Education

Nearly 1,000 Cal Poly students call for support, action at public forum with school president

Cal Poly President Jeffrey Armstrong speaks at a public forum responding to a photo of a fraternity member in blackface that was posted to social media.
Cal Poly President Jeffrey Armstrong speaks at a public forum responding to a photo of a fraternity member in blackface that was posted to social media. lclark@thetribunenews.com

A crowd of nearly 1,000 students filled Harman Hall inside the Performing Arts Center on Thursday night as Cal Poly President Jeffrey Armstrong hosted an open forum to address the fallout from racially insensitive photos that emerged from a Lambda Chi Alpha fraternity party over the weekend.

Armstrong was flanked by vice president Keith Humphrey and Denise Isom, who serves as the associate faculty director for Cal Poly's office of university diversity and inclusion, while students made passionate statements and asked questions about what they believe to be a tense racial climate on campus.

"I am very, very sorry for what this has caused so many of you," Armstrong said in his opening remarks. "Not just our students, but our faculty, our staff, alumni, many people. Many people have said, 'I'm embarrassed, and this is not the Cal Poly that I know.' And this is not the Cal Poly that we want it to be."

Students asked dozens of questions directed mostly at Armstrong, calling for a more immediate punishment of the fraternity brothers who appeared in blackface and were photographed throwing gang signs while dressed as gangster stereotypes.

Cal Poly announced earlier Thursday that all fraternities have voluntarily put themselves on probation and suspended some activities indefinitely in the wake of the massive public outrage.

The common thread among student questions Thursday night was a call for the administration to provide concrete steps and procedures being put into place that will insure a more inclusive campus moving forward.

"How are you as administrators going to support students of color and provide resources to show that you do actually stand with us and support us?" one student asked.

Throughout the two-hour-long forum, Armstrong and Isom both outlined some of the steps the university has already taken to improve diversity, adding that more can be done through scholarships and hiring more diverse faculty members.

When it came to the student who appeared in blackface, identified by Mustang News as Kyler Watkins, Armstrong reiterated that it is not his place as president of a public university to expel students without due process.

In a meeting with The Tribune on Thursday morning, Armstrong said that, despite his personal feelings on the matter, the university has a process to follow and must protect free speech.

One senior student, who said she was disappointed to be graduating on such a negative note, questioned Armstrong's statement that his No. 1 commitment is to improving diversity.

"If it was a priority, we wouldn't be in this situation right now," she said. "Right now, it feels like we're ashamed of our diversity efforts because there are none."

Update, 8 p.m.

The forum at Cal Poly has gone over 90 minutes, as students continue to ask questions about racism and diversity on the San Luis Obispo campus.

Update, 7:25 p.m.

Update, 7:18 p.m.

Here's more videos from tonight's forum at Cal Poly.

Update, 7 p.m.

Cal Poly President Jeffrey Armstrong, in response to racially insensitive photos of a fraternity that emerged on social media, says "I really can't believe that this happened. I am very troubled on several levels that the young men chose to do these things, cultural misappropriation, racial slurs."

Original Story

Cal Poly President Jeffrey Armstrong is hosting an open forum Thursday night at Sidney Harman Hall inside the Performing Arts Center to address the fallout from racially insensitive photos that emerged after a recent Lambda Chi Alpha fraternity party.

Armstrong said earlier Thursday that he felt the photos were "repulsive" and atrocious," but cautioned that the university "has a process" and must protect free speech.

Read Next

Armstrong told The Tribune on Thursday that though the university is conducting a review of the students involved, because of free speech rights, the student picture in blackface would likely not face expulsion.

"That's very, very likely protected by free speech, and freedom of expression," he said. "If a student walks around on campus with their face painted black, they can do that.

"Based on the facts we have now, what we know now, we would not expel that student," he said.

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

All of the officers from the Lambda Chi Alpha chapter at Cal Poly resigned their posts, and two other members left the fraternity altogether after photos surfaced on social media of members in blackface and throwing gang signs while dressed as gangster stereotypes.

The national fraternity announced Wednesday that it will form an "alumni control board" to conduct a membership review and discipline members.

According to a news release, the alumni control board will have "the absolute authority to act in its discretion on behalf of the chapter," including carrying out duties or functions normally undertaken by the chapter and its officers, and has the power to establish guidelines for its own operations.

Hundreds of Cal Poly students jammed into a classroom Monday night to speak out in an emergency town hall meeting, and the majority of students who spoke up demanded action.

Read Next

  Comments