'Colonial Bros and Nava-Hos' frat party prompts Cal Poly investigation

Fraternity-sorority event with theme of Native Americans gets complaints

jhickey@thetribunenews.comNovember 20, 2013 

An entrance to Cal Poly in San Luis Obispo.

JOE JOHNSTON — jjohnston@thetribunenews.com

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Cal Poly officials are investigating an off-campus fraternity and sorority party after complaints that the theme was offensive to women and Native Americans.

Men attending the party — identified in an email as having a “Colonial Bros and Nava-Hos” theme — wore Colonial-era costumes, while women wore sexually explicit Native American-themed attire.

The party took place this past Friday in the area of Foothill Boulevard, with approximately 60 people attending.

Cal Poly President Jeffrey Armstrong denounced the party in a campuswide email sent Tuesday and announced a university-sponsored forum to be held Friday to allow Cal Poly community members to come together and discuss the impact of the party.

“Let us be clear, events like these have no place in the Cal Poly community and are not reflective of the principles of The Mustang Way,” Armstrong said in his email. “Obviously, this was not a university-sponsored event.”

The university will “focus on supporting those who feel negatively affected by this event and helping those who created the event understand and repair the damage it has caused,” he wrote.

Political science professor Jean Williams sent an email Wednesday to the Cal Poly Diversity Coalition mailing list identifying the theme and possible party host:

“As we understand it, last weekend the fraternity Phi Sigma Kappa hosted a party that they called ‘Colonial Bros and Nava-Hos,’ ” said the email, which was signed by six members of the Cal Poly Diversity Coalition Steering Committee.

Williams did not respond to an email and call for comment Wednesday.

University spokesman Matt Lazier said Williams’ email was sent without any review from the Cal Poly Dean of Students Office, which is hesitant to release information while the investigation is ongoing.

Lazier said several Greek organizations are being investigated, but Cal Poly “can’t in good conscience say this is on anyone’s shoulders at this time,” he said.

Andrew Gulbronson, president of Phi Sigma Kappa at Cal Poly, said that the fraternity was working with university officials in the investigation but declined to confirm or deny Phi Sigma Kappa’s involvement in the party.

“The standards for student conduct address harassment, intimidation, indecent and obscene behavior. The investigation that is now ongoing will help us determine which, if any, standards have been violated,” Lazier said.

Members of Cal Poly’s American Indian and Indigenous Faculty and Staff Association, as well as women’s and gender studies professors did not respond to emails asking for comment Wednesday.

“Personally, I don’t think it was meant to be racist,” said a Cal Poly student and fraternity member named Daniel, who declined to provide his last name. Daniel, who said his fraternity was not associated with the party, said Greek life involves a lot of “guy-and-girl”-themed parties. Although he could not confirm what the party was called, he said it was meant to fit with Thanksgiving.

“It’s unfair,” he said. “We are taught that Thanksgiving is Pilgrims and Indians.”

A second-year sorority member, who also declined to be named, was invited to the party but did not attend.

“There are a lot more offensive themes out there, especially during Halloween,” she said.

Those interviewed by The Tribune who were not members in a fraternity or sorority, however, found fault with a colonial and Native American-themed party.

“It’s definitely not OK, but I’m not surprised,” said Melissa Mateyka, a Cal Poly junior who lives in an apartment surrounded by fraternities and sororities. “It’s insensitive, but people probably don’t think about it, especially in the climate of Greek life.”

Cassie Ueberrhein, a master’s student in psychology, said her professor led a class discussion to talk about the meaning and implications of the party.

“It was hurtful, even if it wasn’t meant to be hurtful,” Ueberrhein said. “It doesn’t make the people of color on campus feel more welcome.”

This is not the first time that the university officials have condemned the actions of students as insensitive. In 2008, students living at the university-owned Crops House created a Halloween display depicting a noose, Confederate flag and sign with derogatory language toward blacks, gays and hippies at an on-campus residence.

Forum on Friday

Cal Poly will host a forum to discuss the party at 12 p.m. Friday in Chumash Auditorium, Room 204.

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