Cal Poly president suspends all Greek fraternities and sororities indefintely

Apr 17, 2018

Cal Poly State University president Jeffery Armstrong announced Tuesday in an open letter to the campus community he is suspending all Greek life on campus, after learning of another recent incident of racially insensitive behavior at a fraternity.

The news comes a little over a week after the highly-publicized incident of a student wearing blackface at a party hosted by the Cal Poly chapter of the Lambda Chi Alpha fraternity. 

Armstrong's announcement comes after an emotional week on campus, with students and faculty demanding action from Cal Poly's administration. 

In the letter, published on the university's Facebook page, Armstrong announced the Lambda Chi Alpha fraternity has been suspended for a minimum of one year. 

Armstrong then added after learning Monday morning about "another incident of racial profiling and cultural appropriation that occurred at Sigma Nu six weeks ago," he is indefinitely suspending of all the Greek fraternities and sororities at Cal Poly. Armstrong added:

Greek Life is a privilege at this university and until all fraternities and sororities are conducting themselves in a manner that is respectful of all students - as well as holding each other accountable - they will not have a place at Cal Poly.

In regards to the aforementioned Sigma Nu incident, KCBX News received a photo Tuesday depicting  fraternity members in stereotypical Latino gang apparel and a public apology from Sigma Nu saying the students in the photo had been suspended. Sigma Nu did not respond for a further request for comment Tuesday evening. 

KCBX News obtained this photo and apology written by the president of Cal Poly's Sigma Nu chapter, referenced in Tuesday's letter to the campus community from Cal Poly's President Armstrong.

Cal Poly spokesperson Matt Lazier said in an email the university didn't have any more details on the matter. 

But he did elaborate that the campus-wide Greek Life suspension was "partially in response to the recent incident at Lambda Chi Alpha, but is also taken because various Greek organizations have been the sources of numerous problems over the past few years."

"These problems have included racially charged and insensitive events, sexual assaults, hazing and alcohol-related deaths, and violations of the university’s code of conduct regarding hosting social events. Too often, the Greek organizations have allowed members to do wrong, and they have not intervened to prevent or correct obvious problems.," Lazier said, adding that in the coming days, the administration will release more details about how the suspension will work and the conditions under which Greek organizations will be able to return to active status.

"This is not an attempt to get rid of Greek life at Cal Poly." Lazier said. "Rather, it is a pause and a reset."

Armstrong, in his letter, said in an effort to address the concerns of underrepresented students on campus, the university is hiring "an independent African-American diversity and inclusion specialist," Kimberly McLaughlin-Smith from the University of North Carolina Wilmington.

According to the University of North Carolina Wilmington's website, McLaughlin-Smith is responsible for diversity training, as well as new employee orientation and residential advisors training. She also helps departments implement diversity and inclusion into their curriculum.

In addition, Armstrong said the university will be requiring implicit bias training for all hiring committees, employees covered by the Management Personnel Plan (MPP) and "confidential positions."

According to the Kirwan Institute for the Study of Race and Ethnicity at Ohio State University, implicit bias refers to "the attitudes or stereotypes that affect our understanding, actions, and decisions in an unconscious manner."

Armstrong said he cannot require this training for faculty and staff, "as they are represented employees, but we are strongly encouraging it."

Armstrong addressed questions about the disciplining of students, like in the blackface photo, saying:

"I wish we could forbid them from our campus and insure they are never again expressed, but that is not realistic. While this may anger and frustrate many, the laws governing constitutional rights to free speech are unambiguous and unequivocal. The First Amendment protects the free speech of everyone on our campus, and the university cannot sanction any campus community member or visitor who is legally expressing their views - even if we as a university find those views to be disgusting, racist, sexist, homophobic, or in any other way contradict our values. There are times when values conflict - when we are torn between a duty to oppose hate and a duty to protect free speech. As individuals, each of us can choose which value to put first, but as a state university, the law makes that choice for us. We cannot ban hurtful speech and expression on campus; we can only overcome it."

Armstrong listed efforts by the university in the past to create a more inclusionary environment on campus, and actions the university will be taking in the future to promote diversity.

However, just hours before Armstrong's letter was released, a Cal Poly professor took to Facebook to show university property scribbled with racial slurs, ripped campus diversity posters, and racist propaganda that had appeared around his office hallway Tuesday morning. 

Racial slurs and ripped diversity posters on Cal Poly's campus. The racial slur in the photo was redacted by KCBX News.
Credit Neal A. MacDougall's Facebook

In response to Armstrong's letter, Students for Quality Education organizer Mick Bruckner said it doesn't fully address the needs of minorities on campus.

"We do not want more student affairs workshops. We want more faculty of color, more ethnic studies courses, more cultural competency requirements in general education," Bruckner said. "We have answers, he has the money, now we just need to make this happen."

Read the entirety of Armstrong's letter as posted on Cal Poly's Facebook page.