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Hundreds pack Cal Poly emergency town hall after blackface, gangster photos cause outrage

Hundreds of Cal Poly students jammed into a classroom Monday night to speak out in an emergency town hall meeting against racially insensitive social media posts of Lambda Chi Alpha fraternity members that emerged this weekend.

They were sitting on desks and on the floors. They spilled out of the doorways and into the hallways. A group even watched a livestream of the proceedings outside the door because they were unable to squeeze into the room.

The majority of students who spoke were fed up.

"I want some f---ing action," one student said to thunderous applause.

Over the two-hour-long forum, dozens of students condemned the fraternity and its members photographed in blackface or "gangster" attire, and called on the Cal Poly administration and campus community to actively condemn acts of intolerance or racism.

"There needs to be punishment, not only to show the students that are here that they are with us and support us, but for the students who are to come, 10 years, 5 years from now that are going to change the culture on this campus," one student said.

"Step up," another said. "Let the ones leaving this campus be the last ones this happens to."

Update, 9:20 p.m.

"Stand behind us and don't be cowards anymore," says one attendee, who identified herself as a member of a cultural Greek organization.

Video of more speakers at tonight's town hall and the packed room and hallway.

Update, 9 p.m.

Here are more videos and photos from tonight's meeting. Some attendees are questioning why Cal Poly President Jeffrey Armstrong did not attend.

“There is anger that is there, and it isn’t just from one event. It has built up over time," said one person.

Update, 8:40 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.

At least 300 people had filled a room on campus as the town hall was beginning about 8:15 p.m. Some people were stopped from entering the room, which was at capacity.

Update, 7:20 p.m.: showed a fraternity member in blackface throwing gang signs while dressed as gangster stereotypes

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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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

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."

LCA Cal Poly frat 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

"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."

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

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.

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.

Tribune staff writer Gabby Ferreira contributed to this report.

Kaytlyn Leslie: 805-781-7928; @kaytyleslie

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