Cal Poly's annual Change the Status Quo conference will kick off on Feb. 15 with a poetry slam, followed the next day with workshops aimed at empowering young people through social action.
The highlight of that conference will be a presentation by longtime animal rights activist and recent author Dan Mathews. As the vice president of PETA (People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals), he will speak on ways students can influence campus policies concerning, well, the treatment of animals.
Mathews has been with PETA nearly since the group's beginning 25 years ago. During his tenure, PETA has campaigned to end practices such as animal testing in the cosmetic industry and to take the sheen off of fur as a fashion statement. The motor driving their propaganda machine has long found fuel in celebrities, such as Pamela Anderson and Alicia Silverstone, who push the cruelty-free sex appeal angle. But the group has also relied heavily on shocking images of animals that have been wounded and victimized by food or pharmaceutical industries. Those tactics have earned the group countless influential enemies. During a phone interview, Mathews said that the negativity comes with the territory.
"We are a cutting-edge group," he said. "Sometimes we alienate people, and that's par for the course when you're pushing for social change."
Despite PETA's sometimes-controversial image, Mathews said that he didn't expect any protests. In fact, he said he would welcome the chance to debate other viewpoints.
One of PETA's goals, Mathews said, is to make animal rights a consumer issue for young people who are still forming their shopping habits.
Lastly, Mathews said that he'll talk about the rewards of activism.
"A lot of people think that you have to give something up when you become an activist, that you have to lose a part of yourself," he said, "but I think it gives you something. When you get to do something that satisfies your heart, you just feel like you have a more fulfilling life."