New blackface incident at Cal Poly sparks state attorney general's office investigation

May 4, 2018

The California Office of the Attorney General will investigate incidents of racism, discrimination and harassment at California Polytechnic State University in San Luis Obispo.

Cal Poly president Jeffrey Armstrong announced Friday in a video posted online that another incident of students wearing blackface has occurred at the university.

Armstrong said he was “disgusted” to learn of a private fraternity group Snapchat that appeared to imitate an April 7 blackface incident that triggered fraternity suspensions and campus protests. Armstrong said the administration learned of the matter through an “act of accountability” taken by other fraternity members.

Armstrong and a university spokesperson did not share any other details of the incident.

“I am outraged,” Armstrong said in the video posted on Cal Poly’s Facebook page:

“Our campus has experienced events that have hurt our community, that have hurt all of us. To our students, faculty and staff of color, you have especially been hurt by these incidents and your day-to-day struggle. To you, I want you to know we care. We care about you. We want our campus to be very safe, and it will be safe for you.”

Armstrong also said the the “vile” and “unacceptable,” acts, “stem from the inability from any institution to adequately address historic and pervasive bias and inequities.”

“This kind of behavior has no place at Cal Poly,” Armstrong said. “It has no home in our house.”

This new incident of blackface, as well as the April 7, 2018 Lambda Alpha Chi blackface incident and reports from other fraternities and sororities, has all been handed over to the California attorney general’s office for investigation, according to Armstrong.

“We have reviewed these incidents through the lens of California State University Executive Order 1097 (our systemwide discrimination, harassment and retaliation policy for students) and have determined that a formal investigation is warranted,” Cal Poly spokesperson Matt Lazier said in an email.

“In order to ensure a thorough, fair and neutral process, we have retained the California attorney general’s office to conduct the investigation pursuant to the procedure and policy set forth in CSU Executive Order 1097. The attorney general’s office will also investigate whether Cal Poly’s fraternities and sororities have violated the CSU’s non-discrimination policy for student activities, set forth in CSU Executive Order 1068.”

Lazier said the university had no more information to share at the moment while the incidents are under investigation.

In his taped message to the campus community, Armstrong said the university will report the results “as permissible by law” once the investigation is complete.

The California Office of the Attorney General said it does not comment on client matters.

The news was announced during two days of university-hosted diversity discussions intended to address recent racist incidents and student protests at Cal Poly.

(l to r) Ethnic studies professor José Navarro, Cal Poly Assistant Dean of Students Bryan Hubain and San Luis Obispo Mayor Heidi Harmon at Friday's Baker Forum.
Credit The Baker Forum/https://bit.ly/2rqjqlA

On Friday afternoon, Cal Poly’s biannual Baker Forum provided an opportunity to focus on the turmoil. Cal Poly hired diversity expert Kimberly McLaughlin-Smith to deliver the forum’s keynote address and moderate a panel that included José Navarro, assistant professor in the ethnic studies department; Leilani Hemmings Pallay, an ethnic studies student; Patrick Lin of the philosophy department; Stan Yoshinobu of the mathematics department; Bryan Hubain, assistant dean of students and director of the Cross Cultural Centers; and San Luis Obispo Mayor Heidi Harmon.

McLaughlin-Smith is the diversity and inclusion specialist at the University of North Carolina-Wilmington.

“One of the things I would like to work with you all and your administration is the art of negotiation,” McLaughlin-Smith said. “And your absolute right to ask for what you want.”

McLaughlin-Smith was referring to a lengthy list of demands released by student group, the Drylongo Collective, that calls for the expulsion of several fraternity members, mandatory diversity training and more.

Lazier said the university paid McLaughlin-Smith an “honorarium” of $5,000 to keynote the forum.

“She brings a wealth of experience in and passion for diversity and inclusion work,” Lazier wrote in an email. “And her perspective has been and will continue to be very important to Cal Poly as the campus community moves forward in the healing process and as we continue with our campus climate and diversity and inclusion efforts.”