'Colonial Bros and Nava-hos' party didn't violate campus policies, Cal Poly finds

Cal Poly officials says steps will be taken to address diversity issues and alcohol abuse

nwilson@thetribunenews.comDecember 11, 2013 

An entrance to Cal Poly in San Luis Obispo.

JOE JOHNSTON — jjohnston@thetribunenews.com

Correction: An earlier version of this story said that Cal Poly would hire a curriculum specialist to assist faculty on incorporating diversity and inclusivity into instruction. The university already has hired a curriculum specialist.

Cal Poly’s review of a controversial Nov. 16 fraternity party has revealed that no campus policies were violated.

But President Jeff Armstrong said in a letter to the campus community that the behavior was “deplorable” and the university will seek multiple ways to address concerns about sensitivity and diversity awareness.

The off-campus “Colonial Bros and Nava-Hos” party led to a formal complaint to the university, contending it was “culturally insensitive, sexist, and offensive,” according to university officials.

At the party, men wore colonial-era costumes and the women wore sexually-explicit Native American-themed attire.

The party was so controversial that the campus held a forum on Nov. 22 for students to express their grievances. Several hundred students and faculty attended, many saying the party theme was a symptom of a deeper problem on campus of insensitivity toward minority cultures and women.

As part of its investigation, Cal Poly conducted interviews with people who attended the party and found that it sexually objectified woman and demeaned Native Americans. The review, however, “found no evidence that party hosts systematically billed the party theme in offensive terms,” though they did so in an “informal way.”

“Together — students, faculty, staff, and alumni — we can, and must, do better to create a campus climate that is open and welcoming to all,” Armstrong said in the letter co-signed by Keith Humphrey, the university’s vice president of student affairs. “Each of us has responsibility for working toward this goal, and each of us needs to contribute to ensure that we genuinely improve our campus climate.”

In order to ensure sensitivity on a campus with predominantly white students and faculty, the university will address behaviors related to alcohol abuse as well as gender and diversity issues at a Greek summit in January.

Other actions will include conducting a survey in February on campus perceptions of diversity issues and offering programs to teach students to help enhance the campus climate for better inclusivity. The university also has hired a curriculum specialist to incorporate diversity and inclusivity into instruction.

Cal Poly’s latest study that breaks down the ethnicities of its student body, a fall 2012 report, showed about 61 percent of its 18,679 students were white, 14 percent were Hispanic, 12 percent were Asian, 6 percent were bi-racial, and 1 percent was black. Other ethnic backgrounds made up the rest of the student body.

Humphrey said in a telephone interview Wednesday that minority students have expressed their discomfort on such a predominantly white campus, and university officials are trying to better understand why.

“We’ve heard from some in underrepresented minority groups that they don’t feel as welcome,” Humphrey said. “We have to understand why and what is contributing to that. Is it a mixture of not as many people who share their identity? Is it the curriculum? Policies and practices? Our survey will help us understand.”

The survey also will help to decide how best to implement diversity awareness into the curriculum while working with student leaders to help spread a message of inclusion, Humphrey said.

“They help us understand where students are at on these issues,” Humphrey said.

Humphrey said that Cal Poly has strived to better represent the ethnic make-up of California through its recruiting — making visits to communities made up of mostly minorities and speaking at African-American churches.

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