Cal Poly student at center of blackface controversy pens letter to media

Posted at 1:49 PM, Apr 13, 2018
and last updated 2018-04-13 16:49:03-04

Kyler Watkins has identified himself as the Cal Poly student who painted his face black at a Lambda Chi Alpha fraternity event over the weekend. A photo of Watkins in blackface has sparked outrage in the campus community. The fraternity has been placed on suspension, hundreds of students turned out for a protest Friday morning, and many are calling on Cal Poly President Jeffrey D. Armstrong to resign.

Watkins sent the following response to KSBY on Friday:

Dear KSBY,
     As a former Cal Poly Lambda Chi Alpha member, I would like to respond to numerous statements made by Cal Poly to the press regarding the Lambda Chi Alpha "blackface" incident, in addition to factual misstatements rampant on social media.  
     First and most importantly, I take full responsibility for the lack of judgment I displayed when I painted my face black at a brotherhood event on April 7, 2018.  If there’s any part of this message to take into consideration, I hope it would be that my ill-informed decision to paint my face black had nothing whatsoever to do with racism or discrimination. Growing up white and privileged, I was truly unaware of how insensitive I was to the racial implications of blackface. I was, in fact, a member of the Lambda Chi Alpha "black team," wore black clothes and painted my face.  Dozens of witnesses, text messages leading up to the event, photographs and a video support my unwavering position that I never intended to represent or mimic a black person.  I am not in the now infamous gangster photo because that picture depicts members of the yellow team who opted for a gangster theme.  I was not on the yellow team, and for that reason, I am not in the photo, nor was I dressed as a gangster. 
     When I woke up Sunday morning to learn that "blackface" is of historical racial significance, no words can express my regret and horror.  I began researching on my laptop and learned that blackface was used in early theater to perpetuate racial stereotypes.  I knew immediately that I had made a grave mistake, and moreover, I fully understood why people would hate me.  My own lack of awareness has placed my life in danger and worse, has hurt other people whom I had no intention of alienating, mocking or offending in any way.  My life has been threatened, lies about me are permeating social media, and justifiably so.  
     Although social media and editorials in the Mustang News have dismissed my explanation as "pathetic" and "false," the explanation is true and supported by evidence I have supplied to the University.  I am not, nor have I ever been, a racist, and contrary to some reports, I have never been involved in any kind of discriminatory incident.   I am not sorry simply because I "was caught."  I am sorry because I have given other students the impression they can indiscriminately be made fun of because of their race or appearance.  In my own mind, I was simply "going all out" in my theme as a member of the black team.  Believe me, I wish with all my heart that I had been a member of the blue team. 
     Second, the press, social media, a new Cal Poly parents’
facebook page and editorials to the Mustang News have portrayed me as a tried and true racist.  They have argued that the concepts of the "benefit of the doubt" and "there are two-sides to every story" do not apply to me because there is no excuse for "blackface."  I agree.  There is no excuse for blackface; I truly did not know the historical ramifications of it on April 7.  I do now.
     I understand there will be a diversity march on Friday, April 13, 2018.  I’m very open to a dialogue with anyone or any student group who would like to discuss increased diversity awareness within the Greek system and the school as a whole.  I’m confident that increased awareness and education is the key to preventing the type of hurt I have caused.   Ultimately, I cannot control what is said or believed about me in the press and social media.  For my part, all I can do now is express my sincerest apologies to those whom I have hurt.  My actions stemmed from ignorance, but never hate, discrimination or the intent to hurt anyone.
Kyler Watkins