Under dangling lights in a dim room, the spotlights were placed on black and white portraits of males, and with them, their thoughts on gender-based violence.
Students gathered Tuesday evening for the opening of the Manifest exhibit on the ground floor of Walter F. Dexter (building 34) University Art Gallery to read about mens’ experiences and thoughts on violence against women.
“Right now, it’s uncomfortable to say something sexist that perpetuates gender roles and is demoralizing,” creator of the Manifest exhibit and counseling and guidance graduate Danny Lynch said. “We should be comfortable to stand up for any identity that is marginalized.”
Lynch started the exhibit in 2015 as a graduate assistant for Safer.
“I just wanted to get more men involved,” Lynch said. “I know tons of men care about the issue and it’s like a taboo to talk about it, so I wanted to create a setting such as a community environment with art, music and coffee to open these conversations.”
Students also recognized the importance of facilitating the conversation.
“I think it’s important to see those voices speak up in Cal Poly’s community and having the courage to speak out against that stigma is really inspirational,” communication studies junior Janice Gordillo said.
Specifically, the environment made Manifest more comfortable for people to discuss the rather stigmatized conversation of sexual assault.
“People are uncomfortable with sex,” philosophy junior Lorenzo Nericcio said. “They’re uncomfortable with moral responsibility and no one wants to admit they have the responsibility to prevent sexual violence, so this is an inviting way — there’s coffee, sweets and it’s interactive.”
Throughout the evening, students drifted in and out of the gallery, with Second Cousins, Rowan McGuire and Richie Conway singing and playing guitar in the background.
An exceptionally large group from the city and regional planning department filled the gallery at one point.
Tina Metzger, a lecturer for city and regional planning, brought a class to Manifest as a supplement to its current study of creating safe environments for women in public spaces and universities.
“We brought them here to make the young men in our course aware of this issue and how they might feel completely comfortable walking through a public space but a woman at night wouldn’t,” Metzger said.
Metzger said the goal of city and regional planning students visiting Manifest was to familiarize them with the safety issues women face, including rape, so that the students can design spaces that promote both men’s and women’s security.
While the city and regional planning students came to learn about safety, some came and learned more about the language used to describe the issues, like security, that women face.
“Using words such as ‘rape’ in casual conversation are things I hear my students say, but this just makes the connection to why it’s important not to use those words,” Templeton High School Spanish teacher Moises Jimenez said.
After reading the mens’ stories, Jimenez noted the importance in the consciousness of using words that have more of a negative association for women than for men.
Cal Poly alumna Christy Nosti said she was impressed by the thoughtfulness conveyed in each of the personal statements.
Specifically, the personal statement that stood out to Nosti was about a student’s experience at home, detailing how he was taught to respect women by his father when his father didn’t exhibit that behavior himself.
In the written piece, the student wrote that he carried with him the attitudes his father held of women — objectifying and blaming problems on them — until he got to college and realized his misconceptions.
“That stood out to me because it was very honest,” Nosti said.
The honesty and authenticity expressed in each piece added to the seriousness of the discussion topic on violence against women.
“I think the biggest takeaway from this event is the eye opener it gives to a lot of people,” biological sciences junior Nicholas Carrell said. “I think a lot of men don’t put their minds to the subject matter here unless they’re in a position where it forces them to confront issues that apply to them, but like to think don’t.”
Attendees left the exhibit with the notion that sexual assault and violence against women is not solely their issue, but one for everyone.
Manifest will be on display until Friday, May 20 on the ground floor of Walter F. Dexter.