On April 8, during Cal Poly’s PolyCultural Weekend, Lambda Chi Alpha member Kyler Watkins was photographed in blackface at a fraternity event.
Since then, Cal Poly has seen an upheaval in the campus climate.
Response to blackface
April 9, following the blackface incident, the Interfraternity Council (IFC) held a meeting which a group of Cal Poly students attended to voice their frustration. No Lambda Chi representatives were present at the meeting because they were suspended by national headquarters and the university prior to the meeting, according to IFC president and political science junior Colton Marino.
The meeting resulted in a symbolic vote to suspend Lambda Chi.
That same evening, Cal Poly community members organized a town hall meeting. Attendees discussed the incident and called for administrative action, including Watkins’ expulsion.
Student leaders within the community formed the Drylongso Collective, a group of students affected by the “inaction of the Administration.” Shortly after, they released a list of demands.
According to the collective, their first attempt to meet with university President Jeffrey Armstrong and administration was not met to their standards. However, in an email to Mustang News, university spokesperson Matt Lazier wrote that administration has since worked with members of the collective to create progressive dialogue about diversity.
“Meeting with our campus community and having healthy dialogue around these important issues is essential. Simply stated, having our campus reflect the diversity of the state and creating a more inclusive campus culture requires all of us to work together. We cannot do it effectively if we are fractured and not moving in the same direction as one,” Lazier wrote.
The Collective did not return a request for comment.
Open House protests
The weekend following the blackface incident was Open House weekend, where prospective students and their families were welcomed to visit campus.
Student protesters handed out flyers at Farmers’ Market the Thursday of Open House and continued to protest throughout the weekend. Some received significant backlash.
In solidarity with Black students, nearly all cultural clubs chose to boycott the club showcase, an Open House tradition. Instead, many took part in a silent march.
Students marched throughout campus and continued to Santa Rosa Park. On the way to the park, three men in a Cal Poly truck catcalled protester Tianna Arata and spit in the direction of the marchers. Protester and psychology senior Felipe Garcia said he did not hear the comments made by the people in the truck, however he did see the driver spit, at least once, in the direction of the protesters.
Arata did not return the request for comment.
According to Garcia, he had noticed a disruption in the peaceful march. Two women were approaching the Cal Poly truck and appeared upset so Garcia decided to walk over and began recording the men.
“I had to step up, I had to do something. I couldn’t stay quiet, I needed to know that they were supported and let these guys know they couldn’t be doing that stuff,” Garcia said.
Lazier could not provide information regarding the incident due to employee privacy.
“Privacy laws preclude the university from discussing individual employee disciplinary matters,” Lazier wrote.
That same weekend, Open House speaker and agriculture business senior Nimrah Aslam shared her view on Cal Poly’s diversity issue in a speech to prospective parents and students. Several parents left and many parents shouted “boo,” as seen in a video posted to Facebook.
In addition to some parents responding negatively to student action, a professor lectured students of color on how they were being “too sensitive.” Armstrong confirmed this in an interview with the LA Times.
However, Lazier wrote that he could not disclose any information regarding disciplinary actions and that all free speech is protected.
Hateful actions and posters on campus
In contrast, some professors who consider themselves allies — specifically allies of undocumented students — were targets of hate. Several ally posters hung near professors’ offices were found slashed .
Shortly after, flyers with misinformation about students of color were found in bathrooms around campus. Likewise, flyers inciting hate and threats to Greek Life were also dispersed.
Milo Yiannopoulos’ return, related events
The university had already anticipated a need for heavy security presence for alt-right speaker Milo Yiannopoulos’ second visit for Cal Poly College Republicans’ and Cal Poly Turning Points USA’s Fake News Panel. However, only a handful of protesters were present outside of the event.
Instead, many students who had been protesting in weeks prior chose to attend The Kickback hosted by the multicultural center and Black Student Union.
Black Academic Excellence Center (BAEC) coordinator Steve Ross wrote in an email to Mustang News that despite all the incidents this quarter, the role of the BAEC has not been affected.
“The goal of BAEC is to help Black students on campus be successful and part of how I few success is having conversions around diversity and inclusion. Because the students and I have conversations around diversity and inclusion regularly, nothing changed too much in BAEC,” Ross wrote.
Interim suspension of greek life and state investigation
On April 12, IFC presidents chose to place all IFC chapters on probation until further notice.
A few days later, Armstrong announced that all greek life was on temporary interim suspension (TIS) and referenced a photo of a Sigma Nu member misappropriating culture.
According to Lazier, the Sigma Nu photo was brought to the university’s attention on April 8, and was shared with Armstrong in the days that followed.
“The Sigma Nu photos were brought to the university’s attention April 8, and were immediately sent to the appropriate offices for review,” Lazier wrote. “Under normal circumstances, cases of possible student or club discipline aren’t necessarily brought immediately to the attention of all of senior leadership, as they make their way through the appropriate review — this is to ensure there is never any undue influence on the process”
Following the TIS Alpha Chi Omega and Zeta Beta Tau were held under investigation for incidents entirely separate from the blackface incident. In both cases, Lazier said, they were found not in violation of student conduct. However, they, along with all other fraternities and sororities, are still subject to TIS.
In hopes to facilitate change Sigma Nu appointed electrical engineering sophomore Amman Asfaw as the first ever diversity chair on April 15.
The University also implemented a Diversity Action Initiative June 7.
“We believe and hope we can use the events of this spring to unite us and further progress our efforts to do better for our students of color and our student body as a whole,” Lazier wrote.