Trigger warning: Sexual assault

The Instagram account Cal Poly Stories has been widely circulated on social media to bring awareness to discrimination and sexual violence faced by minority students on campus.

The account is similar to Shades of Cal Poly, as they both share anonymous experiences of students. 

Cal Poly Stories is managed by an anonymous student who previously followed Shades of Cal Poly. This student, who wishes to remain anonymous, said they noticed Shades of Cal Poly announce that it would no longer use content warnings.  

A content warning, or CW, is written before content that may trigger viewers. Content warnings are often given to stories that involve sexual assault and rape. This gives viewers the information to decide for themselves if they want to read the post due to its content, according to Cal Poly Stories.

Shades of Cal Poly announced they will no longer be using content warnings in their posts. The anonymous student behind Cal Poly Stories said they created the account after reading many comments on Shade of Cal Poly’s Instagram that expressed concern over not using content warnings anymore.

“For a page that centers the voices of survivors, you have to listen to their input,” Cal Poly Stories said. “I saw and recognized that there was a need to still have voices heard, just in a way that was more respectful and more appreciative of their experiences.”

One Shades of Cal Poly administrator directly messaged Cal Poly Stories via their personal Instagram account, according to Cal Poly Stories.

“[This administrator wasn’t] a fan of the decision to not use content warnings, so I did get some insight to the way Shades of Cal Poly was run,” according to Cal Poly Stories.

The account has named specific organizations on campus that allegedly perpetrated or failed to prevent discrimination, including Cal Poly Panhellenic chapters, Interfraternity Council chapters, Cal Poly’s Office of Student Rights and Resources, the Health Center and New Student and Transition Programs.

Cal Poly Stories has received more than 110 submissions. The account owner says most posts take about 30 minutes to create, between designing the graphic, tagging appropriate accounts, adding alternative text for people who use screen readers and creating content warnings.

With more than 30 posts, the account has shared various student narratives involving sexual assault, racial discrimination, abuse and other forms of injustice endured at Cal Poly. 

One post describes a student’s experience of rape by a member of Cal Poly’s Pi Kappa Phi fraternity.

“I don’t remember getting [to the party] because I blacked [out] in the [L]yft and was told by a friend the next day a member who I didn’t know had pulled me into the back of the house and told me I knew him from our major,” the anonymous student wrote. “He had his hands all over me when my friend found me but I have no memory of this. Sometimes I see him around because he is in my major but I don’t know how he knew who I was in the first place, and the sight of him distracts me heading to class every time.”

According to University Spokesperson Matt Lazier, the university prioritizes preventing sexual assault.

“Cal Poly cares deeply about those who have experienced sexual assault, as well as preventing assaults from happening in the future on our campus and to members of our community,” Lazier wrote in an email to Mustang News. “This is and has been a priority and is fundamental to our values. When any member of our community is hurt, we hurt with them.”

It is challenging for the university to investigate anonymous allegations of sexual misconduct or discrimination, according to Lazier. 

“We encourage anyone posting about their experiences anonymously to report them to the university,” Lazier wrote.  

Each report is addressed by Title IX policies mandated by the CSU and federal government, according to Lazier. 

“Reporting to the Office of Equal Opportunity allows the university to provide supportive measures, investigate the matter, determine whether any laws or university policies have been violated, and seek accountability, as appropriate,” Lazier wrote. 

Some organizations that are addressed in the posts have released their own statements in response to those who have expressed disappointment in the organizations’ lack of diversity and inclusivity. 

After being mentioned in a post, Cal Poly’s Pilipino Cultural Exchange (PCE) posted their own statement via Instagram wherein they apologized for failure to recognize Pilipino culture in its entirety, failure to properly address appropriation of Black culture and failure to foster a welcoming and inclusive environment. 

“First and foremost, we would like to sincerely apologize to the writer of this story, and to any other members of our community who have been harmed as a result of our failure to address these issues properly,” PCE wrote. “We recognize the anti-Blackness that has been a historic problem within the Pilipinx community and we have failed to take more vocal initiatives to combat these issues within our own club.”

The statement also provides a list of actions they plan to take to improve their organization, including educational initiatives and inclusivity measures.

“Not only did [PCE] have a really thought-out comment on my post, they also released a series of club changes they [will] be implementing to make their club more inclusive,” Cal Poly Stories said.  “Seeing those types of policy plans laid out and actual steps they will take to prevent any further acts of harm from their organization. I think that’s better than any sort of ‘this post or that person or that post isn’t representative of our values.’”

Cal Poly’s Phi Sigma Kappa and Alpha Omicron Pi also each released their own statements containing similar messages with initiatives to create a more safe and inclusive community. 

In addition to tagging the individual clubs and organizations mentioned in each narrative, Cal Poly Stories tags Cal Poly on all of their posts. However, the posts do not appear on the Cal Poly Instagram page.

“I’ve seen my posts disappear from [@cal_poly’s] timeline,” Cal Poly Stories said. “It’s not that they aren’t seeing [the posts], it’s just that they don’t really want to see, they don’t want others to see, and I think that’s what makes not just my page but the Shades page important too.” 

Cal Poly’s social media accounts use privacy settings that prevent third parties from posting content without prior approval, according to Lazier.  

As an incoming student, Cal Poly Stories’ account owner said they were aware of the campus community and climate.  

“I’ve always been super critical of Cal Poly, even when I was considering accepting my admissions,” Cal Poly Stories said. “I was like, ‘Cal Poly, that’s horrible for people like me.’”

Cal Poly Stories said they entered the San Luis Obispo community with a goal of creating a more inclusive environment for minorities. This page provides students with a platform and a voice to share deeply personal experiences, according to Cal Poly Stories.  

“I know that there are people behind these stories that have been directly harmed,” Cal Poly Stories said. “Some of them have probably waited years or months to share what’s happened to them.”

Despite the time spent creating Instagram posts, Cal Poly Stories said the community’s engagement and support has made this process worthwhile.  

“Just seeing your peers, your classmates, even people you may not know but you share spaces with, just seeing that sort of community form throughout that page is probably one of the greatest feelings,” Cal Poly Stories said.

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