Cal Poly president is right to lay the hammer down on Greeks

A photo shared on social media Tuesday, April 17, 2018, appears to show three Sigma Nu fraternity members dressed in bandanas, baggy pants, white ribbed tank tops, chains and a fake mustache.
A photo shared on social media Tuesday, April 17, 2018, appears to show three Sigma Nu fraternity members dressed in bandanas, baggy pants, white ribbed tank tops, chains and a fake mustache.

A blanket suspension of Cal Poly fraternities and sororities was a strong move by President Jeffrey Armstrong — a step he took following disclosure of yet another blatantly racist photo of frat members.

In this latest photo, fraternity brothers parody Latinos by holding bottles of Corona beer and dressing in gold chains, baggy jeans, white tank tops and bandanas. A photo caption refers to them as "la familia."

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It surfaced following the release of photos of members of a different fraternity, in which one member wore blackface and others dressed in stereotypical gang costumes.

And in another awful development, racist fliers, graffiti and vandalism were discovered in university buildings Tuesday morning — including some that say that black people are a different species than Caucasian people.

Armstrong — who has been accused over the past several days of taking no real action in response to racism — has responded by pointing to several ongoing initiatives that aim to hire a more diverse faculty and staff and to attract and retain more students of color.

In a long letter released on Tuesday afternoon, he summarized those efforts and announced the indefinite suspension of Greek organizations. He also said he wants to make Cal Poly's Greek Life community "a model for the rest of the nation."

It's the first time in Armstrong's seven years as president that he has placed all Interfraternity Council fraternities and Panhellenic sororities on suspension, though the administration did put all Greek organizations on social probation in 2015. That occurred after three sexual assaults were reported at fraternity events over a span of three months.

Coincidentally, that suspension lasted the same amount of time — three months.

Let's hope the current suspension lasts longer this time.

Following the recent events, Greek organizations should take a long timeout to develop a plan to abolish a culture of racism that has made students of color feel unwelcome here. It also perpetuates the image of Cal Poly as a conservative, all-white school, even though statistics show that demographic is changing.

To be truly effective, though, the suspension must be an actual suspension. As of this writing, Armstrong hasn't said exactly what he means by "suspension," though Cal Poly's Mustang News describes it this way:

"Social probation allows brotherhood events, community service, philanthropy, meetings, and alumni events, but no parties. Suspension requires activities to be approved by the Dean of Students office."

We strongly urge the Dean of Students office to take a hard line on approving activities. Otherwise, this will quickly devolve into a suspension in name only, and prove about as effective as past efforts to rein in fraternities.

For example, in 2013, a fraternity hosted an off-campus party with the repulsive theme of "Colonial Bros and Nava-hos." (As the website Jezebel pointed out at the time, the fraternity managed to be both "incredibly racist and incredibly sexist" at the same time.)

That prompted statements of outrage and an investigation, which revealed that some who attended the party believed it sexually objectified women and demeaned Native Americans. However, the review "found no evidence that party hosts systematically billed the party theme in offensive terms," which is just a fancy way of saying "no harm, no foul."

Had there been a blanket suspension then, we might not be dealing with this issue again nearly five years later.

That's a not-so-fancy way of telling Cal Poly administration that it can no longer condemn such behavior in strongly worded emails and press releases, while at the same time condoning it by taking no meaningful action.

As we've said before, this cannot happen again. If it does, we urge the president to make the suspension an expulsion.

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