The three recently reported sexual assaults triggered quick responses throughout Cal Poly.
President Jeffrey Armstrong assembled a task force to develop a set of recommendations to promote a campus community that does not tolerate sexual assault. Campus-wide emails were sent reminding students to be respectful, responsible and safe. The most recent email — sent on behalf of the task force and signed by Cal Poly Vice President for Student Affairs Cornel Morton — informed students of the anonymous tip-line and asked students to “look out for each other.”
The Sexual Assault-Free Environment Resource (SAFER) and Sexual Assault Recovery and Prevention (SARP) programs held several forums throughout campus involving students, faculty and staff, greek life, members of the Week of Welcome (WOW) program and University Housing.
Christina Kaviani, coordinator of the Gender Equity Center, said the forums facilitated dialogue to break down victim blaming, encourage bystander intervention and provide risk prevention tips.
“(The Gender Equity Center has) been trying to think about the ways we can use these horrible incidents to have positive program development and more education come out of it,” Kaviani said.
In the immediate aftermath of the reported rapes, Kaviani saw an increase in sexual assault survivors coming to the Gender Equity Center. She said approximately 15 people affected by the reports came to the center to talk about their concerns and questions.
However, Kristy McCray the executive director of the SARP Center said the number of alleged assaults is not surprising.
“It is not unusual that three rapes happened,” McCray said. “Rape is one of the most underreported crimes. What is surprising is that three rapes were reported to law enforcement. By the first young woman stepping forward and talking to law enforcement, it probably allowed the opportunity for other women to come forward and have a voice.”
The SARP Center saw 312 sexual assault survivors in 2010. Of these cases, 60 percent, or 187, chose to report to law enforcement in San Luis Obispo. This is the opposite of the national average, where 60 percent of the survivors do not report the assault.
“Something at (the) SARP Center that we combat all the time is that San Luis Obispo is so safe, rape doesn’t happen here,” McCray said. “Rape happens everywhere, to all people of all ages, across all races and sexual orientations. It’s happening here, we’re just not talking about it.”
But as a result of the reported sexual assaults, people are talking.
Associated Students Inc. (ASI) President Sarah Storelli said she has heard classmates and people around campus talking more about sexual assault.
“Sexual assault is not usually the first thing you think of when you come to SLO,” Storelli said. “But the facts are, one in four college women are sexually assaulted. These crimes directly affected our peers. We know these people; we go to classes with them. I feel it really hit home for people to actually talk about it.”
It’s not just Cal Poly students talking about sexual assault.
Cal Poly alumna Mary Thomas said the three women who reported the alleged sexual assaults inspired her to come forward and speak about her own experience.
Surviving sexual assault
Thomas is a sexual assault survivor. Ten years ago, while she was a student at Cal Poly, a friend of her roommate who was staying the night at their apartment, came into Thomas’ room while she was asleep and raped her.
“He figured since I was sleeping, he would try his luck,” Thomas said. “That was his idiotic attitude. When I woke up and we were having sex, I was so angry and shocked I didn’t think about being physically afraid of him. But the fear came from the fact that someone could come in my room and take something so important from me.”
Over the course of that night, Thomas consumed approximately four beers in five hours. But that should not matter, Thomas said.
“Guys don’t think twice about having four beers and crashing on a friend’s apartment floor, why should we?” Thomas said. “We’re being told to live more oppressed lives so we can avoid being raped — that’s not solving the issue. Cautionary measures aren’t good enough because the majority of rapes are acquaintance rapes or date rapes. How can you live in a way where you protect yourself from the person who you feel is protecting you?”
Nationwide, approximately 73 percent of sexual assaults are perpetrated by a non-stranger, according to the Rape, Abuse and Incest National Network (RAINN) website. At the SARP Center in San Luis Obispo, it is 94 percent.
Thomas did not press charges against her perpetrator because she said she did not want to have to confront and hurt his mother.
“I would have had to stand up in front of his mother and tell her that your son is an awful guy who hurt me in a way that has affected my home as an adult, has affected the way I raise my son and has affected everything about who I am,” Thomas said. “She was so proud of him, I didn’t want to look her in the eye and have to do that to her.”
Thomas said she applauds the three women who decided to report the alleged rapes, though, because it brought the issue to the public’s attention.
“There are reasons to press charges but more, probably, for the benefit of society than those poor girls,” she said. “I feel like they are heroes for holding these men accountable when really the reward to them is scant. We as a society do not deserve their selfless giving. How much good they are doing by bringing attention to this is inspiring.”
The on campus perspective
Much of that attention was brought to Poly Canyon Village (PCV), where two of the three reported rapes occurred.
Preston Allen, associate vice president for Student Affairs and executive director of University Housing Student Affairs division, said University Housing sent out communications with the 6,500 residents immediately after the crime alerts.
“We send a lot of information out to the students,” Allen said. “There’s a synergy in their community that always serves us well in responding quickly to these kinds of things. My job is to get the answers out there, and since I’m not getting any phone calls, at least to some degree both parents and students are feeling confident and understanding in exactly what we are doing.”
University Housing and SAFER hosted an “Open Conversation” at the community center of PCV to discuss sexual assault risk reduction and prevention measures.
Allen said he is encouraged by how the campus reacted to the reported sexual assaults.
“(University Housing) have students 24/7,” Allen said. “It’s where students live, it’s where they operate, it’s their social network, and it’s all tied into one. We’re always excited when those outside of housing look to see what they can do to improve and support our students. We want to bring that right to the residence halls.”
The sexual assault task force
The task force is helping to make these improvements. It consists of Academic Senate Chair Rachel Fernflores, Morton and Storelli.
The task force met several times last week to discuss what they are going to do.
“Our job as a university it to make sure our students can do the very best that they can do,” Fernflores said. “I don’t see how they can do the very best if we don’t address this. How are we helping our students if we’re not doing everything possible so they don’t have to sit in class thinking about a sexual assault they have been through, or if they are sitting in class hung over? We have to do everything we can, and then the students have to choose.”
Essentially, Fernflores said, they will oversee a 360 degree evaluation of the programs offered at Cal Poly dealing with sexual assault and alcohol consumption.
With only three weeks left of spring quarter, the task force wants to hear from different groups on campus, student leaders and faculty and staff. It plans to do so by hosting three retreats with the different groups.
“Right now we’re overwhelmed with input,” Fernflores said. “We can’t address each constituency appropriately, so we’ll talk to the people who are leading the programs. We’ll talk to the students, we’ll talk to the faculty and then we’ll go to all the other groups and individuals who are offering their ideas and who are applauding efforts beginning to change the climate.”
The first retreat, happening this week, is geared toward programs that are already Cal Poly affiliated and deal with sexual assault and alcohol consumption. They will perform a self assessment of their programs.
The second retreat next week will host student leaders, including sorority and fraternity representatives.
“We will be involving greek life in the retreat — they really need to be part of the solution,” Fernflores said. “Fraternities could be so much (a) part of the solution and culture change.”
When Sigma Phi Epsilon president Rick Collette was asked if he saw fraternities being part of the “solution,” he could not comment.
The last of the three retreats will take place during finals week for faculty and staff to assess strengths and weaknesses of the programs.
Over the summer, the task force will continue to work by asking the community for input. The task force will then compile a set of recommendations.
“We are the president’s task force, we have to answer to him, so ultimately at the end of the day, he needs a list of recommendations based off of our 360 degree evaluation,” Fernflores said. “He’ll decide what is reasonable, possible and implementable.”