Words alone aren't enough, Cal Poly. It's time to act to end racism

Cal Poly students are demanding the administration do more to address racism. Many have called for the expulsion of the student who appeared in blackface at a fraternity event.
Cal Poly students are demanding the administration do more to address racism. Many have called for the expulsion of the student who appeared in blackface at a fraternity event.

Ten years ago, it was a noose on campus that shocked and sickened the community. In 2013, a Greek fraternity hosted a deeply offensive "Colonial Bros and Nava-Hos" party that attracted the attention of national news media. Earlier this month, a photo was posted online of a student in blackface and his fellow fraternity brothers dressed in “gang” attire. The university has since learned of yet another instance of racial profiling and cultural appropriation by members of a Greek fraternity.

On Tuesday, President Jeffrey Armstrong announced, finally, that the university is doing something about it.

While it shouldn’t have reached this breaking point, we applaud the decision to indefinitely suspend all Panhellenic and Intrafraternity Council fraternities and sororities. We also support Cal Poly’s plan to address the concerns of underrepresented students, and its hiring of an independent African-American diversity and inclusion specialist to facilitate dialogue. Moreover, it is wise move to require implicit bias training for all hiring committees, management personneland confidential positions, and we are encouraged that faculty and staff will be urged to participate.

These are necessary and positive steps, but sadly, they are overdue.

For far too long, the racist incidents on and off campus have established a disturbing pattern of behavior that has caused students of color to ask if they’re welcome or even safe.

As expected, the administration condemned the actions of students responsible for these abhorrent actions, and listened to student and faculty pleas for change. However, many remained unconvinced that the individuals, groups, or the university itself, would be held accountable.

Emails denouncing the despicable acts aren’t enough. Community forums with fed-up students aren’t enough. Empty rhetoric saying that the university has already taken action toward increasing diversity and inclusion aren’t enough. Clearly, it’s been inadequate.

Students and faculty are angry, and they are right to protest and call for immediate steps to remedy this systemic problem.

Donning blackface may be free speech, but freedom of speech has consequences.

We stand in solidarity with Cal Poly students as they press for a host of demands. Until the university shows measurable progress, we urge students of color and their allies to keep up the pressure. Hold the university's feet to the fire until it does what it says it will do.

If the administration fails to deliver, exercise your First Amendment right to stand up and speak out whenever possible. The road may be long and rough, but the cycle of ignorant and racist behavior must end.

Martin Luther King Jr., assassinated 50 years ago, once said that intelligence plus character was the goal of true education. We must not rest until each and every Cal Poly student is respected and valued. The next time the university garners national attention, let it be because it is a model for increasing diversity and inclusivity. After all, Cal Poly’s motto is “Learn by Doing.”

R.A.C.E. Matters stands for Responsibility, Action, Compassion and Education. It is a SLO County grassroots organization that envisions a community where people of color and other marginalized communities feel welcome, safe, respected and heard. This Viewpoint is the work of steering committee members Courtney Haile, Julie Lynem, Leola Dublin Macmillan, Jackie Wright, Stephanie Allen, Gina Whitaker, Ken Hill, Julie Fallon and Olivia Lopes.

This Viewpoint has been updated in response to Cal Poly President Jeffrey Armstrong's announcement of actions taken in response to racist incidents involving Cal Poly Greek organizations.

Related stories from San Luis Obispo Tribune