Amid Open House and concurrent student demonstrations in light of an incident involving a Lambda Chi Alpha member donning blackface during a gangster-themed brotherhood event, President Jeffrey Armstrong sat down with Mustang News during the live Open House broadcast to discuss issues on campus.
The full interview is viewable below, starting at 17:45 and ending at 31:50:
Recorded Live Stream
Below are the highlights of Mustang News’ interview with President Armstrong:
MN: President Armstrong, thank you for joining us today. We appreciate you taking the time out, I know it’s a very busy weekend to join us here on set and answer a few questions for us.
JA: It’s great to be here, open house is one of my favorite times of year. It’s great to see the prospective students yesterday and seeing a lot of them say today ‘I loved it’ or ‘I love what happened in Liberal Arts’ and really down to their major level and it was very very good.
MN: [On the blackface incident] where are we at as a campus? What’s the general attitude right now?
JA: Well I think where were at as a campus at large is people are hurting. People are angry, some people are confused, but for me first and foremost it’s about having Cal Poly understand that this is a very very bad thing. I can’t look into an individuals mind and what was the intent, but the impact was pain and hurt and it also culminated maybe something that happened before or something that didn’t happen before to them individually as well as an event before. And so it’s just added on. What happened, the blackface, and the we learned the gang stuff, is not at all consistent with my values. I find it frankly racist, I find it abhorrent. It’s not consistent with Cal Poly values. And it also hurts me personally because our university’s top priority is diversity and inclusion. It’s been that way and we’re going to continue. And I am determined we are going to keep going forward, and at the right time I hope that we can learn from this and go forward. But in the mean time I’m going to spend the next week continuing to listen. Because I’m not sure people even want to dialogue right now, I want to listen to people that want to talk and really learn more and more. We know some detailed things about how we could have prevented that incident, but really how do we get into the hearts and minds of our students- white students- because I can’t relate to how our underrepresented students, or woman, or an LGBT student or faculty member or staff member feels. I’m a white male, I have privilege. And I’m the president of a university.
MN: A lot of your critics say you are not doing enough to students who are underrepresented or don’t feel welcome on this campus. How would you respond to that?
JA: For a student that’s hurting, I’m not doing enough. And I wish I could reach out an impact every individual student, but I can’t. And that student doesn’t want to hear about what we’ve done, and sometimes they don’t want to hear what we’re going to do. So the best thing I can do is acknowledge that, and I will also look at things that maybe are planned and accelerate them, like implicit bias training, some other things.
JA: Let’s also be blunt about why people are mad at me or angry at me, and I see the really deep anger. Because they don’t agree with some of the things I’ve said or done.
MN: What’s stopping you from expelling that student and setting the precedent?
JA: For the fraternity, they’ve been banned. There’s a privilege for that fraternity to exist.
MN: We have zero tolerance now, that didn’t keep it from happening.
JA: As journalists, what I implore you to think about is free speech. You’re asking me to control what people on this campus think and say. I cannot do that. That is illegal or unconstitutional. The review of the student blackface, the one picture. It wasn’t directed at individuals, it didn’t harass individuals, it didn’t incite violence. And that’s not me saying it, that’s the professionals saying, “That is protected.” People are judging me on that.
JA: They also want me to say that our campus is a culture of racism.
MN: What would you say to a minority student looking at Cal Poly SLO?
JA: Cal Poly is a very special place. Diversity and inclusion is part of our primary goal. Every class since we’ve been here, if you look at where we’ve started, is the most diverse. The highest key performance indicators. We have some creative programs that are designed to increase African American. We have some very solid pathways to increase Asian, Hispanic and Latino students and help them succeed. That’s not just me speculating, we have the data from pilot programs. So I would say ‘Come and join us.’ There’s a lot of range in the diversity of universities.
JA: We are the least diverse public university in California. There’s no question. We’ve been that way for a long time. We were 70 percent white in the early 2000s, we were 63 percent white when i started and we’re 55 percent white now. And the data will show you that it’s not one thing, but a big factor is financial aid.
JA: In 8 years we could be 23 to 25 percent Latino, I absolutely believe.
JA: I’d love to see our African-American numbers double or triple.
Mustang News sat down with Armstrong and interviewed him regarding similar issues April 12. Click here for the full Q&A.