Education

Cal Poly students demand change after blackface photo: 'I want some f---ing action'

Cal Poly students speak out against racism at emergency town hall meeting

Cal Poly students gathered for an emergency town hall meeting in San Luis Obispo on Monday, April 9, 2018, to speak out against racism after a fraternity posted racially insensitive photos of members in blackface and gang costumes online.
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Cal Poly students gathered for an emergency town hall meeting in San Luis Obispo on Monday, April 9, 2018, to speak out against racism after a fraternity posted racially insensitive photos of members in blackface and gang costumes online.

Hundreds of Cal Poly students jammed into a classroom Monday night to speak out at an emergency town-hall meeting against racially insensitive photos of Lambda Chi Alpha fraternity members that emerged over the weekend.

They sat on desks and on the floor. They spilled out of the doorways and into the hallways. A group even watched a live stream 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 and throwing gang signs while dressed as gangster stereotypes, 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, five years from now that are going to change the culture on this campus," one male student said.

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

Several students who identified themselves as members of Greek organizations on campus also spoke, saying they were ashamed of what they called a lukewarm response from Lambda Chi Alpha.

"I am part of a Greek organization, and I'm ashamed to say that right now," a female student said in comments that were followed by loud applause. "Even though my Greek organization is a cultural one, this is for all of us to learn.

"To the white people here who actually care about us, stand behind us and don't be cowards anymore."

In a statement released during the meeting, the Cal Poly Black Student Union called out the fraternity for its initial statement that the student pictured in blackface was representing a team event where members were assigned different colors.

"This incident at Lambda Chi Alpha's Brotherhood event perpetuates the long-standing question of what work Cal Poly SLO is doing to support the admission and even more importantly, the retention of marginalized students," read the statement. "For these fraternity brothers to have held such an event, even under their weak 'justification' of being unaware, undermines the attempts by student organizations to increase the number of students of color and instead perpetuates the cumulative, hostile environment for marginalized students."

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Hundreds of Cal Poly students packed into a classroom Monday, April 9, 2018, as part of an emergency town hall to protest racially insensitive pictures of Lambda Chi Alpha fraternity members that emerged online. Kaytlyn Leslie kleslie@thetribunenews.com

Cal Poly administration in recent years have said they want to increase diversity at the university, which is predominately white.

Many students at the town hall Monday night called that directive into question, saying incidents like this are what makes it difficult to attract minority students to the school.

"I have been here (in San Luis Obispo) around 10 years now, and I haven't seen Cal Poly do s---," one student said

Some attendees questioned why Cal Poly President Jeffrey Armstrong and other administration members 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.

Since the photos emerged, Lambda Chi Alpha has been placed on interim suspension by both its national headquarters and Cal Poly.

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

“Racism and hate are unwelcome here, in any form,” McMahon said in the 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.”

During an interim suspension, the university suspends recognition of the fraternity and requires the chapter to cease all functions, 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 Cal Poly Interfraternity Council (IFC), which governs the school's fraternities, also unanimously voted to suspend Lambda Chi Alpha at its meeting Monday afternoon — after it had received word that the local chapter was already suspended by the university and its national headquarters.

A mass of protesters also attended that meeting, calling on the governing board to do more to condemn racism and intolerance in Cal Poly Greek life and asking the members to stand with them.

"If you really value this s--- and you really give a f--- about people of color on this campus, you need to say something more than this little Trump-ass speech," one protester said. "Because right now, that's all you're giving us is, 'I'm deeply sorry.' If you're deeply sorry, you would say that their actions are disgusting, you would say that you won't tolerate that and you don't want to associate yourself with that. You would do whatever you have to do to push them away."

A Lambda Chi Alpha representative was not present at the IFC meeting.

Kaytlyn Leslie: 805-781-7928; @kaytyleslie
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