The 1994 protest calling for a formalized racial harassment policy.

Recent student outrage over racially insensitive acts has sparked some of the largest protests in Cal Poly’s history. These protests not only condemned the widely circulated photo of Lambda Chi Alpha member Kyler Watkins in blackface, but accused Cal Poly of fostering a culture of racism. 

Cal Poly’s student body is not typically known for social activism; protests throughout Cal Poly’s history are few in number and small in size.

Social Sciences department chair Terry Jones has been at Cal Poly since 1998. He wrote in an email to Mustang News that he remembers “next to none [protests] here in my first ten years” and the ones he did witness were “not disruptive — that is they were not really protests.” While his beginning years at Cal Poly did not produce memorable protests, he wrote “it seems to me that activism has significantly increased on our campus, particularly in the last five years.”

Not all professors believe activism is on the rise. Timothy Barnes, a history professor who has taught at Cal Poly since 1969, has seen little growth in activism.

“In my 50 years here, I’ve noticed no change whatsoever,” Barnes said. “Protests have always been at a minimum, even in the midst of the Vietnam war. University campuses across the country erupted and there were just small protests here.”

The recent protests did impress the professor, however.

“I was very pleased to see the reaction of students being offended,” Barnes said. “It restored my faith in young people.” 

Maggie Cox, a sociology sophomore who participated in recent protests, thinks Cal Poly’s culture needs to change for student activism to increase in the future.

“I feel like people are getting more enraged at this moment and are more willing to get involved because things have gotten to a tipping point,” Cox said. “But at the same time, campus culture isn’t centered around any kind of advocacy or activism, so it’s hard to make that sustained.”

Below is a timeline highlighting protests and demonstrations at Cal Poly during the past 58 years. This is not an exhaustive list.

Timeline of Student Protests: 60s-2018

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