Trigger warning: sexual assault

A widely circulated Instagram account is aiming to raise awareness of discrimination faced by people of color, the LGBTQ+ community, women and many more one post at a time: This is Shades of Cal Poly

Shades of Cal Poly’s goals are to provide a safe, anonymous space for individuals to share their stories as well as to reveal faculty and staff members who have demonstrated repeated discriminatory behavior, according to the account’s mission statement.

“These stories demonstrate how our university has continuously failed to educate all of our students and make meaningful changes on campus,” Shades of Cal Poly wrote in its first Instagram post. “The time for silence and neutrality is over.”

University Spokesperson Matt Lazier said that the university plans to contact the administrators of Shades of Cal Poly, so that the university may also reach out to those who have shared their stories on the account.

“The university is aware of the Shades of Cal Poly page and is looking closely at its content and reaching out to its administrators in attempt to connect with those who have posted, to learn more about their experiences and determine appropriate responses,” Lazier wrote in an email to Mustang News.

A team of Cal Poly students — who asked to remain anonymous — began planning to launch the account about two weeks ago. The student administrators behind Shades of Cal Poly said the concept of the anonymous sharing platform was inspired by the #MeToo movement.

“With the [#MeToo] movement, we saw that people had come forward individually and often had been shut down,” Shades of Cal Poly said.  “When multiple people came forward about the same person, it seemed to grow … and there seemed to be more action taking place.”

Lazier wrote that Cal Poly will not tolerate discriminatory behavior by members of the campus community. Cal Poly asks campus community members who have experienced discrimination to report the incident to the university immediately to investigate the situation, evaluate what laws and polices have been violated and determine action.  

There is a distinction between biased thoughts and words and discriminatory actions, according to Lazier.

“We must be clear that the university cannot police the thoughts and words of all of its community members,” Lazier wrote in an email to Mustang News. “The First Amendment guarantees the right of an individual to hold and voice opinions — even those that we as an institution may find abhorrent and anathema to our morals and our mission as a university.”

Shades of Cal Poly has a Google Form in its bio for individuals to submit stories with an optional email address. The Google Form requests that submissions abbreviate the names of students and teaching assistants. Shades of Cal Poly said that since the stories cannot be verified, the anonymity of both parties are protected.

However, Shades of Cal Poly allows faculty, staff members and campus organizations to be named.  

“Since the professors and many organizations maintain a position of power on campus … we find it imperative to allow the submissions to name them so that professors who have been named many times can be identified,” Shades of Cal Poly said.  

Those who submit stories are also asked to censor profanity and proofread the story prior to submission, as the post is not edited once received by Shades of Cal Poly. Individuals may be contacted in case of a logistical problem, according to Shades of Cal Poly. This email address is not shared. 

Shades of Cal Poly made its first post on Sunday, June 28. The account has accumulated more than 5,900 followers and a total of 384 posts as of Friday, July 10.

One submission describes a students’ experience of rape by a member of the Delta Chi fraternity.

“A guy from Delta Chi choked and raped me last year and sent me to walk home to my dorm with a bloody nose at 1 a.m,” the anonymous student wrote. “I walked past his frat brothers on my way out, they laughed.”

This student did not report the incident to the Title IX office.  

“I didn’t report it because the Cal Poly Title IX office is a joke and doesn’t care about victims,” the anonymous submitter wrote.

This post has accumulated more than 160 comments expressing support for the student and tagging related Cal Poly Instagram accounts. These accounts include Cal Poly Delta Chi, Cal Poly fraternity and sorority life and Cal Poly’s official Instagram page.  

By tagging an account in an Instagram post, other users may see this post while visiting the tagged accounts profile. By removing the tag or hiding the post, this post will not appear in the tagged account’s profile. 

Delta Chi and Cal Poly have removed or hidden Shades of Cal Poly’s tags from their public profiles.

“The administration did take a stance on the … page,” Shades of Cal Poly said. “They have removed [our] posts from [their tagged photos] section, which seems to be an attempt to hide how big of a problem this is.” 

Another anonymous submitter wrote about being raped by a Theta Chi fraternity member.

“I reported the assault to [T]heta [C]hi. When I met with them, they said they were ‘not surprised’ as my rapist was a ‘creepy’ guy,” the anonymous submitter wrote. “The chapter voted to suspend him for one year. He continued to live in their main house and attend their parties.”

This post is one of many describing sexual assault by a member of Theta Chi. 

In an Instagram post, Theta Chi said the fraternity stands against sexual assault and supports victims contacting authorities.

“The men of Theta Chi at Cal Poly adamantly stand against sexual assault,” the statement wrote.  “Our [f]raternity fully supports any survivor contacting law enforcement and/or reaching out to university resources.  Theta Chi will continue to engage, educate and act to prevent sexual assault.” 

In response to this post, a petition has been created to disband Theta Chi. The petition has been signed by over 650 people. 

According to another submission, economics professor Eric Fisher forced a hostile conversation about the 2018 blackface incident.  The submission wrote that Professor Fisher also refers to students by their perceived ethnic background.

“[He] directly calls students by names such as ‘Tonga man’ or ‘Japan girl,’” the submitter wrote.  “A report was made and I had to get interrogated several times by Title IX, yet he was never reprimanded for his behavior whatsoever.”

Shades of Cal Poly asked its followers what changes they would like to see from Cal Poly. These changes included more funding for the Health Center and a clearer policy of investigating sexual assault.  Members of the campus community also want to see a more detailed follow up to submitted bias incident report forms. 

Safer — an on-campus confidential advocacy, education and support program concerning sexual assault, sexual misconduct, dating violence, domestic violence and stalking — posted a statement on Instagram.

“We at Safer would like to extend our gratitude and support to those sharing their stories,” the statement read.  “Safer is here for you, we believe you and there are confidential support systems available to you. Please, if these stories are brining up any feelings for you, do not hesitate to reach out to our advocates via” 

Shades of Cal Poly said the campus community’s response to the account has been profound. 

“The response has been greater than any of us could have expected when we first came up with this idea,” Shades of Cal Poly said.  “The tone of the response is what we expected. There is a lot of support and some controversy.”

On Tuesday, Shades of Cal Poly announced that the account will no longer add content warnings to their posts. A content warning, referred to as CW on the Instagram page, is often written before graphic or triggering content that may disturb viewers such as content relating to sexual assault.

Shades of Cal Poly announced that the account created a Google Sheets database of all stories posted to the page, which includes content warnings.

However, Shades of Cal Poly followers said they are upset that content warnings are no longer included with triggering content on the Instagram page itself.

“If you refer people who need … content warnings to a database, then this page is performative and not for the minority or affected voice,” one Instagram commenter wrote.

A similar Instagram account, Cal Poly Stories, was created in response to this development. In its first Instagram post, Cal Poly Stories wrote that the account would use content warnings to warn viewers of explicit content.

“[S]ince @shadesofcalpoly has stopped using content and trigger warnings, [I]’ve set this account up to give a space where you can read about stories from the [C]al [P]oly community without having to unwillingly face your trauma,” the post read.

In another Instagram post, Cal Poly Stories said that the voices of sexual assault victims would be amplified.

“This page will always recognize the needs of its audience, and will stand in support of and in solidarity with victims,” the post read.

According to Shades of Cal Poly, content warnings added may change the intended meaning of stories.

“Our goal is to provide you with unaltered stories of biases and discrimination, and after extensive internal review, we determined  that content warnings added by the page facilitators may unintentionally change the meaning of submissions,” Shades of Cal Poly wrote in an Instagram post.

Shades of Cal Poly has posted over 380 submissions, but there is a backlog of over 500 submissions waiting for review.

“We’ve been incredibly proud of everyone who’s submitted,” Shades of Cal Poly said. “We’re hoping to have a positive impact on the campus culture at Cal Poly. We’re hoping that we can help Cal Poly learn, grow and be better.”

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