Eric Stubben is a mechanical engineering sophomore and Mustang News conservative columnist. These views do not necessarily reflect the opinion or editorial coverage of Mustang News.
Eighteenth century French writer, Voltaire, once wrote, “I do not agree with what you have to say, but I’ll defend to death your right to say it.” Ironically, he also had a not-so striking revelation: “Common sense is not so common.”
I’m not sure I can find any two quotes to better summarize the events of last weekend’s “Colonial Bros and Nava-hos” party. Although the party’s theme is quite creative, it clearly wasn’t thought out. Any public party theme that mixes a derogatory, slang word for women with a race or ethnicity is certain to cause a stir.
What concerns me isn’t the party itself, but Cal Poly’s administrative response to the party.
First of all, realize this is only a fraternity party. I guarantee this isn’t the first frat party that uses the word “hoe” or other degrading terms. Thrusting the theme of a fraternity party into the spotlight of the entire university is an irresponsible, shoot-from-the hip reaction. Our administration is bringing an issue to the forefront that can have no form of punishment.
The United States Constitution protects freedom of speech in the First Amendment. Referenced in a Mustang News article last week, the U.S. Supreme Court’s ruling on university harassment sets a high level of offense before words exceed free speech and are labeled “harassment.” Words or actions must be “so severe, pervasive, and objectively offensive, and that so undermines and detracts from victims’ educational experience, and the victims are effectively denied equal access to an institution’s resources and opportunities.”
The party clearly did not overstep any of the Supreme Court’s outlined boundaries. It’s rare that a party actually affects one’s educational experience, and this one certainly did not. The most important thing in defense of the party’s theme is that while it may have offended and frustrated some, it did not forcefully restrict access to any of Cal Poly’s resources or opportunities. Women, minorities or others offended by the party’s theme did not have to attend.
Cal Poly’s United Sorority and Fraternity Council (USFC) bylaws state that the purpose of the council is to, “ensure a pleasant social atmosphere,” and “foster cultural awareness both on and off campus.” While the party most likely did not foster cultural awareness, the wording of the bylaws is vague and no punishments are defined.
If Cal Poly truly wants to pursue a punishment against the party’s host, the school may be in danger of escalating the current issue into national headlines. Racism, oppression and bigotry will reflect upon Cal Poly on a national stage. While these are the ideals our administration feels it must subdue, they are exactly the ideals that are gaining media attention and attaching themselves to Cal Poly.
Although our administration set up a forum to discuss the issue, it seemed like nothing more than a waste of time. More than 100 people gathered in Chumash Auditorium to beat the terms “racism” and “tolerance” to death. Some even went as far as to say they felt uncomfortable on campus and generalized Cal Poly as a racist and oppressive school. Another student stretched Native American relations into a comparison with the Holocaust. These generalizations are far more insulting to students at Cal Poly than a poor play on words at a fraternity party.
Not one student stood up and defended the party’s First Amendment right at the forum. Why? I presume the overwhelming number of pro-punishment supporters at the forum created such a blatantly one-sided atmosphere that it would’ve been hard to hear one voice from pro-First Amendment activists.
This whole issue is jeopardizing race relations and the future of diversity at Cal Poly. President Armstrong stated in his agenda at the beginning of the year that improving diversity on campus is one of his main goals. By magnifying such an issue into the spotlight, President Armstrong and his staff are severely hindering the success of this goal. With our administration’s overreaction to the party, any punishment will be highly publicized and could be highly unconstitutional.
When all is said and done, the students of Cal Poly need clarity on the issue. What is the greater concern? Is it the racial play on words, the degradation of women, or the lack of diversity at Cal Poly? None of these will be solved quickly, let alone through a forum. What we need to know is if Cal Poly is willing to respect our freedom of speech.
While racial tensions and degradation of women are problems that still exist in modern society, a breach of our constitutional right to freedom of speech is significant. Cal Poly’s administration does not have to agree with everything said on campus, but they must respect our right to say it.