Every student has their own reason for choosing Cal Poly. Many claim they were drawn to the university for a specific program or the environment of San Luis Obispo. However, student activism is not a reason for enrollment; protests throughout Cal Poly’s history are shockingly few in number and small in size.
Recent outrage over racially insensitive incidents sparked some of the largest protests Cal Poly has seen. These protests not only condemned the racist acts of fraternities, including the Lambda Chi Alpha member in blackface, but called out Cal Poly for fostering a culture of racism.
Terry Jones, the Social Sciences department chair, has been at Cal Poly since 1998, and wrote in an email that he remembers “next to none [protests] here in my first ten years” and the ones he did witness were “not disruptive — that is they were not really protests.” While his beginning years at Cal Poly did not produce memorable protests, he wrote “it seems to me that activism has significantly increased on our campus, particularly in the last five years.”
Not all professors believe activism is on the rise. Timothy Barnes, a history professor who has taught at Cal Poly since 1969, has seen little growth in activism. “In my 50 years here, I’ve noticed no change whatsoever. Protests have always been at a minimum, even in the midst of the Vietnam war. University campuses across the country erupted and there were just small protests here,” Barnes said.
The recent protests did impress the professor, however. “I was very pleased to see the reaction of students being offended. It restored my faith in young people,” Barnes said.
Maggie Cox, a second year Sociology student who has participated in recent protests, thinks Cal Poly’s culture needs to change for student activism to increase in the future. “I feel like people are getting more enraged at this moment and are more willing to get involved because things have gotten to a tipping point. But at the same time, campus culture isn’t centered around any kind of advocacy or activism, so it’s hard to make that sustained,” Cox said.
Below is a timeline highlighting the few protests and demonstrations Cal Poly has seen during the past 58 years. This is not an exhaustive list.