Students question Cal Poly president about blackface incident during packed forum

Posted at 12:49 AM, Apr 13, 2018

Cal Poly’s president met with students Thursday night to hear from them during a forum about the blackface incident at Lambda Chi Alpha fraternity.

Hundreds of students filled the Performing Arts Center to hear from and address President Jeffery Armstrong and other campus leaders.

"We are very, very sorry for what this has caused so many of you," President Armstrong said. "Since I’ve been here, the number one priority has been to enhance diversity and inclusivity."

Tensions were high at Thursday’s meeting. Many students spoke up and said that they do not feel safe on campus, telling the president they want something done.

One by one they went up to the microphone and voiced their worries.

"Why aren’t you digging deeper if you care about our learning environment because blackface definitely created a hostile learning environment for many of us at the university," said one student.

"You allow a white man in a fraternity to paint his face black and then not say that it is racist. How can I, as a trans person – even though I am white – feel safe on this campus when you are allowing students to actively be hateful towards minority groups?" a student shouted from the audience.

Students repeatedly asked President Armstrong what he was going to do about the recent events. He told them it’s not his decision to make about the future of either the student or the fraternity.

"You have enough power to get him expelled," argued a student in attendance. "Obviously you don’t understand the complexity of blackface."

President Armstrong told the students he wished the incident hadn’t happened and reassured them the student involved would be held accountable.

"Sometimes it’s not as fast enough or harsh enough but we are doing," said President Armstrong. He also acknowledged that the student is unlikely to be expelled. "Although atrocious, he’s protected by free speech.”

Many students also told the president they do not feel welcome on the Cal Poly campus and that the school lacks diversity.

"You said it a few times, that your number one commitment is diversity, but that’s a lie. If it was a priority, we wouldn’t be in this situation right now," said a student when it was her turn at the mic.

"You can do more than an email that says ‘sorry’ because ‘sorry’ gets old when we see no change. President Armstrong, you can work harder to keep in contact with minority groups and organizations. You can create more forums and more celebrations of diversity. You can educate our students more," added another student.


Sunday: A photo surfaced of a Lambda Chi Alpha fraternity member with his face painted black at a brotherhood event over the weekend, which was Poly Cultural Weekend.

Monday: The fraternity apologized and was suspended by both its national arm and the university. That night, hundreds of upset students attended a town hall meeting, where many voiced outrage.

Tuesday: The Interfraternity Council released new guidelines, including a zero tolerance policy towards racism, sexism, homophobic or culturally inappropriate behaviors.

Wednesday: Lambda Chi Alpha announced two top chapter leaders and two other members had resigned from the fraternity. A spokesman said one of the resigning members was the student pictured in blackface.

Thursday: The Interfraternity Council suspended all fraternities and sororities. Chapter presidents call it a self-imposed probation. They won’t participate in Greek Life events or have booths Cal Poly’s Open House for freshmen this weekend.

Friday: Students plan to protest starting at 8 a.m. at the Rec Center. Hundreds of people have RSVP’d on Facebook. Several student groups are co-sponsoring the Open House Day of Action event.

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