Following fresh allegations of racism at Cal Poly, including a new fraternity photo that surfaced, university President Jeffrey Armstrong announced Tuesday that all Panhellenic and Interfraternity Council fraternities and sororities have been placed on indefinite suspension.
Last month, three members of the Sigma Nu fraternity were photographed holding Corona bottles and wearing outfits appearing to impersonate Hispanics. The photo, which just recently surfaced, was shared on social media with the caption, “When you get he holmes to take a photo of la familia.”
Armstrong responded with a long message to the campus community expressing outrage and providing a detailed list of action the Cal Poly administration is taking in response to recent fraternity activity and other alleged racism. The university president described the Sigma Nu photo as “another incident of racial profiling and cultural appropriation.”
The circulation of the Sigma Nu photo comes days following large protests on campus over a blackface incident at the Lambda Chi Alpha fraternity. Lambda Chi Alpha members were also photographed dressed as gangsters.
“After learning this morning about another incident of racial profiling and cultural appropriation that occurred at Sigma Nu six weeks ago, I am announcing today an indefinite suspension of all Panhellenic and Interfraternity Council fraternities and sororities,” Armstrong stated. “I understand this impacts Greek Life organizations that have been operating responsibly and with integrity. However, 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 addition to the fraternity and sorority suspensions, other actions university administrators are taking include hiring an independent African-American diversity and inclusion specialist. The specialist, Kimberly McLaughlin-Smith from the University of North Carolina Wilmington, will work with administrators, faculty, staff and students to help the Cal Poly administration better understand the concerns and perspectives of underrepresented students and to improve the campus climate and culture.
Cal Poly will also begin requiring bias training for all hiring committees and certain faculty. Likewise, Armstrong noted that over his tenure, which began in 2011, Cal Poly’s student body decreased from 63 percent white to 55 percent white.
On the question of disciplining students for alleged racism, Armstrong said the university is required by law to uphold free speech.
Also on Tuesday, a Cal Poly professor posted photos of apparent vandalism surrounding his campus office. The images include photos of statements and graphics about race, intelligence and homicide rates; the word “NIGGER” written on a bathroom stall; a ripped poster of a woman in an American flag head covering; and a ripped sign belonging to the professor, stating he works “with and for undocumented students and families.”
The professor, Neal A. MacDougall, responded to the vandalism with a statement criticizing Armstrong for denying there is a racist culture on campus.
“I know that Cal Poly President Armstrong has asserted that a racist culture does not exist at Cal Poly but it makes me wonder what kind of culture these images represent? All of this was centered around my office hallway this morning. I think we have to move beyond protecting the Cal Poly “brand” and start dealing with the Cal Poly reality,” MacDougall wrote in a Facebook post.