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Cal Poly frat under fire for blackface, gangster photos put on interim suspension

Members of Lambda Chi Alpha are shown dressing as gangster stereotypes and throwing gang signs in front of their fraternity house. The photo was taken Saturday and the Instagram account it's from has been deleted.
Members of Lambda Chi Alpha are shown dressing as gangster stereotypes and throwing gang signs in front of their fraternity house. The photo was taken Saturday and the Instagram account it's from has been deleted. Screenshot

Update, 8:30 p.m.

An emergency town hall meeting is being held at Cal Poly on Monday night after photos posted online showed a fraternity member in blackface and other Lambda Chi Alpha members throwing gang signs while dressed as gangster stereotypes.

»» For photos and video from the town hall meeting, go here: Hundreds pack Cal Poly emergency town hall after fraternity's photos cause outrage

Update, 7:10 p.m.

Lambda Chi Alpha has been placed on interim suspension after photos posted online showed a fraternity member in blackface and other members throwing gang signs while dressed as gangster stereotypes at a weekend party.

According to a Cal Poly news release, Dean of Students Kathleen McMahon placed the fraternity chapter on interim suspension while the university continues its review of the weekend gathering.

“Racism and hate are unwelcome here, in any form,” McMahon said in a news release. “Cal Poly is focused on enhancing the diversity of our campus and providing an environment that is welcoming to all who would study, work or visit here.”

Interim suspension suspends university recognition and requires a fraternity chapter to stop all functions and cease all events and activities while the university conducts a review to determine whether anything that took place at the chapter’s gathering was a violation of university policy and/or the recognized student organization code of conduct, according to the release.

The university’s move comes as the Lambda Chi Alpha chapter’s national headquarters also placed the chapter on interim suspension.

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Original story:

An Instagram photo surfaced late Sunday showing Lambda Chi Alpha members throwing gang signs while dressed as gangster stereotypes in front of their San Luis Obispo fraternity house — the same day as a fraternity member was also photographed in blackface.

The Instagram account that posted the photo, which had "Cal Poly '21" and the Greek letters for Lambda Chi Alpha in the profile section, has since been deleted, according to KCBX. The gangster photo also had the caption, "She want a gangster not a pretty boy."

The picture was apparently taken at the same fraternity event as a photo showing a Lambda Chi Alpha member in blackface.

Cal Poly President Jeffrey Armstrong sent a note to the university community on Monday afternoon regarding the incident, calling the pictures "painful and embarrassing."

"While the fraternity claims the incident was not intended to be racially motivated, the university continues to review the event to fully understand what occurred," the email said. "What we do know is the pictures from the event have caused pain to many members of our community. For those who have been hurt and offended, please know that I stand with you."

Armstrong went on to say in the note that he is ashamed of the incident and called for an end to "senseless acts of ignorance that injure and alienate valued members of our community."

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Jozi De Leon, Cal Poly's vice president for university diversity and inclusion, also shared a message with the campus community on Monday, saying, "It is hard to believe that students in this day and age would not know the offensive nature of such blatantly negative depictions of Blacks and Hispanics. While the fraternity members have issued an apology letter, the damage has been done and the act is one that is not acceptable.

"I hope that we can evolve to the level that this is the last time this happens on our campus," he added. "I am distinctly aware that we must continuously educate individuals to have a better understanding of how to be and interact in a diverse world."

Lambda Chi Alpha's Cal Poly chapter has not responded to multiple requests for comment.

CP frat.JPG
A photograph posted to Facebook on Saturday shows two brothers from Cal Poly's Lambda Chi Alpha fraternity, one of whom is in blackface. Facebook Monique Chenault-Hakker

In a statement the fraternity released Sunday after the blackface photo circulated, the fraternity said the photo was taken at an April 7 event where their members wore different colors to represent teams during a competition. In the statement, they apologized for "failing to recognize the racial impacts this brought forth," adding that they did not intend to "stir up racial tension."

The fraternity's national office also responded to the controversy with a message to its members.

"You are free to do whatever you want in the privacy of your own home. But the second you step foot outside that door, you represent this fraternity and its values," reads a post about the blackface incident on the website for the Cross & Crescent, a fraternity publication.

LCA gangsters IG.jpg
Members of Lambda Chi Alpha are shown dressing as gangster stereotypes and throwing gang signs in front of their fraternity house. The photo was taken Saturday and the Instagram account it's from has been deleted. Instagram

The post was written by Taylor Grayson, associate director of communications for the fraternity. Though an earlier version of the post mentioned the blackface incident at Cal Poly's chapter, the post was later changed to remove mention of the incident.

The Tribune reached out to Lambda Chi Alpha's International Headquarters for comment but got no response.

The incident happened during the university's PolyCultural Weekend, an event where cultural organizations on campus work together to welcome prospective students to the school.

Monique Chenault-Hakker, who posted the blackface photo on Facebook, said she reposted the photo from a Cal Poly professor who sent it to San Luis Obispo Mayor Heidi Harmon on Facebook.

"This post just put me over the edge as a parent," Chenault-Hakker said, adding that her daughter attends the university. "I don't want anybody seeing this in our town.

"We have really grown as a country since our grandparents were alive, and this shouldn't be happening anymore," she added. "I'm just sick of the actions that are happening at Cal Poly. There's no consequences for any of their bad actions and the racism is so thick there."

"This is a nice, quiet town, and a college where the kids shouldn't be acting like this," she said.

In the fall of 2017, Lambda Chi Alpha was listed as under educational sanction until the winter of 2018.

This isn't the first time a Cal Poly fraternity has come under fire for racist photos on social media.

Last year, a photo spread of Alpha Gamma Rho-Chi Chapter members in culturally and ethnically insensitive costumes posing behind a banner reading "TRUMP — MAKE AMERICA GREAT AGAIN."

And in 2013, Cal Poly officials investigated a party hosted by the Phi Sigma Kappa fraternity with the theme, "Colonial Bros and Nava-Hos." At the party, men wore Colonial-era clothing and women wore "sexually explicit Native American-themed attire," according to a 2013 Tribune article. After the investigation, the university concluded that the party did not violate any campus policies.

Correction: An earlier version of this story misidentified Cal Poly's vice president for university diversity and inclusion.

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