Cal Poly may unveil two permanent memorials for sexual assault victims and survivors during April’s Sexual Assault Awareness Month.
The memorials, which are currently under review, would be similar in shape and design to the “Peace Pole” outside the University Union and would display the red handprint symbol, a written message and a Web site for more information.
According to the unapproved Red Handprint Program Preamble, the image of the red handprint is meant to “signify a raised hand, a call to stop sexual assault, reminding us we are all responsible for speaking out against sexual assault, for educating ourselves about violence against women, and for creating a safe community.”
The prints were spray painted at the sites where sexual assaults occurred on campus, beginning in 1999. After being painted, the policy stated that the prints were to remain for 10 years.
“I was a student at Cal Poly and whenever I saw the handprints, I never actually knew what they meant. I just knew that something mysterious and bad happened there, and although it instilled me with a sense of fear, it didn’t really teach me anything. I think that that was a really valuable lesson that we were losing,” said Mariana Lightman, coordinator of Cal Poly’s Sexual Assault Free Environment Resource (SAFER) program.
The permanent installations are part of a sexual assault policy change currently awaiting approval that was promulgated by the removal of the red handprints in 2005.
Cornel Morton, vice president for Student Affairs, said the housing staff received a lot of questions from parents about the painted prints. “They got a little frustrated with not being able to answer those questions as adequate as they wanted,” he said, adding, “They actually independently and arbitrarily painted over or removed the prints.”
Lightman offered more reasons for the prints’ removal, saying, “Cal Poly staff were alerted to the fact that the students whose hands they were supposed to represent were feeling revictimized by having to see them,” she said.
She added that another factor was that the handprints misrepresented the figures. Lightman said that statistically one in four college women will be sexually assaulted during her college career. “We felt that it wasn’t a good representation to have you know, eight or nine or 10 handprints around campus when in reality there’s so many more voices that we’re silencing by just having just those specific instances on campus,” she said.
The disappearance of the red handprints resulted in a march in front of Morton’s office that drew the attention of local media outlets such as KSBY.
Morton said he then met with the housing staff and the housing director and asked them to put the prints back. He added that this request was fulfilled and that housing “then undertook, to their credit, an educational, informative campaign inside the halls for students.”
His next step was to ask a task force to come up with a set of recommendations as to how to amend the sexual assault policy.
“They said we have arrived at a place where it doesn’t seem feasible anymore to simply place a red handprint on the sidewalk and simply go away from that,” Morton said.
He added that the stenciled prints “don’t carry with them information that, for the viewer or for the passerby, helps them to understand what it is.”
The task force recommended the creation of new permanent installations as well as modifying the policy “to appeal more to the educational and prevention areas,” he said.
Art and design professor Kathryn McCormick took the new red handprint policy and developed the permanent installations’ physical appearance. She said she wanted to make monuments people would pass everyday and that could be a part of the campus environment as well as a representation of SAFER and the new red handprint policy.
Morton said pending approvals, the permanent monuments would be placed in two locations – adjacent to the Sandwich Factory in the grassy planter and in the grass area next to the tables outside Campus Market.
According to McCormick’s designs, each of these monuments will be 9 feet 6 inches tall and lit at night. “It’s going to be lit from the inside so there will be a seam of light up the sides of it, and then the light will show through the red handprint,” she said, “I think they’ll be quite beautiful at night.”
Morton said the response to the design was very positive. “Everyone just kind of fell in love with it and thought that’s a great illustration of what we want,” he said.
He also noted that there are people who are “reluctant to see the red handprint policy as we currently implement it modified.” Morton said that he understands and appreciates the emotionality of the spray-painted prints but he hopes the new policy will “take the program to a level that makes this issue more visible to people on campus.”
Morton foresees the new installations as becoming gathering places for events such as the “Take Back The Night” walk and vigils.
As far as the alread-painted prints are concerned, Morton said they will not be removed until their ten years are over. “I don’t want to do disservice to the folks who were the victims or survivors whose prints are still there,” he said.