In the wake of a spring quarter marred by sexual assault, the question of how to safely pursue sex and alcohol in college life was asked at the end of spring quarter. It is a question that will continue to be answered as Cal Poly enters its 2011-2012 school year.
On May 7, a college-aged female reported a sexual assault at the house of the Cal Poly chapter of Sigma Phi Epsilon. The victim was allegedly inebriated and unconscious at the time of the assault.
On May 12 and 15, two additional sexual assaults involving alcohol were reported on campus at Poly Canyon Village. The three reported rapes in three days caught the attention of the entire campus, as well as drawing statewide.
Ian Sanderson, a graphic communication senior, said he felt the three reported rapes did not qualify as an “epidemic;” rather, he felt they gave women courage to speak up.
“The ‘rapes’ made it all right for girls to say, ‘It’s okay to say that that happened to me,’ but they also brought up the conversation of varying degrees of consent,” Sanderson said. “If a girl is regretting it or if it was an awkward situation, it’s still up to the sober party (to take responsibility). Even when you’re that drunk, you know that’s something you shouldn’t be doing.”
On May 12, before the second alleged rape was reported, Cal Poly student Joseph Trupiano, who was involved in the first alleged assault, turned himself in to San Luis Obispo police with the assistance of his lawyer. In warrants released by the San Luis Obispo Police Department, Trupiano and the involved female reportedly shared phone conversations in which Trupiano claimed the two had consensual sex, but he admitted she passed out. Whether she passed out before or after the sex was not established in the tapes.
Amid Trupiano’s arrest and the other alleged sexual assaults, the Cal Poly community took action to address the situation.
On May 13, Cal Poly President Jeffrey Armstrong sent out an open letter to the Cal Poly community noting a need to reassess how to more effectively “prevent sexual violence” and “eliminate use of illegal drugs and reckless consumption of alcohol.” In Armstrong’s letter to Cal Poly he also wrote that the campus must “bear responsibility … and address the root causes” while also “re-examin(ing) our campus culture regarding alcohol and drug abuse.”
One day prior to Armstrong’s letter, sexual assault awareness groups the Sexual Assault Free-Environment Resource (SAFER) and Sexual Assault Recovery and Prevention Center of San Luis Obispo County (SARP) held a forum to discuss the dynamics of consensual sex, sexual assault, alcohol and resources for victims.
Samantha Lacey, a 2011 Cal Poly art and design graduate, said she noticed the Cal Poly community buzzing with the discussions of the rapes, especially in her women and gender studies class. Yet, after spring quarter ended, she felt interest in the cases start to falter.
“You can’t expect the mass public to be like, ‘Oh my God, that girl was raped’ every day,” Lacey said. “You have to go on with your life. Just take it as a general precaution and an awareness, and don’t kid yourself that it can’t happen to you.”
Kristy McCray, the executive director of SARP, said although there might have been an increase in victims seeking help from SARP at the time of the rapes and after, sexual assault activity often naturally “fluctuates” at different points of the year all across the county.
McCray said she agreed that interest in the cases waned at Cal Poly, however, victim reports and seeking treatment in other parts of the county did not.
“Definitely we’ve seen less conversation, stories, and articles about this in the media, in that respect,” McCray said. “It is tough because a lot of this happens with Cal Poly, and then most students and a lot of staff and faculty are maybe gone or working less. Anything with Cal Poly tends to slow down around the summer.”
Cal Poly did initiate an investigation of Sigma Phi Epsilon during the summer, which led to the fraternity losing its Cal Poly affiliation on Aug. 9.
According to director of Student Life and Leadership Stephan Lamb, the investigation was prompted by the alleged assault, but the disaffiliation was due to the violation of several university rules laid out by the risk management policy drafted by the Fraternal Information and Programming Group (FIPG) — guidelines which all on-campus fraternities are required to follow.
Specifically, investigators discovered that the fraternity bought large quantities of alcohol, distributed it to minors and failed to keep track of who was coming or going at the party. This resulted in the party violating several of the university’s rules, which led to the disaffiliation, Lamb said.
The current Sigma Phi Epsilon members will still be recognized nationally, but a Cal Poly chapter cannot open for at least six years, or until June 30, 2017.
Although the alleged sexual assault wasn’t given as a reason for disaffiliation, Sanderson said he felt there is a correlation between females and a fraternities.
“Guys join frats just to get girls,” Sanderson said. “And they feel entitled to girls because they are in a frat.”
Others would disagree.
Jason Daniel, an aerospace engineering senior, said he felt it was a “certain personality type,” not a matter of greek involvement, that would consider taking advantage of an inebriated person.
“I don’t think it’s really about the sex, it’s about power or having this control to be able to get what you want,” Daniel said. “Obviously if the girl’s passed out, the sex is going to be terrible. You’re not going for good sex at that point, you’re going for something else.”
On May 24, Cal Poly University Police announced the suspects in both Poly Canyon Village incidents would not be charged due to insufficient evidence, and neither of the suspects were arrested. Almost exactly two months later on Aug. 26, the San Luis Obispo district attorney’s office announced they also would not pursue charges against Trupiano.
Lacey said events like this show the widespread consequences and intricacies of reporting a rape for both the victim and accused rapist.
“It’s up to the woman who was raped to decide how far she wants to take it,” Lacey said. “If she truly feels she was violated, then she is within every right to take it as far as she wants. But if she wasn’t raped then that’s a crime within itself to have someone convicted for a horrible, horrible crime that they didn’t do.”
If rape was committed, however, McCray said, and although she could not comment on the specifics of any of the Cal Poly rapes, the lack of criminal charges with reported rapes remains discouraging when “a survivor takes steps to make a report and opens herself up to questioning and scrutiny.”
Despite this, in the beginning of a new school year, McCray said she hopes incoming and returning students learn from these events, and that there are always resources for victims with the SARP Center and SAFER. In addition, she said she hoped both men and women would communicate clearly “what (they) do or don’t want,” as well as not to “assume that a certain action or something that happened earlier in the evening is consent.” And, ultimately, she said she wanted men and women to learn that alcohol and sex do not mix.
“If you’re with someone, and they’ve been drinking — or even if you’ve been drinking too — just wait,” McCray said. “Just wait until the next day, or wait until another time when you can be clear and you can make sure you have consent. And you can be sure the person isn’t intoxicated and can’t say ‘Yes.’”