Everything You Need to Know About the Recent Death Threat

Equality and basic human rights are generally accepted as universally necessary and important, yet situations of injustice are still regular occurrences in the world. For this reason, social justice is a current, ongoing social issue of high importance. Cal Poly San Luis Obispo is known for its lack of diversity: almost 60% of students identify as white/Caucasian. Recently, a new student activist group named “SLO Solidarity” was established on the Cal Poly campus. Consisting of student minorities and passionate representatives of the community, the group gives voice to many of the current campus issues. Their ultimate goal is to establish equality and equity for all Cal Poly students.

SLO Solidarity makes the claim that these underrepresented minority students do not feel completely safe on campus, which is something they would like to see changed. On Monday, November 30, 2015, SLO Solidarity released a document containing a list of 41 “demands for campus diversity and inclusivity” addressed to Cal Poly administration. These demands were targeted towards improving student acceptance, inclusion, and security in the following areas: Greek life; ASI student government; Cal Poly’s orientation; university housing; Cal Poly’s curriculum; academic affairs; admissions, faculty, and staff; and data, transparency, and accountability. To view the full list of demands, click here. At the end of the document, SLO Solidarity wrote, “If these demands cannot be met, we will demand a new administration which will treat underrepresented students with equity and make Cal Poly a place where everyone is equally empowered to obtain a high quality education.” Needless to say, this social activist group is quite serious about making and seeing change on campus.

The birth of SLO Solidarity and its released demands have sparked controversy among the student population. Many people agree with and support the organization, and many others don’t. The classic tale: “it’s impossible to please everyone.” Those in extreme opposition have contributed to the occurrence of several harmful events. Outside sources have reported that other “rival” groups have been conceived in response to SLO Solidarity. One student testified to the creation of “SLO Solidarity 2,” which is reportedly another minority group that disagrees with the points raised by the original SLO Solidarity group. Additionally, there have been inappropriate statements posted on Yik Yak, and students are apparently planning fights.

And it gets worse. On Tuesday night Matt Klepfer, the organizer of SLO Solidarity, received an anonymous racist death threat. The sender created a fake Facebook profile under the name of Mordecai Shekelburg and sent the following message to Klepfer:

It was reported that another message was sent, saying, “Consider suicide.” Though it is possible this person was just a “troll” trying to stir up trouble with no real intentions to do harm, there is no way of confirming this. Even if this is true, and even if this is a joke, a death threat is a serious concern and by no means a joking matter. Most Cal Poly students and faculty – many of whom gathered to protest the threat on Wednesday afternoon – realize this. Klepfer rightfully and understandably feared for his own life as well as the lives of those involved with the group. In response to the threat, he stated, “This message had a very White Supremacist sort of tone to it, and if that sort of thinking still exists on this campus, it really shows that a social justice-oriented movement is really needed.” Cal Poly’s President Armstrong addressed the Mustang Community in regard to the death threat. Strong in his opposition in this “vile” behavior, he stated that it is unacceptable, intolerable, and that “threats like this have no place on our campus, in our community, or in our nation.” He also stated that law enforcement is investigating. Some are bothered that President Armstrong did not directly tackle the subjects of racism or discrimination in his response. However, it is clear that he is extremely concerned with the recent events on campus. In his response, President Armstrong’s main focuses were the topic of hate, student safety, and identifying the perpetrator.

In response to the ensuing controversy, SLO Solidarity released a press release on Wednesday. The press release serves as a restatement of their goals and a clarification of their demands. In it, they explain that they did not demand immediate change, but rather an action plan. The group also encourage students to attend a meeting, and told students to “check their privilege” if they find the group’s goals offensive.

SLO Solidarity’s demands have been called pointless and extreme. One argument is that students are becoming increasingly sensitive, easily offended, and scared of viewpoints that differ from their own (see this and this article). However, we must remember discrimination is a reality and even history shows that extreme measures are sometimes necessary to inspire others and create real change. Of course it is idealistic to expect everyone to jump on board with SLO Solidarity, but it is surprising and disheartening that a goal promoting positive change would receive such negative responses and that people would go so far as to send death threats. Thus, what is truly pointless and extreme in this case is the resulting hatred and violence. This unfavorable behavior only strengthens the argument that Cal Poly may need change and reaffirms the importance and meaningfulness of SLO Solidarity’s activism. As put by President Armstrong, “Hate and fear mongering is absolutely unacceptable and has no place at Cal Poly.” How can we Mustangs be #CalPolyProud when we are hostile towards one another?