Cal Poly Suspends Historically White Fraternities & Sororities – A Unique, New Precedent For Community Suspensions.

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Roughly a dozen mostly public, land-grant institutions suspended some or all of their fraternity/sorority community over the past year due to incidents regarding hazing, sexual misconduct, and risky parties. Cal Poly in San Luis Obispo joins that list, but under different circumstances. 

I am unaware of a situation in which a school suspended their fraternity/sorority community with a “successful” outcome. The University of Central Florida has had two such suspensions within a 5 year period, which says enough about their success rate. Community suspensions may temporarily halt risky activities, but they also halt all other activities and the activities of groups which do not partake in the risky situations. They’re unfair, obvious power-grabs, and I can often make a case for them being unconstitutional.

Why is Cal Poly different? In this case, the suspension arises out of two racially charged incidents from two chapters at the institution, as mentioned in this letter from the President of the school. You can find more information on the situation and the two racial incidents here.

Roughly two dozen student groups catering to a variety of cultural backgrounds (and the College Democrats. . . ) have organized a series of protests to address these incidents and their collective opinion that most students at Cal Poly are white, many are affluent, and that the cultural students partaking in the protests feel underserved, disrespected, or concerned for their safety. (I’ll never understand how “cultural” came to mean non-white. I’m Greek & Assyrian. So yeah, I’m white, but I’ve got plenty of culture, honey)

Here’s some fun trivia related to these incidents: The students who partook in these offensive acts will not face punishment from the institution. Why? As a public institution, Cal Poly will not penalize students for expressing their rights of speech. . . hm.

 “I wish we could forbid them from our campus and insure they are never again expressed, but that is not realistic. While this may anger and frustrate many, the laws governing constitutional rights to free speech are unambiguous and unequivocal. The First Amendment protects the free speech of everyone on our campus, and the university cannot sanction any campus community member or visitor who is legally expressing their views – even if we as a university find those views to be disgusting, racist, sexist, homophobic, or in any other way contradict our values.” – Cal Poly State University president Jeffery Armstrong

 

I find this puzzling. This public institution cannot sanction individual students due to free speech protections, which also include the freedom of association. So, in trying to protect the constitutional rights of individual students at a publicly funded university, the administration chose instead to penalize any individual student associated with a Greek-letter organization. . .

 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.

Well. . . not quite “all fraternities and sororities.” Members of historically black and cultural organizations are protesting the incidents and are not subjected to the suspension or any of the requirements of the suspension. It’s not hard to understand why President Armstrong made that decision, but that doesn’t make it reasonable or progressive. It does serve to placate the protesting students. Here we are, yet again, apologizing for some racist students, affirming our commitment to diversity, promising to learn, and hoping that the tension will pass while we isolate the white folks to teach them the cultures of the world. . . It’s an interesting theory to say the least.

Again, in trying to protect the constitutional rights of individual students, the administration chose instead to penalize any individual student associate with a [historically white] Greek-letter organization.

I’m not debating the existence privilege or cultural insensitivity, I understand it better than many of my colleagues think, but I am going to say that Cal Poly’s response addresses the protests, not the racial incidents or the offenders. That much is clear by observing the chain of events. One may wonder what the intended outcome of this suspension will be beyond “a plan to hold one another accountable.”

  • Will the cultural Greek-letter organizations and [white] Greek-letter organizations get along better after this issue?
  • Will collaborations exist where they currently do not?
  • Is this genuine friendship and collaboration or just enough for a photo-op and until the next community suspension?
  • Will those students protesting be protesting similar incidents next year?
  • Has the university set an unreasonable precedent?
  • Is there a legitimate theory behind isolating the white students makes their learning about cultural sensitivity more effective?

Feel free to share your thoughts; I’m not taking any position other than positions I’ve consistently expressed regarding community suspensions. This racial element; however, is a new precedent – one we should better explore before it becomes another go-to among campus administrators.

P.S. – There are other issues with the Cal Poly fraternity/sorority community, but note that it took these protests to recognize that action needs to be taken despite what is apparently years of concern. Just like Penn State suddenly implemented a “zero-tolerance” hazing policy in 2017, which makes one wonder why it took so long if the problems were known to exist.

I should also note that there is at least one chapter of Cal Poly students in San Luis Obispo operating without university recognition. Will this affect them? Will that group/those groups take independent action to address the issues plaguing historically white fraternities at the institution? Will more fraternities disaffiliate from the institution? What a complex world we’ve weaved. . .

Update: The suspension of IFC fraternities and Panhellenic sororities is not unprecedented, the trigger behind this suspension is what I found unique. “Community” suspensions often target segments of the fraternity/sorority community exhibiting the improper behavior.

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