” rather than “to” the groups that they serve.

“As the Central Coast has become more well-known over the years, we have been lax in sharing the experiences and voices of individuals from historically marginalized communities,” said Renee Reijo Pera, Cal Poly’s vice president for Research and Economic Development. “Amplifying these voices is central to our efforts to create a more diverse, equitable and inclusive community that reflects and serves the diverse people of California.”

The project is funded through Cal Poly’s Strategic Research Initiatives (SRI) program, a partnership involving Academic Affairs, Research and Economic Development and University Development. The SRI program identified proposals from Cal Poly faculty and staff that addressed problems facing the Central Coast, California and the world as a whole that also placed an emphasis on the role of undergraduate and graduate student research experiences.
For more information about the SRI program, visit https://research.calpoly.edu/strategic-research-initiatives.