Cal Poly wants a more diverse student body. Blackface photo sends the opposite message

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

Ironic, isn’t it?

The Cal Poly administration makes a major effort to attract a more diverse student body by, among other steps, working to create an opportunity grant program to make the university more affordable for low-income students.

And in a single weekend, all those efforts are undermined by fraternity brothers who decide it would be fun to party in blackface and stereotypical gangster attire, making our community look like a haven for racist jackasses.

When the bros are caught in the act through the magic of social media, the fraternity tries to pass this off with a “Gee, we didn’t know … but we’re awfully sorry we offended anyone” apology.

In case you missed the formal statement from the local Lambda Chi Alpha fraternity, here’s the gist: "This event was a competition between teams in which each team is represented by a different color (i.e. Red, Blue, Green, Black, Yellow). Similar to high school spirit rallies and collegiate student sections, members dressed up in support of their specific team. We are extremely sorry and embarrassed for failing to recognize the racial impacts this brought forth.”

Come on, you failed to recognize that when one of your members appeared in blackface, it would have “racial impacts"?

It’s astonishing this frat “boy” — and we put that in quotes, because these aren’t boys, they are young men — didn’t recognize that fact during the considerable amount of time he must have spent smearing makeup, or whatever it was, all over this face and neck.

And did no one think to tell him, “Hey, that might not be such a good idea”?

And how about the response from the Lambda Chi Alpha International Headquarters?

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“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.”

That's real leadership for you! It's OK to be ignorant or racist, please, just do it behind closed doors.What the international headquarters is most concerned about isn’t the conduct of its members, but rather, the bad PR of their public behavior.

And this incident has earned the fraternity plenty of that. The story has been on Twitter, Facebook and Reddit, where one astute poster commented that “it might make national news.”

Sure enough – it didn’t take long for it to show up on the online edition of Newsweek.

Making matters worse, this is one in a string of racist incidents at Cal Poly. Remember the hateful remarks on the Free Speech Wall? The “Colonial Bros and Nava-Hos” frat party? And if you’ve been around a while, you might recall the “display” of a noose, a Confederate flag and a racist, anti-gay sign at a Cal Poly Halloween party in 2008.

Yes, that was a long time ago and yes, we’re talking about a small number of students engaging in such egregious behavior.

But even a single incident like the one that occurred last weekend can affect a school’s reputation.

Don’t believe it? Consider this recent post on Facebook: “I’ve tried to promote Cal Poly's Academics to friends back in the bay but (it’s) events like this that disgust me and them and make them go to another university.”

Unfortunately, mentoring programs, financial support and counseling services won’t persuade students of color to attend Cal Poly if they believe they’ll face a hostile environment here. And if they do enroll, they won’t stay long if they feel unwelcome.

If Lambda Chi Alpha members don’t get that, the university administration should show them the door.

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