By Louise Dolby
The Cal Poly Salsa Club is heating things up on campus in its recent advertising campaign featuring students in firefighter gear. The advertisements are too hot for some to handle.
The posters and advertisements around campus now have a “Cal Poly Advisory” sticker covering the skin of scantily clad models to “preserve the innocence” of Cal Poly students, faculty and guests. The stickers were placed in response to the number of complaints received from those expressing their distaste for the posters, claiming they are inappropriate and offensive.
Architectural engineering professor Jennifer Lynn e-mailed her complaints to CPSalsa President Billy Chenoweth, notifying him that the CPSalsa posters had been removed from the architectural engineering hallway due to the nudity and sexuality they contained.
“We’re coming from a standpoint of being professionals and having a dignified work environment,” Lynn said.
Lynn also informed Chenoweth of her views of the club’s “loss of judgment” by printing and posting advertisements of such an “inappropriate nature.”
“Your club-has more responsibilities than simply promoting itself, being associated with a university,” Lynn said in her e-mail to Chenoweth.
Chenoweth, a computer engineering senior, several members of CPSalsa, Dean of Students Jean DeCosta and other concerned community members held a meeting last week to discuss the posters and the next step for the club’s advertising.
Chenoweth argued that while everyone is entitled to his or her opinion regarding the content of the posters, he disagreed with the action taken to remove them, calling it “censorship and defamation of private property.”
“We have a right to put up posters,” Chenoweth said. “It’s not illegal. Everyone’s opinion is different, and we’re allowed to not like things but we’re not allowed to physically do something about it. I don’t want this to be an open door for people to feel they have a right to remove posters based on content.”
Chenoweth also argued that at other universities, specifically Berkeley, posters with similar or even sexier content are allowed without the same negative reaction expressed at Cal Poly.
“At other campuses, the door for this sort of thing is already open and they wouldn’t have batted an eye at our posters,” Chenoweth said. “This censorship could destroy our campus by limiting an expression of our personal freedom.”
While the CPSalsa advertisements feature several students and club members in firefighter gear, one poster in particular seems to be causing the greatest stir. This poster features Charlie Roberts, a mathematics junior and advertising director of CPSalsa, in only a fireman’s hat and a jacket that exposes part of her breast.
“For the fall design we wanted to use the firemen pictures to give the impression of a hot and steamy situation,” Roberts said. “We knew it was sexy but we didn’t think it was crossing any lines at all. I thought it was a hot campaign that would grab attention.”
The posters’ racy content has grabbed the attention of many who walk by the stakes around campus, as the club had over 200 people attend their first meeting on Sept. 23.
“When you think of salsa you think of sex,” CPSalsa founder and co-adviser Jeff Berkman said. “We wanted to be provocative and play to everyone’s stereotypes to get people’s curiosity. We don’t consider it (the posters) sexual harassment and since the advertising is working, we won’t take it down.”
The California State University Executive Order 927 on Harassment states that “harassment occurs when unwelcome conduct is engaged in because of a protected status of an individual which includes- sex- Visual displays such as- posters- and its effect, whether or not intended could be considered by a reasonable person- as intimidating, hostile, or offensive.”
Every year, a large portion of the club’s budget is spent creating an advertising campaign that will attract new members to its meetings held Friday nights in Building 5.
At the last meeting, a compromise was reached for CPSalsa to modify its posters so as not to further offend or upset faculty or students. CPSalsa agreed to print stickers with “Cal Poly Advisory” to cover the nudity and be less risque.
“I think this has gone a little overboard,” Roberts said. “It’s just cleavage. Everyone here is an adult and has seen cleavage before. It’s sexual, but not pornographic.”
Others disagree, stating that the posters are blatantly offensive and degrading to women.
When Chenoweth started receiving complaints, he walked around campus taking a random poll of students to see if everyone had a negative view of CPSalsa from the posters. In general, students were not offended by the material and in fact, thought the posters were “hot.”
Roberts is even becoming somewhat of a celebrity on campus, signing autographs on her posters for students to take home.
“There was some controversy that the ‘girl in the poster’ (Roberts) had lower standards and was objectifying women, but I don’t feel that I was setting a bad example at all,” Roberts said.
Berkman, who has been a member of CPSalsa for almost six years, argued that their advertisements have been racy for the past few years, but this year’s campaign has gotten the most complaints.
“The posters do not show any more skin than what you’d see in women’s magazines. Looking at women at Cal Poly, you’ll see plenty of cleavage,” Berkman said. “Everyone has a different idea of what’s offensive and I don’t care that we’re making a few people uncomfortable. If the faculty has a problem, they can talk to us about it but we are against them taking matters into their own hands.”
Chenoweth also felt strongly about people tearing down their posters without consent, but was willing to negotiate so everyone would be happy.
“Our goal was not to piss people off,” he said. “We’re willing to work together with people who have complaints but we want to stand up for ourselves,” he said. “We made the stickers to cover the cleavage so we can keep the posters and our advertising can continue, but we’ll refrain from offending more people. We’re not here to upset people. If we were we wouldn’t be the salsa dance club, we’d be the middle finger club.”