Cal Poly graduation protest: some won’t shake Pres. Armstrong’s hand

Posted at 5:03 PM, Jun 11, 2018
and last updated 2018-06-11 20:03:34-04

A new Cal Poly protest has surfaced. The protest is organized by students during the graduation ceremony this weekend.

Some students are calling for President Jeffrey Armstrong to resign following the recent controversy and protests over racial issues on campus.

Nearly 5,000 Cal Poly seniors are eligible to walk at this Saturday’s graduation ceremony. Parents, alumni and Cal Poly staff will all be in attendance.

Before the yellow and green mustang confetti flies, some students are encouraging all graduates to skip one detail: the handshake with the university president, a long held tradition.

"A handshake with Armstrong is a slap in the face to all the students who have been hurt by his policies and inaction," said Brooke Bryski, a Cal Poly senior. "So I will not be shaking his hand and I call on the student body to join me, let’s set a precedent."

Students who will be participating in this demonstration say Armstrong failed to punish students after what some perceive as racist incidents by Cal Poly fraternities. They say they are also concerned about a lack of leadership.

"We feel that President Armstrong lacks the moral authority to run this university," Bryski said. "We are hurt and frustrated by his policy, by his inaction."

Cal Poly said in a statement:

Of course it is disappointing to hear there may be some students who choose not to shake President Armstrong’s hand during commencement, but we support our students’ right to protest and have their voices heard. Their call for increased diversity at Cal Poly is shared passionately by President Armstrong and the entire administration – this has been and will continue to be a priority. In fact, shortly after his hire, President Armstrong stated that increasing the diversity of campus was among his most important goals and that the student body of the university needed to more closely reflect the demographics of the state of California. While making these changes takes time, progress has been made – today Cal Poly is more ethnically diverse than it has been at any time in its history (currently just over half of the student body are Caucasian). In addition, applications from under-represented minority students doubled between 2008 and 2018, while overall applications increased by half that much. The university also created an Office of University Diversity and Inclusion and a vice president-level position to lead the office. Administration has further put in place a comprehensive Diversity Initiatives Plan ( to guide its efforts and create a more inclusive and supportive campus culture, attract more diverse faculty and staff and inject diversity education into all facets of the university’s polytechnic curriculum. And yet we know there is still much work to be done. Shifting the demographics and culture of the university’s campus does not happen overnight. That work began years ago and it continues, but it is most effectively accomplished by listening to the voices of our campus community and working together to make meaningful, lasting change.

Students say they want change surrounding diversity, staff pay raises, student fee increases and student homelessness.

According to a Facebook event, only 100 students have indicated they are interested in the protest, which is roughly two percent of the graduating body on Saturday.

A petition that has been formed by students calling on President Armstrong to resign has received 1,200 signatures.

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