An investigation of the Spring 2018 alleged blackface incident, along with other racially insensitive acts, conducted by the State Attorney General’s Office has come to a close. The investigation concluded that the students’ actions are protected by the First Amendment.
“The acts that occurred at Cal Poly, while profoundly offensive and insensitive – and demonstrating an appalling lack of judgment – were protected as free speech by the First Amendment,” President Jeffrey Armstrong wrote in a campus-wide email Tuesday morning.
After a photo of agriculture business senior Kyler Watkins dressed in alleged blackface at a Lambda Chi Alpha fraternity event spread on social media, multiple protests followed, calling for Watkins’ expulsion and action from the university.
Watkins was not expelled. However, after more racially insensitive acts were presented to Armstrong, Cal Poly requested that the Attorney General, the state’s chief legal officer, investigate the offensive acts and whether fraternities and sororities had violated the California State University (CSU) system’s non-discrimination policy for student activities.
Armstrong notified the campus community of the investigation in a video released May 4.
The actual investigation report is confidential because it names students protected by the Family Educational Rights and Privacy Acts (FERPA), a federal law protecting the confidentiality of student records. However, the email confirms “the Attorney General’s Office has determined that no CSU Executive Orders or state laws were broken by the students.”
The investigation deemed all investigated acts are protected as free speech by the First Amendment. It also clarified that Cal Poly, as a state institution, is required to uphold these free speech rights.
“While we are obligated to obey the law, including the protection of free speech rights, I want to be very clear that we find reprehensible any and all acts aimed at denigrating and hurting any member of our campus community,” Armstrong wrote.
The email briefly stated the investigation uncovered “additional information” on the acts that are set to be reviewed by the Dean of Students Office. This review will look into any individual or organizational violations of the student code of conduct. There are no further details about the Dean’s review at this time.
Armstrong apologized to the campus community and expressed his own views on the incidents, in addition to the investigation’s results.
“I want to again express how deeply sorry I am,” Armstrong wrote. “I wish I could tell you that change will happen overnight and our campus will never experience another act of hate. Sadly, we all know that isn’t realistic. What I can give you is my personal commitment to do everything in my power to improve our campus environment.”
The acts prompted the university to implement a temporary interim suspension of all Interfraternity Council fraternities and Panhellenic sororities. The suspension was lifted a week prior to Fall 2018, with the exception of Lambda Chi Alpha.
IFC voted on Oct. 1 to lift Lambda Chi Alpha’s suspension as well. They are still suspended by the national chapter until April 2019.
The university also implemented a Diversity Action Initiative in June following the events.