Soon after Neal MacDougall arrived on the Cal Poly San Luis Obispo campus Tuesday, the professor noticed university police standing outside a restroom near his office. A racial slur against African Americans had been scrawled in red marker on a stall wall.
Later, he discovered a series of racist fliers pinned up next to his door. Someone had also slashed posters he’d hung outside his office supporting students in the country illegally.
The discovery was the latest controversy on the prestigious campus — which the president said is less than 55% white — that MacDougall said demonstrates a culture of racism at the university. Last week, photographs emerged of white fraternity members, including one in blackface, flashing gang signs.
That same weekend, minority students had hosted a diversity event for high school students.
“A lot of African American, Latino, Asian students felt they were perpetrating a fraud,” said MacDougall, who has been teaching in the university’s agribusiness department for about two decades. “They just told all these high school students this was a good place to be.”
In a statement Tuesday, university President Jeffrey Armstrong announced an indefinite suspension of all Panhellenic and Interfraternity Council fraternities and sororities.
“We are also seeking to meet with our underrepresented students to address their concerns and discuss the actions we are taking to support them and diversity and inclusion on our campus,” Armstrong wrote.
University spokesman Matt Lazier called the latest postings of hateful and racist comments “desperate acts of a few who aim to spread hate and divide our community.”
He said any actions that violate university policy or 1st Amendment rights, including threats of physical violence or expression that constitutes harassment, will result in discipline, up to expulsion and possibly even criminal charges.
“In no uncertain terms, the university abhors and denounces hateful and racist speech and actions — they are inconsistent with our values at Cal Poly,” Lazier said. “We must use this time to reject hate and come together as a community to foster a constructive dialogue and begin the healing process.”
MacDougall posted photos to Facebook of the fliers he found outside his office. One suggested that skin tone was correlated with homicide and rape rates, along with IQ numbers.
Another listed the number of species and subspecies of gorillas, chimpanzees and other animals. The flier then went on to say:
“So now you tell me, are all groups of humans the same subspecies or even the same species? Do we have one set of rules for humans, and another set of rules for all other organisms? Is that scientific? Do you honestly believe that there is only one species of human, and one subspecies at that???”
Two of MacDougall’s own posters were slashed through with an X. One said, “I am an unafraid educator! As a professor/instructor I work with an for undocumented students and families at Cal Poly-SLO.”
The other was a photo of a woman in an American flag hijab, with the message: “We the people are greater than fear.”
“That I found even more disturbing because, you know, there’s this undertone of violence to that act,” MacDougall said.
He called the police but they didn’t show up, he said, and he was advised to just take the fliers down.
He said the university’s weak response, which he believes is more focused on damage control rather than solving underlying issues, reinforces that this behavior is OK.
“A lot of the response is this kind of crisis response that we see corporations do: ‘What do we say to not make the things worse,’ ” MacDougall said. “We have to be honest with each other about what has happened.”