Editor’s note: This story discusses themes of sexual violence.
Hailee Westrick, Ellie Angold, Kylie Walker, Michelle Mueller, Shay Shin, Tiana Reber and Grace Reilly. These are the seven female Cal Poly students dedicated to providing support for sexual assault survivors on campus through the Instagram page Slo Survivors, which they created in early November in the wake of the recent sexual assault incidents on campus.
Slo Surviviors is an Instagram page for students and members of the San Luis Obispo community to anonymously share their stories of sexual misconduct on a Google Form linked in the page’s bio. The information is then added to a database and posted on the page upon the reporters’ request.
“I want[ed] to create a database because I want all this information that is being posted in this group chat to be centralized,” political science and philosophy sophomore Westrick said.
The group chat Westrick is referring to is a GroupMe chat titled “CP Women Supporting Women,” with more than 500 members who can utilize the chat if they require assistance —whether that be a safe ride, advice or other support from their fellow female students.
On Nov. 6, members of the “CP Women Supporting Women” group chat sparked a discussion about multiple sexual assaults that had occurred on and around campus. As multiple women joined into the discourse with their own experiences, Westrick and the others began discussing what actions they could take to track these stories and instigate change.
“We kind of already knew it was [happening], but it hit a lot closer to home when we were hearing directly from people we knew,” agriculture systems management sophomore Angold said.
Angold is in charge of running the database, a Google Spreadsheet connected to the submission form and processing the data when someone decides to anonymously report to the Instagram page.
“We wanted to create an outlet so they could share this information with others, so girls can know what places to avoid, what to look out for,” Angold said.
Angold said she plans to release charts and statistics gathered from their form linked to the Instagram page as a way to spread awareness within the community — for example, statistics showing where these cases may be occurring or how frequently they are occurring.
In order to “make the accountability ring really small,” Westrick and Angold are the only members of Slo Survivors with access to edit or make changes to the database and view all the form responses before one makes it to the Instagram page, Westrick said.
That way, Westrick and Angold can ensure there is no obvious information included that may give away the identity of the survivor or any outright name-dropping of any individual for legal and safety purposes.
Once Westrick draws up a survivor testimony from the form or a general informational post about the page, she sends it to a group chat with all seven girls and receives suggestions before it is officially posted to the Slo Survivors page.
Additionally, Slo Survivors posts numerous resources for survivors and supporters coming to their page in the form of Instagram posts, links to Cal Poly-provided resources in their bio and additional assistance offered at the end of the anonymous submission form.
“A big part of our goal moving forward is obviously to give people the platform to share their story, but really to act as a liaison between the student body and those resources,” Westrick said.
The anonymity of the form is to protect the submitter and page for safety and legal reasons, however, the girls also aim to minimize victim-blaming against those who come forward to report their stories.
“I just know that anonymous reporting allows the victim to go and process things without having to relive the trauma,” Mueller said.
No questions on the form are required, so the amount of information shared is entirely in the reporter’s hands. All information is automatically submitted to the database, which can be viewed by anyone who clicks on the link in their bio, however, whether or not the story is posted to the Instagram page is up to the reporter’s choice, which they disclose on the form.
“I feel like it’s really, really important that we have more of a reporting system going on within campus because if there’s not a reporting community, then how are we supposed to go and change anything in the future?” history sophomore Mueller said.
The account was launched in November and has grown rapidly since, gaining almost 200 followers within the first week, and has now garnered nearly 400 followers.
Despite the account’s boost in followers, Westrick maintained that the purpose of the account was to act as a resource.
“As far as a following goes, I’m not looking for numbers, I’m not looking for a specific prestige or anything like that. I’m really just hoping that whoever needs it as a resource will use it as a resource,” Westrick said. “And kind of in a backwards loop, I hope our following remains small, because more followers means that more people are going through this, and obviously that’s not the goal.”
Slo Survivors is a group specifically centered on Cal Poly, however, they want to make it clear that sexual assault is not only a problem specific to a region, school or group of people.
“The one message I really want to send out personally… is that anybody regardless of your age, your gender, your race, the way you present yourself… anybody is liable to be a victim of sexual assault and everybody deserves to be heard regardless of what your story was,” Westrick said. “There are so many layers to sexual assault and I personally think that no matter what happened, you deserve to have a voice, you deserve to be heard and it is important for everybody else to hear you, to take into consideration that those things are happening with their students.”
Some members of Slo Survivors aim to someday expand their message past Cal Poly’s campus.
“I think it should be on every college campus, because it’s such a big risk” Angold said. “One in five women are sexually assaulted during their college years, which is way too statistically high… We’re not just for women. We’re for men and women and nonbinary [people] — whoever. We’re just here to support survivors.”