When news came out about a noose, a confederate flag and allegations of a sign that read racial and gay slurs, hundreds of Cal Poly students and faculty joined together wearing black shirts in response to the on-campus crop science house members who allegedly committed the offenses at recent weekend parties.
The crop house is a subsidized house for crop science students to live while they work for the campus crop unit.
Brad Pupura, a student leader of the protest at University Union Hour on Thursday, addressed the crowd before a band played, informing everyone about the incident and the reasoning behind the protest.
“This is on-school property and it is hate speech,” said Pupura, a graphic communication senior. “They are just getting a slap on the wrist and issuing an apology. It’s absurd and I’m dumbfounded.”
“Cal Poly should have been proactive and not reactive. This is completely uncalled for. It’s 2008.”
Peter Wade, city and regional planning and chapter president for the Society of Black Engineers and Scientists, said that those protesting want a town hall meeting with Cal Poly President Warren Baker and faculty to share and brainstorm solutions.
During the hour of protest, a petition accumulated about 150 signatures for the expulsion of the students living in the crop science house and those involved with the disputed materials.
“We think that what they did was a threat and we do not consider it free speech,” Wade said.
Camille O’Bryant, associate professor and department chair of kinesiology, held a sign that read “End Racism Now.”
“I wasn’t there, but I absolutely condemn the idea that anyone feels it is OK to write derogatory terms and post them in public,” Bryant said. “People are unaware of the multiplicity to the symbols without awareness to them. That’s a problem for me.”
For now, Cal Poly is standing by the decision that this is a free speech issue.
Provost Robert Koob first learned about the incident with the noose and flag on Tuesday evening after a reporter for The New Times called John Peterson, Cal Poly department head of horticulture and crop science, for comments on the incident.
Koob said that an unknown female student visiting the crop science house felt uncomfortable about what she saw and described and gave information to the New Times, a San Luis Obispo weekly paper.
“(The incident) appears to be true and we don’t approve of it,” Koob said. “My first reaction was: What are we going to do to punish them?”
But the Cal Poly administration will not be taking any legal action against those students involved since the First Amendment supports their right to voice their opinions.
“We learned that it’s a protective element of free speech so we aren’t able to take any punitive actions,” Koob said. “So what we are doing is to work with those students to first, understand their motivation and second, to help them understand how hurtful that is to a large number of people.”
Koob said that the students have also broken the trust of the university by using the house that they are allowed to reside in for such an event.
Peterson, who visited the crop science house after he learned about the event, talked to the students about what exactly happened.
“The students admitted that it was not good, stupid and wrong,” Peterson said, adding that the hanging skeleton, he was told, was a Halloween decoration. “They said it was a foolish rebellion and ruthless behavior.”
Peterson said that the students living at the house were unsupervised at the time, but that is going to change.
“We absolutely need to be on an enhanced level of oversight,” he added, emphasizing that the students’ actions do not reflect the values of the department.
“We have a high level of respect and regard for diversity in its fullest scope.”
Rachel Glas contributed to this report.