In response to two reported sexual assaults last May in a one week time frame, Cal Poly President Jeffrey Armstrong formed the Presidential Task Force on Substance Abuse and Sexual Assault. The task force released its first report this month, coinciding with April being National Sexual Assault Awareness Month.
Cal Poly women and gender studies professor Rachel Fernflores, chaired the task force and collaborated with the former Associated Students, Inc. President Sarah Storelli along with former vice president of Student Affairs Cornel Morton, in order to compile information and recommendations for the report.
“We set up meetings with internal and external constituents,” Fernflores said. “We had a retreat with Student Affairs staff, with student leaders, with faculty and finally, we met with everybody individually.”
At the first retreat with Student Affairs, the task force asked what services it could provide that are pertinent to sexual assault or substance abuse services, Fernflores said.
The task force worked with different organizations and people in the Cal Poly community to come up with a report and recommendations on what should be done to reduce and prevent future happenings related to sexual assault and substance abuse.
The final report was issued to Armstrong on Feb. 15. Recommendations include working more with parents, incoming freshman and current students to reduce sexual assault occurrences.
The report also features recommendations to the university such as offering more extracurricular activities, more education about sexual assault prevention, more counseling services, having an annual review of sexual assault policies, requiring freshmen to be educated about sexual assault prevention in a class and having an on-campus detox facility.
The final report and all the recommendations can be viewed on the Cal Poly Student Affairs website.
When reflecting on the finalized report and recommendations, Fernflores said, there was one major finding. She thinks the people the task force spoke to were most confused about who they can and can’t speak to confidentially in regards to sexual assault, Fernflores said.
“Last spring that was not clear, it was not clear at all,” Fernflores said.
Who should you talk to?
Cal Poly Student Affairs Interim Vice President Preston Allen, who is trained in support and referral for sexual assault, has all the information on who people should talk to about sexual assaults.
“If people want to talk about sexual assault incidents, there are various resources that can be used, and the majority of them can’t keep information confidential,” Allen said.
Cal Poly community members can talk to any counselor on campus or University Ombuds’ Patricia Ponce for confidential reporting about sexual assault, Allen said. All other staff are held accountable to share information if they find out someone is sexually assaulted.
“There’s a level playing field when two students have concerns with each other,” Allen said.
When Dean of Students Jean DeCosta hears about a student-on-student sexual assault, she has power under due process (a mandate that all legal rights of a person must be accommodated by the state in a timely manner), to require the students to come in and talk to her, Allen said.
When a report has to do with a student-on-faculty or faculty-on-student assault, Martha Cody, the director of employment equity, becomes involved and has similar power over faculty.
“If a faculty member commits sexual assault, they will be dismissed,” Allen said.
Both DeCosta and Cody are required to report to law enforcement and take specific action within their roles and look into the situation, Allen said.
Once law enforcement finds out about sexual assaults, they have additional procedures they have to follow as well. The University Police Department (UPD) is the legal arm when it comes to sexual assault, Allen said. Police records manager, Fred Mills, puts out the Jeanne Clery Disclosure of Campus Security Policy and Campus Crime Statistics Act (Clery Act), which mandates university crime statistics be made available to the public, Allen said.
If a student walked into the UPD office, the police would do their own investigation and report to DeCosta and Cody, Allen said. If students don’t want to report on campus, they can report to the Sexual Assault and Recovery Program of San Luis Obispo County (SARP), Allen said. SARP is affiliated with Cal Poly, but its staff isn’t required to report all sexual assaults they hear about like Cal Poly staff is required to.
The school begins an investigation and a process of review and ends with an action, Allen said about Cal Poly’s procedures for dealing with sexual assault. It’s the full range of actions that lead to the outcome, he said. Those outcomes can include dismissing staff and expelling students.
Armstrong put out a call for action, and Allen’s role is to support and empower the program areas that deal with sexual assault and to be as responsive as he needs to be in reporting students, Allen said.
“It’s a crime, it’s always unwanted, it’s damaging physically and mentally,” Allen said. “It happens, and it’s not selective. It can happen to anyone at anytime, anywhere.”
The current thinking is that sexual harassment is also a form of sexual assault, Allen said. The impact harassment has is very similar to sexual assault, he said.
Sexual harassment starts when it’s clear the behavior is unwanted, and at that point, it’s a crime in progress, Allen said.
Sexual harassment is looking to become sexual assault, it’s just an impact of time from the outcomes, Allen said.
There are too many assumptions in regards to past versus present when it comes to sexual assault, Allen said about people thinking someone wants to have sexual relations with them.
“To some degree, sexual assault is rooted in assumptions: ‘She likes me, we’re having a good time, they’re being nice to me …’” Allen said. “Be cautious about making assumptions, there needs to be clarity and honesty and communication.”
The president’s call to action is to have accountability, Allen said.
“I believe Cal Poly is a community who really cares and that we all need to care about this,” Allen said.
There are programs at Cal Poly that take pride in helping students when they’ve been sexually assaulted, and Allen said when people who work for the programs are providing people with help, they must tell them they have to report everything they’re told before the person tells them their story.
Cal Poly programs and sexual assault
Christina Kaviani, coordinator for the Gender Equity Center and Safer, is on campus regularly to provide people with support.
Kaviani said there are a lot of long-term changes that could be beneficial, but there would need to be support from the university.
“I think if we’re serious about changing the climate at Cal Poly regarding sexual assault, there are a lot of important things in the recommendations that need to happen,” Kaviani said.
Kaviani said all college campuses have high rates of sexual assault, and the 18- to 24-year-old age range has the highest rates of sexual assault. She said there’s typically a high amount of sexual assaults on any college campus for various reasons.
Kaviani emphasized the fact that alcohol itself doesn’t cause sexual assaults.
“When you’re consuming things, assaults don’t always happen,” Kaviani said. “But the more alcohol is consumed, the more risk goes up for everything and sexual assault is one of those risks. Sexual assault is a problem that’s starting from how we’re socializing and developing young people into how to behave in a social environment and how to treat other human beings, and lines are being crossed.”
The more information that is put out, the more can be done about it, Kaviani said.
When presentations are given, and rape and assault are defined, people realize they’ve been sexually assaulted, she said. There were higher rates of sexual assault in universities in the past, and their reaction was to mandate education and to do more vigorous programming — we haven’t done that yet, Kaviani said.
“The more we educate and lift the shame for people to come forth, the more we can have people coming forward,” Kaviani said.
The majority of sexual assaults happen in a home by someone you know, and the second most common place is in a car, typically at night, Kaviani said. Most of the cases she’s seen were in party situations where alcohol is a factor as well. She said this doesn’t mean that stranger-rape doesn’t happen either, because it does. She said it’s just less common.
“I would say that it’s not their fault,” Kaviani said. “It’s not something they should be ashamed of, and part of their healing is to come forward to someone, no matter who it is. With everything I’m saying, there’s no one cookie-cutter explanation, but for the most part, to heal, you need to be active in your healing.”
She explained it’s important to take up something that’s good for you and for your mental state.
Kaviani said she’s seen 28 people this school year alone, from sexual assault victims to victims of relationship violence and sexual harassment, as well as loved ones and friends of victims that want to get information.
In addition to programs giving people direct support regarding sexual assault, they also teach students about sexual assault.
Psychology senior Antonio Archuleta works for the men and masculinity program on campus and helps Safer with training people about sexual assault.
“Sexual assault is a touchy subject, and people don’t think it’s that prevalent on campus,” Archuleta said. “When we train people about sexual assault, we want people to take away as much as possible from us, and we change their lives.”
Armstong wrote in an email why the task force was formed and provided some suggestions on how to deal with and prevent sexual assault.
When he arrived at Cal Poly, Armstrong learned very quickly that the Cal Poly community works hard to educate students about sexual assault and substance abuse, he wrote in the email.
“The task force’s recommendations are very thoughtful, and Cal Poly students, faculty, staff and administrators have always worked diligently to create a safe campus,” Armstrong wrote. “What we know from the report is that our efforts regarding substance abuse education and sexual assault prevention need to be more effectively coordinated. The recommendations in the report helped us to immediately identify where we can better coordinate our efforts, and the office of student affairs has already implemented some of these recommendations.”
Armstrong shared tips for staying safe and preventing sexual assault.
“Keep your wits about you, know the people you’re with and lookout for your friends,” Armstrong wrote. “If you are assaulted, please report it and know that alcohol and/or drug usage is very often a factor in sexual assault incidents among college-age people. Don’t drink to excess; don’t use drugs and help one another.”
It’s hard to think of a civil thought about someone who would violate someone else, he wrote: Any unwanted physical contact of any kind is just, “wrong, wrong, wrong.”
Though one of the alleged sexual assaults of last May, which lead to the creation of the task force, allegedly occurred at a Sigma Phi Epsilon fraternity party, Armstrong said he doesn’t think greek affiliation is a cause of sexual assault.
Sexual assault is a matter of people not respecting others, Armstrong wrote in his email.
“In a caring community — and I believe Cal Poly is a caring community — everyone respects each other and looks out for each other,” Armstrong wrote. “The fact is, our community members act responsibly 99 percent of the time. What is vitally important is that as fellow human beings, we look out for each other, care about each other and when something looks wrong, step in and help one another …”
Editor’s note: This article has been updated since its publication. We originally wrote Preston Allen’s title as “Cal Poly Student Affairs Interim President.” He is actually the interim vice president of Student Affairs. Rachel Fernfores was also reported as a psychology professor. She is in fact a women and gender studies professor. We apologize for any confusion.