This letter reflects the opinions of journalism senior Rachel Foote. This was originally published as an article on Foote’s personal LinkedIn profile. Letters to the editor do not reflect the opinions or editorial coverage of Mustang News.
My university made national news. Cool, right? Almost. My university made national news because a fellow student I’ve never met painted his face black. My university made national news because his fellow brothers were then exposed to have been dressed as gangsters at the same event that the aforementioned classmate donned the now infamous “Cal Poly blackface.” My university made the news for being racist and I am … confused.
My university did not make national news when people wrote racial slurs on the “free speech wall” that stood in the middle of campus for everyone to see. My university did not make national news when the Cal Poly Republicans encouraged members to wear holsters and gun-related paraphernalia to campus mere days after the Florida shooting. My school did not make national news when a student’s dorm room was vandalized and “I love n***ers” and homophobic slurs were painted on his belongings. But some kid in a frat painted his face black, and my university is on national news.
My university’s response? Not to expel that student. Not to mandate ethnic studies classes for all students like other General Education courses. Not to release a list of clothing and behavior that could be considered culturally appropriative for those students who might genuinely just be ignorant (though I don’t believe Mr. Watkins was genuinely ignorant, his reputation precedes him). My university’s response was to put all of greek life on indefinite suspension.
I’ll say it out loud: greek life has had their you-know-what’s covered for them on a multitude of issues. From sexual assault to pledging practices, they’ve received their fair share of cover-ups. But not today. Why? Because this administration does not genuinely care about changing the culture and climate of this campus, they care about their reputation. They needed someone to blame, but since blaming the student himself with a fair punishment such as expulsion or mandatory ethnic studies classes would apparently infringe on his First Amendment rights, the most philanthropic and volunteer-oriented part of the student body is now on its way to being obsolete.
What dies with greek life? Aside from hundreds of thousands of dollars towards charities through individual philanthropies annually, potential enrollment rates and, for a lot of students, the organizations and places where they found solace, support and friendship, the biggest thing to die with the suspension of greek life is Cal Poly’s credibility. They have made a blatant and large mistake in consistency. They have said that sexual assault, racism, bigotry and student safety are meaningless until it hurts the Cal Poly reputation on a national level. Because let’s face it, that is the ONLY reason anything is being done.
What does the suspension of greek life actually do for Cal Poly’s diversity and climate? Please. I actually want to know. I’m not even in greek life; I’m just a student who cannot believe this almost insultingly transparent Public Relations (PR) ploy is genuinely what my administration came up with. Interfraternity Council had already voted to put themselves on indefinite social probation. Panhellenic was literally in the process of doing the same when the president of the university and several members of administration waltzed into their meeting and declared the decision was their own. Other greek organizations were prepared to stand AGAINST Lambda Chi Alpha and the now infamous Kyler Watkins. They were drafting needs assessments and inclusivity plans.
But we needed someone to blame, didn’t we? Because the pressure was on. Eyes were on us. So now I go to a university that is not only racist, but would rather blatantly scapegoat a group of students than lose funding from people whose pockets are deeper than their knowledge of cultural awareness. Because isn’t that what it comes down to? Administration was going to lose funding they could use to give themselves another raise rather than maybe, I don’t know, update crumbling College of Liberal Arts buildings or found scholarships for those minority and low-income students they allegedly care so much about (without gouging our out-of-state students). Congratulations Cal Poly, now you’ve got a racism problem and a PR one.
*This letter has been edited for clarity.