Subscribe

login / sign up

close and back to page

Latest News

Latest News

Blackface Falls Under ‘Free Speech,’ University President Says in Wake of Racial Fraternity Scandal

The university president again says racism is out of his hands.

Leaders of Lambda Chi Alpha fraternity at California Polytechnic State University in San Luis Obispo have resigned after racially charged photos, including one with a student in blackface, appeared on social media. But the one sporting blackface, identified by The Tribune as Kyler Watkins, may not face disciplinary action from the school, according to Cal Poly President Jeffrey Armstrong.


"That's very, very likely protected by free speech, and freedom of expression," Armstrong told The Tribune. "If a student walks around on campus with their face painted black, they can do that.

"Based on the facts we have, what we know now, we would not expel that student."

In the photos online, brothers of the fraternity were wearing bandanas, baggy jeans, basketball jerseys and other articles of clothing appearing to perpetuate gang stereotypes. Some appeared to be using hand gestures meant to be gang symbols. The photos were taken as the university was holding a multicultural-themed weekend, during which potential students are given a chance to see the university.

The group photo was posted to Instagram and has since been taken down. The caption read, “She want a gangster not a pretty boy."

Armstrong called what the fraternity did “awful" but said his “personal feelings" do not trump “an individual's constitutional right." He did not say whether or not the fraternity's local chapter will be shut down but indicated it would remain.

"Will they return? I don't know," he said to The Tribune. "Maybe it's a totally new Lambda Chi that comes back. I don't know. But they are not guaranteed to come back. We still have the ability to say, 'No matter what you do, you aren't coming back.' But I don't think it's wise for us to do that right now."

Watkins and one other student have left the fraternity entirely. The university suspended the fraternity earlier this week.

According to the fraternity, Watkins' face was painted black because the brothers were doing an activity in which they were members of different colored teams, and he was on the black team. In the photo, a student next to Watkins does not have his face painted. And none of the students in the group photo have their faces painted, either.

Since the photos were circulated incidents of vandalism have occurred at the fraternity house, which now has a security guard posted outside.

Armstrong does not believe the incident — or others — signal an embedded issue of racism at the university.

"I don't believe we have a culture that is racist," he told The Tribune. "I believe we have had some incidents that are awful and we are working very hard to get at the root cause and help people understand."

Not everyone agrees.

Naba Ahmed is editor-in-chief of Mustang News, the university's newspaper. She penned an op-ed titled "Dear President Armstrong, you have failed." She cited several racially charged incidents in recent years that took place at the school.

This past January flyers circulated around campus saying that white people are five times more likely to be victims of crimes committed by Black people than Blacks targeted by whites. In 2017, a student was passing out neo-Nazi and white power flyers on campus. In 2016 an annual "Free Speech Wall" event put together by the Cal Poly College Republicans ended with racist, sexist, anti-Islamic and transphobic messages.

Ahmed, a Muslim woman, pointed to Armstrong's missteps in the past as part of a pattern.

"The university has allowed Milo Yiannopoulos to come to campus and a wall full of hate speech to be erected under the guise of free speech," Ahmed wrote. "Every time there has been hate speech on campus, you have said your hands are tied and you can't do anything.

"On top of that, Cal Poly has the highest percentage of white students of any California higher learning public institution and has been named one of the seven worst institutions for Latinx student success.

"Instead of implementing real change, Armstrong, you would rather pile on more student fees to put on a facade to increase diversity."

Ahmed also cited a 2012 report from the Western Association of Schools and Colleges (WASC), which said the school risks losing its accreditation as "there is concern that the issue of diversity as related to the campus climate has been allowed to exist for a long time." The report called on the school to "quickly and aggressively address these negative effects and actively increase the diversity of student, staff, and faculty as part of its responsibility to serve the citizens of California."

The Conversation (5)
SouthernSweet23 Nov, 2018

Every other legitimate college and university in this country has moral and ethical standards that all students are held to...the school president needs to be fired...

SouthernSweet23 Nov, 2018

Every other legitimate college and university in this country has moral and ethical standards that all students are held too...the school president needs to be fired

18 Apr, 2018
Freedom of speech does not include the right: To incite actions that would harm others (e.g., “[S]hout[ing] ‘fire’ in a crowded theater.”). Schenck v. United States, 249 U.S. 47 (1919). To make or distribute obscene materials. Roth v. United States, 354 U.S. 476 (1957). To burn draft cards as an anti-war protest. United States v. O’Brien, 391 U.S. 367 (1968). To permit students to print articles in a school newspaper over the objections of the school administration. Hazelwood School District v. Kuhlmeier, 484 U.S. 260 (1988). Of students to make an obscene speech at a school-sponsored event. Bethel School District #43 v. Fraser, 478 U.S. 675 (1986). Of students to advocate illegal drug use at a school-sponsored event. Morse v. Frederick, __ U.S. __ (2007).
John Hoade15 Apr, 2018
Simply fire Cal Poly President Jeffrey Armstrong...he's to stupid to lead a school. #fireJeffreyArmstrong
13 Apr, 2018
Why is it that , predominantly white college students and campuses get “ Stupider “ ?

Laquan McDonald Reduced to 'Second Class Citizen,' Says Family

The light sentence given to the officer who killed McDonald, "suggests to us that there are no laws on the books for a Black man that a white man is bound to honor," said his great-uncle.

Hours of testimony at Jason Van Dyke's sentencing on Friday ended in shock for one family, and relief and happiness for the other.

Read More Show Less

Two Students Leave University of Oklahoma After Blackface Video Surfaces

"Obviously we've had a second incident in several years," University of Oklahoma President James Gallogly said. "It shows that there must be something systemic. We have work to do."

Screenshot/ Snapchat

Another video of a student in blackface has surfaced at the University of Oklahoma (OU).

Read More Show Less

Update: Student Wearing MAGA Hat Standing Face-to-Face With Native American Veteran Releases Statement

"I was not intentionally making faces at the [protester]," said Nick Sandmann.

Screen shot of Instagram video by Kaya Taitano

UPDATE: Monday, Jan. 21, 2019 at 7 a.m.

Nick Sandmann, the Covington Catholic High School Junior who stands in front of Nathan Phillips, an elder with the Omaha tribe and a veteran, in a viral video that has sparked outrage, made a statement through a lawyer and spokesman on Sunday night.

Sandmann said the students decided to raise their voices to drown out the comments against them by four protesters who identify themselves as Black Hebrew Israelites. A video has been released of the incident.

"A student in our group asked one of our teacher chaperones for permission to begin our school spirit chants to counter the hateful things that were being shouted at our group," Sandmann said in his statement. "The chants are commonly used at sporting events. They are all positive in nature and sound like what you would hear at any high school," he said.

Phillips walked up to the students and said he started drumming and singing a song to encourage unity trying to quell the argument.

"There was that moment when I realized I've put myself between beast and prey,'' Phillips told the Detroit Free Press. "These young men were beastly and these old Black individuals was their prey, and I stood in between them and so they needed their pounds of flesh and they were looking at me for that.''

But said at one point, he claims the teenagers started saying "Go back to the reservation'' and broke into chants of "Build that wall.'' He also questioned why chaperones did not get involved.

"I was scared," Phillips told CNN. "I don't like the word 'hate.' I don't like even saying it, but it was hate unbridled. It was like a storm."

Sandmann claims he was "not intentionally making faces at the [protester]. I did smile at one point because I wanted him to know that I was not going to become angry, intimidated or be provoked into a larger confrontation."

The Roman Catholic Diocese of Covington in Kentucky is currently investigating the incident.

ORIGINAL STORY Published Sunday, Jan. 20, 2019

Students wearing "Make America Great Again" hats, who attend Covington Catholic High School in Park Hills, K.Y., were in Washington, D.C. on Friday for the anti-abortion March for Life rally. In a video, it appears that Nathan Phillips, an elder with the Omaha tribe and a veteran, was being mocked by the students at the Lincoln Memorial.

The incident occurred as the Indigenous Peoples March was ending. Videos showing their behavior went viral on social media on Saturday.

One of the students, standing less than a foot away, appears to be trying to intimidate Phillips by staring him down with a mocking smirk on his face. Phillips was in the midst of drumming and singing a song of unity:

Kaya Taitano, who shot the video, told CNN that MAGA hat-wearing-students and four Black teens, who'd been preaching about the Bible nearby, started yelling and calling each other names. That's why Phillips started drumming and singing a song to encourage unity trying to quell the argument.

President Trump, whom the students apparently idolize, posted a tweet last week to mock Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.), who plans to run for president in the 2020 election.

Trump made fun of the 1890 Wounded Knee massacre in response to a video Warren posted on Instagram.

Phillips, a Vietnam Era veteran who said he served between 1972 and 1976, is in tears as he explains in a video how the incident on Friday made him feel:

"I heard them saying, 'Build that wall, build that wall.' This in indigenous land. You know, we're not supposed to have walls here. We never did …"

He continued, "Before anybody else came here, we never had walls. We never had a prison. We always took care of our elders. We took care of our children. We always provided for them. We taught them right from wrong."

He said he wishes the young men who taunted him would use "that energy to make this country really great."

Robert "Bob" Rowe is the principal of Covington Catholic High School (email: browe@covcath.org).

An investigation is now taking place, and the MAGA teens could be expelled. The Diocese of Covington and the high school issued the following statement on Saturday:

"We condemn the actions of the Covington Catholic High School students towards Nathan Phillips specifically, and Native Americans in general, Jan. 18, after the March for Life, in Washington, D.C. We extend our deepest apologies to Mr. Phillips. This behavior is opposed to the Church's teachings on the dignity and respect of the human person.

"The matter is being investigated and we will take appropriate action, up to and including expulsion.

"We know this incident also has tainted the entire witness of the March for Life and express our most sincere apologies to all those who attended the March and all those who support the pro-life movement."

More than 10,000 people have signed a petition on Change.org demanding changes at the high school.

Many are saying on social media that the actions of the Covington Catholic High School students mimics how whites tried to intimidate Blacks during the civil rights movement:

Senator Holds Airlines Accountable When Servicing Customers With Disabilities

U.S. Sen. Tammy Duckworth (D-Ill.) is working to stop wheelchairs from getting damaged during air travel.

TWITTER

U.S. Senator Tammy Duckworth (D-Ill.) is leading the charge for better airline management of customers' motorized wheelchairs. Duckworth has been confined to a wheelchair since her helicopter was shot down in Iraq and she lost both of her legs.

Read More Show Less

California Defies Trump's Order NOT to Pay Furloughed Workers Unemployment

Over 55 percent of civil service employees in the state are people of color.

Screenshot from ABC 7

President Donald Trump signed legislation on Wednesday that said all furloughed workers would receive back pay once the government reopens. However, the Trump administration has ordered states not to provide unemployment coverage to federal workers who have been required to work without pay during the partial government shutdown.

California Governor Gavin Newsom said on Thursday the U.S. Department of Labor sent states a letter with that mandate, according to NPR. The Department of Labor said the roughly 420,000 federal employees who are "essential" cannot file for unemployment as they are "generally ineligible."

It also reported 10,454 initial claims by federal workers for the week that ended Jan. 5, doubling the previous week's figure. Thousands more have applied since, state officials said.

Newsom said the decision by the Department of Labor's decision was "jaw-dropping."

"So, the good news is, we're going to do it, and shame on them," he said.

"From a moral perspective, there is no debate on this issue and we will blow back aggressively on the Department of Labor."

The California Employment Development Department (EDD) reports unemployment claims for one week during the shutdown are up 600 percent from the same time last year. The state has over 245,000 federal employees.

Over 55 percent of civil service employees in the state are people of color, and they are over 35 percent of the country's federal workforce.

Newsom encouraged people to continue to apply while the state figured out how to get the money. He estimated benefits that would last up to 26 weeks and provided a few hundred extra dollars a month. He said he knows it doesn't fix everything, but hopefully it helps.

His message to Trump: "Let us states do the job you can't seem to do yourself."

Some state officials said they had asked utilities and other companies to extend mercy to federal employees, and the federal Office of Personnel Management published sample letters that furloughed employees could send to creditors to ask for patience.

Texas has received more than 2,900 claims from federal workers since the shutdown began on Dec. 22, while Ohio is approaching 700. Kansas reported 445 filings, and Alabama was closing in on 500. Montana said it had logged almost 1,500.

Trump tweeted on Friday that he would be making a "major announcement" on Saturday about the government shutdown.

A senior administration official told CNN that Trump plans to offer Democrats another proposal to end the shutdown.

Reader Question: How are people you know that are furloughed workers surviving?

Black Student in Kansas Sues School District for Racial Discrimination

The dance team's choreographer told Camille Sturdivant that her skin was "too dark" to perform because she "clashed" with uniforms.

Camille Sturdivant has filed a racial discrimination lawsuit against the Blue Valley School District for the abuse she was subjected to as a member of the high school dance team.

Read More Show Less