A single student is facing suspension after an off-campus gathering of more than 50 students — which he said reveals discriminatory punishment tactics at Cal Poly.
Business administration sophomore Ray Chan — a first-generation Cal Poly Scholars student with a full-ride scholarship who said he has never gotten in trouble with the university — has been suspended for the entirety of winter quarter after breaking COVID-19 orders during Labor Day weekend.
On the night of Sept. 7, Labor Day, Chan invited two people over to his friend’s house. However, when the address was leaked, the gathering amounted to more than 50 Cal Poly students, primarily freshmen.
During the university’s investigation, Chan told the school that he had another gathering at his and his roommates’ house that on Sunday, Sept. 6.
After investigating, the university officially issued the suspension three weeks into fall quarter.
Chan said only a few people were investigated after these gatherings, and he was the only student punished. To his knowledge, the student who sent out the address and the student who hosted the Labor Day party were not investigated.
In an Instagram post for his communication studies class assignment, Chan, who was born in Hong Kong, China, said that he feels discriminated against — especially amid heightened discrimination against Asian Americans during the pandemic.
University Spokesperson Matt Lazier said the Office of Student Rights and Responsibilities staff receives multiple trainings on implicit biases, consults one another on their decisions and aim to avoid discrimination by sticking to specific criteria laid out by the Cal State University Chancellor’s Office.
“It’s just strange seeing how you can publicly be like, surrounded by people breaking university violations if you’re white, but the second that a guy who’s a minority does it, he gets basically suspended from school,” political science sophomore Darian Marshall said after seeing Chan’s post. “So yeah, that’s such a double standard.”
Chan was found to have violated five codes of conduct, which are as follows:
Code 4. Participating in an activity that substantially and materially disrupts the normal operations of Cal Poly, or infringes on the rights of members of the Cal Poly community.
Code 7. Conduct that threatens or endangers the health or safety of any person within or related to the university community, including physical abuse, threats, intimidation, harassment or sexual misconduct.
Code 16. Violation of any published Cal Poly policy, rule, regulation or presidential order.
Code 17. Failure to comply with directions or, or interference with, any Cal Poly official or any public safety officer while acting in the performance of his/her duties.
Code 20. Encouraging, permitting, or assisting another to do any act that could subject him or her to discipline.
“I didn’t know such a thing could exist,” Chan said. “How can I be responsible for someone going willingly to another person’s house? It was completely mind-blowing to me that that is the case.”
Video by Kiana Hunziker
Lazier said that the Office of Student Rights and Responsibilities said sanctions could range from a warning letter reminding students of COVID-19 health orders to expulsion.
“However, more severe punitive sanctions may be warranted in cases of egregious violations or repeat offenses, particularly as it concerns current health and safety guidelines,” Lazier said.
Though Chan said “there’s no excuse” for his actions, he said he still feels “the punishment simply doesn’t fit the crime.”
Throughout the investigation itself, Chan said he felt defenseless.
The Office of Student Rights and Responsibilities stated that Cal State students have a right to access the “full judicial process,” which can include a student conduct hearing. However, Chan said the conduct officer threatened to worsen sanctions if Chan decided to go into a student conduct hearing.
Chan said that the university used “unethical questioning techniques,” such as asking unrelated questions and questioning him on claims that were actually false.
At one point in the investigation, Chan, who was a Week of Welcome (WOW) leader this year, said the student conduct officer accused him of inviting the freshmen in his orientation group to the Labor Day gathering, even though the names of the freshmen had not yet been given out at that time.
Despite the fact that many departments require students to “be in good standing regarding student conduct,” according to Lazier, Chan was still able to work as a WOW leader.
“They kept me as a resource, as I benefitted the school,” Chan wrote in an email. “They didn’t take me off of being a WOW leader, because they had a lack of leaders this year due to many dropping the program upon finding out it was all virtual.”
Chan related his situation to another off-campus gathering, where 61 students congregated at Pirate’s Cove about a month ago. The gathering was publicized in a video posted on the Cal Poly Barstool Instagram and showed several students, including football players.
Though made aware of it, the university never sent out an official statement acknowledging the incident. Lazier told Mustang News that the university would “pursue violations aggressively,” but the university legally cannot speak to any specific situation out of respect for students’ private information.
Though not confirmed, Chan said football players were simply told by university officials to self-isolate — a suspension from the sport rather than the school itself.
“That kind of like drilled it in more … because of this double standard that the university has with people that don’t really matter for the school and people that are on the sports teams,” Chan said. “To have me be the only one that gets punished after everything is just like, salt in the wound.”
“To have me be the only one that gets punished after everything is just like, salt in the wound.”
Additionally, Chan said the university’s decision to open housing despite the pandemic, coupled with on-campus students ignoring social distancing orders, signals Cal Poly’s “cherry-picking” sanction process.
“There’s other people that live off campus that are at the end of the day getting the brunt of this punishment,” Chan said.
Now, the suspension has left Chan scrambling to stabilize his college career and personal circumstances.
According to Lazier, Cal Poly Scholar financial aid would be put on hold during a suspension, but it would continue when the student is enrolled again. After Chan and his father both lost their jobs earlier on in the pandemic, Chan said he is still searching for the means to stay afloat and pay his rent.
“I don’t have a support system to kind of get the help needed,” Chan said. “It’s kind of just all on me to figure out what I need to do.”
Despite the stress it has put him under, Chan said he wants to spread awareness of his situation. Nodding to the pattern of discrimination and racism at Cal Poly — including a Chinese Students’ Association club meeting where members experienced a series of racial attacks — where Chan said it is time for things to change.
“You can’t just be silent or hypocritical if you are hanging out with people,” Marshall said. “And if you’re silent when someone else is punished unfairly for doing those exact same things that you’re doing, I think that says a lot about your moral character.”