At a Cuesta College Board of Trustees meeting on Nov. 12, dozens of San Luis Obispo community members called for the resignation of Board President Peter Sysak over his political views shared on Facebook.
Though the original posts have since been deleted, critics of Sysak claim that his comments were racist, anti-immigrant, homophobic and have been associated with Cuesta. When asked to publicly denounce white supremacy Sysak declined.
“We can’t have people in positions of leadership espousing those ideals to our young people,” NAACP President Stephen Vines said.
Despite the plea from almost all of his fellow Trustees, Sysak has refused to step down.
“I am a supporter of all lives matter,” Sysak said at the meeting. “I will not be bullied by these attacks and will continue to serve this college to the best of my ability.”
Vines, who graduated from Cuesta College, held a press conference before the meeting in response to Sysak’s posts.
Vines said the ideals in his post come from a “confederate mentality.” He added that he was not there to attack an individual, but an ideology.
“That’s what America is about, that’s what the republic is about. It’s not about tearing people down, it’s about bringing people together,” Vines said.
While many said they had hoped for a quick resolution to the matter, the board is unable to dismiss Trustee Sysak without first assembling an ad hoc committee to investigate his actions. The board agreed in a 5-0 vote, with Sysak abstaining due to conflict of interest, to form the two person ad hoc committee to investigate the posts. The conclusions of this committee will be reported to the board at a later date and will most likely extend the proceedings into 2021.
Michelle Arata, mother of Black Lives Matter activist Tianna Arata, joined many other community members in voicing concern over Sysak being investigated by a committee of his peers.
“This is a prime example of systemic racism. All of this bureaucracy is what makes students give up,” she said.
“Sysak’s peers should not be allowed to investigate him; it’s utterly disgusting. Just like the police should not investigate other police,” Tianna Arata said.
In response to public outcry, the board suggested forming an additional committee to represent a diversity of voices and community members throughout Sysak’s investigation. Maintaining the ad hoc committee while adding this new committee will prevent the Brown Act from going into effect, allowing for a quicker proceeding.
Several Cuesta students and faculty said that Sysak remaining in power has given the school a bad reputation and could potentially affect its ability to receive funding.
“It hurts my heart. We have a beautiful community but this brings ugly stuff to the forefront,” Cuesta faculty member Veronica West said. “When we don’t take action we are complicit.”
Vines addressed similar issues at Cal Poly during the press conference. He said there is no culture at Cal Poly and many students and faculty hold confederate values of “I’m free, white and 21.” He said many areas of study have “no ability to relate to people of color” because they have only attempted to relate to whites.
“We got a university up at Cal Poly where odds are you’ll never have a Black teacher, you’ll never have a Black person in your class, you’ll never have nobody nowhere around, so they’re reinforcing racism, and our institutions cannot reinforce that,” Vines said.
Vines also criticized President Jeffrey Armstrong’s leadership and his lack of diversity in his staff members.
“He’s been there for six years and going backwards with diversity, and sitting and smiling in our faces,” Vines said.
San Luis Obispo resident Tim Jouet attended the press conference and the trustee meeting. He said these issues are present throughout the county, and there’s a reason San Luis Obispo lacks diversity.
“These problems have been festering and have been ignored. If you spend a little time looking and make some friends, you’ll see,” Jouet said.
Jouet, along with members of the San Luis Obispo NAACP and the San Luis Obispo Democratic Party, Cuesta College students and alumni, constituents of Sysak, Black Lives Matter activists and ex board members condemned Sysak’s actions and urged him to resign.
After nearly two hours of public comment criticizing his posts, Sysak said, “I stand 100% behind my statement.”
The board is expected to review the matter further in a meeting on Dec. 9.