A months-long investigation by the California Attorney General has found no laws or university policies were broken by students involved in “disgusting, racially insensitive and offensive acts” on the Cal Poly campus this past spring, the university announced Tuesday.
Tensions were high on campus after a photo of a fraternity member in blackface surfaced in April. It was one of a handful of incidents involving Cal Poly fraternities and sororities that led to protests on campus and prompted the university to take what it called “immediate action” and request the attorney general to investigate.
A university spokesperson said there were three fraternities and one sorority specifically involved in the investigation.
Cal Poly President Jeffrey D. Armstrong said in a letter sent out to campus students and staff Tuesday that while the Attorney General’s report as a whole is confidential, since it names specific students, the investigation yielded additional information the university will review and will address any violations of student code of conduct.
Cal Poly says the report also concluded that the acts that occurred at Cal Poly were free speech and protected by the First Amendment, but “profoundly offensive and insensitive – and demonstrating an appalling lack of judgment.”
“The right to free speech is important and everyone deserves that right but I don’t think it’s okay to be in a community where people can disrespect each other to that extent and it be okay,” said Lizzie Wiley, a Cal Poly Graduate when she read Armstrong’s email.
Armstrong said, “While we are obligated to obey the law, including the protection of free speech rights, I want to be very clear that we find reprehensible any and all acts aimed at denigrating and hurting any member of our campus community. Those actions simply run counter to everything we represent Cal Poly. We may not be able to change the acts and attitudes of a few, but hear me when I say that those voices do not reflect our values and what we stand for as a university community. In response, we are working hard to improve our climate and provide a welcoming environment to all who would study, work, visit or live on our campus. Among our overall efforts, a key component is enhanced educational programming and fostering an environment in which we learn about and appreciate our differences and how they make us stronger. You will be hearing about, and more importantly, seeing in action more of this work in the coming weeks and months.”
One senior thought the investigation is enough to move on.
“I think that’s a great step,” said Nicholas Fernandes, a Cal Poly senior. “I am going to trust that they did that thoroughly enough if they don’t think any laws are broken then that is a fine resolution.”
Kyler Watkins, who identified himself as the student who painted his face black at the Lambda Chi Alpha fraternity, said he received a wide range of threats on social media after the photo surfaced, according to his attorney.
When reached by phone Tuesday afternoon, Watkins’ attorney, Doug Gilliland, declined to give their reaction to the ruling other than to say, “I’ve reviewed the Attorney General’s report. I was surprised and impressed by breadth and depth of the investigation including the number of witnesses and the amount of documentation. It was extremely thorough.”
The San Diego-area lawyer says the confidential report is more than 60 pages long.
Gilliland also declined to provide Watkins’ status as a student at Cal Poly. KSBY previously reported Watkins, a senior, had planned to graduate at the end of fall quarter.