Imagine for a minute that high school seniors, Cal Poly students, alumni and the community at large were celebrating Poly Royal this weekend instead of Open House-but celebrating Poly Royal in name only, without the negative connotations of riots, arrests and drunkenness this name conjures up.
For her senior project, journalism senior Jemma Wilson conducted a public relations campaign to determine whether this change could in fact be made on campus.
“(It’s about) keeping the events the same, but changing the name back to Poly Royal because of its recognition,” Wilson said. “It’s nationally known as Poly Royal. It should be changed back.”
Poly Royal was cancelled in 1990 after drunken riots resulted in 140 arrests, ending nearly 50 years of tradition.
People would understand that the event is different than it was before, Wilson said. Furthermore, if the name was changed more alumni would both know what the event is and feel welcome to come back and participate in it once again, she added.
“There’s no connection for Poly alumni who remember the good ol’ days, so to speak. People who graduated before 1985 don’t know what Open House is,” said George Ramos, Wilson’s senior project adviser and the journalism department chair. Ramos graduated from Cal Poly in 1969.
“It would be a chance for Poly to retain some of its tradition (since) Poly Royal is unique to Cal Poly,” Ramos added.
Cal Poly has a long tradition of open house-type events, with the first, “Farmers’ Picnic,” dating back to 1904.
Fearing that Cal Poly could be shut down, the school needed a new event that could “show the public what Cal Poly was all about,” as Wilson stated in her project. So, in 1933, the university held its first Poly Royal. Over the years, the event and its activities evolved and grew, attracting more and more students and alumni, and establishing in the process a unique, nationally recognized event.
But in 1990, Poly Royal took a different turn, resulting in three days of alcohol-induced riots and 140 arrests. President Warren Baker ultimately decided to cancel the event permanently.
Four years later, the administration, with Baker’s approval, created Open House, an event that sought (and still seeks) to focus more on conditionally admitted students. Retaining several of Poly Royal’s traditions, Open House took a different approach, trying to downplay the party atmosphere as much as possible.
But what if a different approach could be taken once again? What if the events of Open House and its public relations campaign against “Party” Royal could be kept, but the name changed back to Poly Royal?
As part of her campaign, Wilson conducted about 200 surveys – giving about half of these to current Cal Poly students and half to San Luis Obispo residents, some of whom were Cal Poly alumni. Overall, about 80 percent of the participants favored the name change.
She also interviewed key figures in the debate, including Open House coordinators and President Warren Baker, who ultimately has the power to change or not change the name of the event.
Baker is willing to make the change, mostly for the alumni, because Poly Royal is well known and liked, Wilson said. “It has always been at the back of his mind to bring it back,” she said.
“If there’s a strong enough push for it, it could be changed. There’s probably a lot of people who want it changed, especially in the Alumni Association,” she added.
But the current Open House committee is against renaming it. They said that alumni would be disappointed with the changed program, and that, more importantly, the change would reverse an image and an event that the committee has worked hard to create.
“Our thinking is that we would never go back to Poly Royal since we have new events,” said Lisa Bruce, one of the event advisers. “We really see this as an evolution, not that Farmers’ Picnic or Poly Royal were not important, but that Open House was created in response to change.”
Moreover, they have tried to ensure that alumni are not left out of this new event.
“We have worked a lot on updating alumni so that they are a part of it. Plus, for 14 years, alumni have only known Open House,” she said. “(For alumni who graduated before then), our idea has been, ‘If you liked Poly Royal, then you will like Open House, so come and check it out.’”
Mayor Dave Romero is also against the change because of the damage and costs that the city endured when the riots happened, Wilson said. Although he wouldn’t be able to influence the university’s decision, he made his stance against the change known.
With these pros and cons taken into consideration, though, Wilson ultimately concluded that such a change could be made.
“It would be cool if they did change it, to know that I helped get the ball rolling,” Wilson said.