Q&A with Aliyah Purnell, President of Cal Poly’s Black Student Union

Aliyah Purnell, a junior concentrating in management and human resources, is this year’s president of Cal Poly’s Black Student Union. She’s looking ahead toward the new school year anticipating more movement toward an inclusive campus. Hear her perspective on why she chose Cal Poly, what campus climate is like among students, and where she sees herself after graduation.

What brought you to Cal Poly?
I wanted to go to a school that was close enough to home but allowed me enough autonomy. When I toured the Orfalea College of Business I felt like it was a place that I could see myself. Cal Poly seemed like a good fit, and Orfalea an even better one.

Why did you choose to study management and HR?
I took Organizational Behavior during Winter quarter with Dr. Daubert and really enjoyed the content of the class. After reading more about the classes that were required within the concentration I felt like it was the most interesting to me. I also felt like Management and HR was the best concentration for me transitioning into law school after undergrad.

Are there any faculty or campus leaders who have made a difference in your Cal Poly experience?
Renoda Campbell was the advisor for Connections for Academic Success, now Black Academic Excellence Center, and she was such a warm and inviting prescience that made my first weeks at Cal Poly a lot more comfortable.

How did you get involved in Cal Poly’s Black Student Union?
I was walking through the UU during the first week of my freshman year when a member came up to me and very convincingly asked me to come out to the next meeting. During the first meeting, I was encouraged to run for the position of treasurer, but I’m so happy I did because I became invested in the club and its members very quickly.

A lot has happened on campus in the last year. What is your take on the climate among students heading into fall quarter?
I think there is definitely tension on campus because a lot of students do not feel that the administration is fighting for them or hearing their concerns. However, I know that there are some amazing students and faculty on campus that are putting in work to make sure that everyone feels like they are safe and belong at Cal Poly. Within the next year, we will continue to see demonstrations and pushes from minority groups who want our school to be more inclusive.

As president, what are you goals for the Black Student Union and for campus this year?
My goal as president is to help my board achieve all the goals that we have set out to accomplish this year for programming, community service, and education. I would like to see our members feel a greater investment in the club through greater participation, and for the school as a whole be more engaged with our club by supporting our fundraisers and attending our events.

What do you want Cal Poly students outside the Black Community to know about your organization?
Black Student Union was created by and for Black students, but our club meetings and most of our events are open to everyone. We want people of all races and ethnicities to feel like they can be involved with our club in some way.

In addition to being a campus leader, you’re a writer. Tell us about your contributions to Cal Poly Women in Business’ blog, The Wire.
With the Wire, I found that the purpose of the blog aligns with my values which has allowed me to write better content and be more engaged. I was part of the first WIB Wire team and now I will be a senior contributor for the 2017-2018 school year.

What would you consider your dream job after graduation?
I wouldn’t say I have a dream job really. I want to work in the HR field for a bit, but law has always been an interest in mine. I would like to go to law school and concentrate on immigration and labor law. After law school, I would love to either practice law at a firm or work as an advocate.

What’s the best advice you’ve ever received?
You should only compete with yourself. When you are constantly comparing yourself to others, progression seems very minimal. As long as you are continuously growing you should be proud of yourself.

Do you have any guidance for new freshmen arriving on campus this fall?
1. Study hard at the beginning of each of your classes. When you put in the work early, studying for midterms and finals will seem a lot less daunting.
2. Find an organization or two that interests you and try to take some initiative with getting involved by volunteering or running for a board position.
3. Study abroad. You get to experience things you never would in the states and it will help you to better understand yourself.

For more information on Cal Poly’s Black Student Union, visit its Facebook page at https://www.facebook.com/CPSLOBSU/.