On Oct. 5, a campus-wide email informed students that a rape had occurred in Cal Poly’s architecture graveyard.
This crime occurred in the midst of the “red zone,” a time period of increased activity of sexual assault and violence during the first months of college.
Yearly trends indicated that more than 50% of campus sexual assaults take place within the red zone timeframe, according to the Rape, Abuse & Incest National Network.
The red zone is significantly more dangerous for first-years, who may be unfamiliar with the new surroundings, according to Cal Poly’s Safer (Sexual Assault Free Environment Resource), a department that offers confidential services to students who’ve experienced sexual assault and domestic violence.
“There are many factors at play with this, such as people being in a new environment, being removed from the communities where they feel most connected and often experiencing independence for the first time,” Safer wrote in an email to Mustang News.
With unprecedented circumstances of second-years and transfer students that are new to campus, predictions indicate that “the red zone may double this fall, nationwide, ” according to a statement on Instagram made by Safer.
According to the 2021 Annual Security Report by the Cal Poly Police Department, rape, stalking and dating violence have been the most prevalent crimes of sexual violence for three consecutive years, from 2018 to 2020.
In response to the recent event of sexual assault at the Architecture Graveyard, Safer has provided services, such as processing sessions, to those that may have felt triggered or uneasy by the news.
At the start of the school year, including the SLO Days orientation program, Safer conducted training and education for incoming students, involving parents and supporters as well.
“Our prevention specialist created a comprehensive dialogue toolkit for supporters to talk with their students about healthy relationship habits and violence prevention,” Safer wrote in an email to Mustang News. “It is crucial that we start these conversations before our students step foot on campus.”
Cal Poly’s Safer team was first established in 1996 and was inspired by the community mourning the loss of three women: Kristin Smart, Rachel Newhouse and Aundria Crawford.
In the mid-2000s, the Safer team started a project called the Red Hand Print Campaign.
According to the Safer website, the Red Hand Print Campaign was a project that painted red handprints in areas on campus where a sexual assault had been reported “to signify how pervasive this issue was and is on campus.”
By 2005, 23 red handprints were painted across campus.
However, in 2005 the Cal Poly administration painted over the red handprints, resulting in students protesting the removal.
Due to the protests in 2005 and the worry of potential pushback from the survivor’s families, the Cal Poly Administration initially proposed plaques instead of the painted red handprints around campus in 2007.
This resulted in creating other memorial forms of sexual assault survivors around campus — such as “monuments, dorm signage, and portable stations,” as stated on the Kathryn McCormick Design website.
The designer behind these “monuments,” Kathryn McCormick, is a professor in Cal Poly’s Art and Design department. McCormick was initially approached by Cornell Morton, the Vice President of Student Affairs at the time, to design a representation of the sexual violence history on campus.
“I tried to understand what we were trying to accomplish: which was to represent and identify the issue and the situation without being alarming,” McCormick said. “At the same time, people who were visiting campus … they see this red handprint, and they ask what it is, and you know if you are a parent thinking about sending your kid away to college and you see, ‘well there was a rape here, there was a rape here,’ you know, that’s pretty alarming.”
In 2018, the topic was revived by Cal Poly alumna Amelia Meyerhoff and her senior project, The Clapback. Investigating 61 survivors and their stories, the Clapback showcased these voices to honor and bring awareness to the removed red handprints and history of sexual violence at Cal Poly.
Today, students can find tall, gray pillars designed with a red handprint honoring sexual assault survivors. These “monuments” are located in open spaces like the residence halls, the University Union and near Campus Market.
Despite the monuments being in popular campus spaces, students such as political science freshman Mayson Kobell and interdisciplinary studies freshmen Sasha Stetler said they were not aware of the Red Hand Print Campaign or how to access Safer resources.
“I’m sure if I looked I could find resources, but I feel like they could make them more readily available and advertise them more,” Stetler said.
In light of the recent crime at the architecture graveyard, Stetler talked about her worry of her safety before coming to Cal Poly.
“I mean, I was very nervous about it coming into college in general, just because it’s a problem at every college but then this was happening two weeks in,” Stetler said. “Yeah, it’s really fucking scary.”
Kobell added to what this means for the rest of the year.
“I feel like this isn’t gonna be the last time we get an alert like this where we get news like this,” Kobell said. “And yeah, I feel like every time it comes, it’ll just hit a little bit harder, to be honest, and give us a little bit more fear in everyone’s hearts.”
October marks domestic violence awareness month and to change the mindset around how sexual violence is handled on campus, the Safer team changed the name to “Dating Violence Action Month”.
Changing the language of the topic allows two goals to occur. Rephrasing domestic dating makes students aware that sexual violence is a “relevant issue” and using “action” instead of “awareness” allows a push “to the next step in prevention, where we all collectively contribute to a culture of anti-violence rather than simply being aware,” Safers’s Instagram said.
“Violence doesn’t happen because someone is walking alone at night or has had too much to drink; violence happens because somebody makes a decision to harm another person,” Safer wrote in an email to Mustang News. “We all play a role in prevention, and we all play a role in creating a healthy environment that is grounded in mutual respect and empathy.”
Lauren Emo contributed reporting to this article.
Editor’s Note: This story has been updated from the original version that appeared in the print publication of Mustang News on Oct. 12. A correction was made regarding who painted over the red hands in 2005.