If any Cal Poly students return to their old dorms to reminisce about freshman year, they may find something missing.
Housing and Residential Life removed the red handprints, which were painted in front of many residence halls, over the summer. The handprints, which can still be found on other parts of campus, signify where a sexual assault has taken place.
The prints have been causing parents and students to feel uneasy, prompting their removal, according to Preston Allen, the director of Housing and Residential Life and assistant vice president for Student Affairs.
“I would think that they mean something different when you see them outside the business building than if you saw one outside the door to your house,” Allen said. “It’s real important that they (students) feel certain ways regarding the places where they sleep.”
The red handprints are part of a program put on by Cal Poly’s Women’s Center called S.A.F.E.R. (Sexual Assault-Free Environment Resource Program). The group was notified the week before school started about the handprints being painted over.
“I understand the concerns of Residential Life and Housing and I want to work with them to collaborate on the awareness of sexual assault for the students and the community,” said Julia Sinclair-Palm, the S.A.F.E.R. director.
Allen said that the program’s subliminal message about sexual assault was not the best method for the residence halls, especially since he felt that there was little explanation for the prints.
“When you have a high density situation, it’s like yelling fire in a theater,” Allen said. “You really don’t want to send a silent message like that. You can still communicate the message but you need to tell the whole story and let people read about it and make up their own minds.”
Allen said that bringing awareness of sexual assault to incoming students is an important concern, and his department is prepared to work both independently and with the S.A.F.E.R. program to do so.
“We do a variety of different things,” Allen said. “We put notices on students’ beds when they move in. It talks about rape, sexual assault, options, what to do, where to go, how it should be handled . . . And if mom or dad were to pick it up, they could begin to have a constructive conversation with their student about that.”
For Abbie Livingston, a history senior and co-director for the Progressive Student Alliance, the red hand prints communicated a bolder message.
“As an ex-R.A., I feel like there definitely needs to be more than just a sheet of paper on the bed,” Livingston said. “The really good thing about the red hand prints is that they were always there and always there to get people to ask questions.”
For Allen, it is unlikely that the red handprints will ever appear again in front of the dorms, especially when some parents wanted their students relocated because of them.
“The focus became there’s something bad with this place,” Allen said. “What was lost was that the badness is not with the place but with the people.”