Students and SAFER held a forum May 12, in response to the alleged sexual assault that occurred at a Sigma Phi Epsilon fraternity party May 7. The forum addressed safety advice and how to reduce the risk of sexual assault. Nha Ha — Mustang Daily.

Two college-aged women were reportedly raped May 7 and 12 respectively, on or near campus, bringing forth the topics of consensual sex, safety and responsibility among the Cal Poly community.

One alleged rape occurred at or after a Sigma Phi Epsilon party May 7. Joseph Trupiano, an agribusiness senior and suspect in the sexual assault, turned himself in May 12. He has not been charged. The same day, an alleged rape occurred at Poly Canyon Village (PCV); a suspect has been identified but was not in custody at the time of press. In both instances, the victims reported being intoxicated and unconscious.

The two alleged rapes and an email from Cal Poly President Jeffrey Armstrong addressing the events follow recent disputes concerning the presence of sex and its discussion around campus. All of which raise concerns that sex-oriented topics aren’t receiving the exposure necessary at Cal Poly, among other universities.

Before the second rape, the Sexual Assault-Free Environment Resource (SAFER) and Sexual Assault Recovery and Prevention (SARP) programs held a rape forum in the University Union (UU) to discuss safety advice and tips on how to be an intervenor at parties if something appears suspicious, such as predatory behavior.

Cameron Lutchansky, a SAFER educator, said at the forum that men must also learn to intervene if a situation seems suspicious, even if it may go against some male attitudes.

“If there are 10 suggestions for how women can reduce their risk from being sexually assaulted, there should be a 30-page packet stapled to that on how men can help reduce their  risk of sexual assault,” Lutchansky said. “Bystander intervention is a difficult thing to do because you’re essentially going against what we men have been taught, which is, ‘Yeah, don’t cock-block me, bro.’”

The members of the forum also advised against blaming the victim.

In the security alert issued by the University Police Department (UPD), the first sentence stated that the victim was “intoxicated and unconscious.” Some of the members and attendees of the forum felt the release should have been worded more sensitively.

Cal Poly Academic Programs analyst Mary Whiteford said at the forum that she had been a victim of sexual assault and felt the wording of the release insensitively expressed the alleged rape.

“It occurred to me this morning, words matter,” Whiteford said. “‘Intoxicated female’ (insinuates), ‘Oh, the gal was drunk and got raped.’”

Issues with wording also occurred in another incident with SAFER. In early April, after months of indecision and disapproval, the SAFER club shirts donning the phrase “I (heart) consensual sex” were threatened to be taken away due to Cal Poly trademark rules.

Karen Webb, the assistant vice president of Administration and Finance, said under Cal Poly’s Trademark Licensing guidelines, items with “sexually suggestive language” are prohibited from being used with the Cal Poly name. The SAFER shirts include Cal Poly because its website address is on the back of the shirts.

“I’m not sure how it was construed that I personally felt the T-shirts in question were inappropriate or that I had an objection to the SAFER program itself,” Webb said. “This is not about me or my personal values, but rather the fact that the university has a licensing program with guidelines on use of the Cal Poly name.”

Many of the SAFER said the members felt personally objectified by the disapproval of the shirts because other clubs on campus have sexually suggestive language on their shirts — such as mechanical engineering with “Just do ME,” soil science with “Talk Dirty to Me” and industrial engineering with “Want a quickIE.”

SAFER members rallied to save their shirts, which eventually earned an exception because the “I (heart) consensual sex” slogan comes from a broader national campaign, the National Organization for Women (NOW).

Though SAFER earned an exception for their shirts, Kara Barbieri, a psychology and women’s gender studies senior and an educator and programming assistant for SAFER, said Cal Poly — by offering an exception, but not recognition of the shirts — did not stand behind the very important message of consensual sex. In fact, she said Cal Poly seemed to still find the shirts “sexually suggestive” by the lack of recognition for their message.

“It is my opinion that Cal Poly administration is trying just to make the whole potential (public relations) nightmare go away, but is not confronting the issue that rape prevention and educational messages dealing with consent is not sexually suggestive,” Barbieri said. “And even if messages were alluding to sex, we attend a public, state university, which should not be endorsing abstinence only education, which is the alternative to mentioning that Cal Poly students might be having sex.”

Following the sexual assaults, Cal Poly is now addressing the issue of consensual sex.

Armstrong issued an email to the Cal Poly community Friday afternoon and wrote, “These incidents have forever altered the lives of two young women who deserved respect and protection that they did not receive from the people around them.” The email also stated that the Cal Poly community must take “responsibility” with drugs and alcohol, and also with the lives and safety of fellow students.

Some argue that a step toward responsibility involves education.

Professor Jean Williams, the interim chair for the women’s and gender studies department and the co-author  of “The Politics of Virginity: Abstinence in Sex Education,” said “about one-third of public high schools teach abstinence education.”

Williams said a majority of high school students (47 percent of all students and 62 percent of 12th graders, as well as 80 percent of 19-year-olds out of high school) have had sexual intercourse. However, those who enter college without proper sexual education will have less knowledge about consensual sex.

Abstinence education can sometimes show the more religious viewpoint to sex. Jamey Pappas, the Missional Team Leader of Slo Crusade, said he and his wife give a “Love, Sex and Dating” talk to campus groups, even “sorority houses,” to talk about sex and the benefits of waiting to consummate a relationship until marriage.

“In my view, (God) has designed us to have sex in a committed relationship that is monogamous where, most people, have committed themselves to each other in the sanctity of marriage,” Pappas said. “That way that relationship implies the security and the trust I have found really causes a physical act to be all it can be when you have it between two people who are committed to each other.”

Though some feel abstinence and waiting for a committed, monogamous relationship create healthier relationships than casual sex, many college papers have sought to openly discuss sex, including the Mustang Daily. With online comments ranging from disgust to praise to amusement, the attitudes of sex columns are extremely varied.

Pappas said though he may disagree with some of the topics in the sex column, he felt it is important to talk about sex, especially with college students when it is such a prevalent topic.

Melanie Hanlon, a recreation, parks and tourism freshman, said God intended people to wait until marriage to have sex, but said she is not offended by the sex columns.

“I think sex has become something seemingly unimportant or, rather, under appreciated, whereas it was intended to be something really special,” Hanlon said. “However, I think it’s naive to just assume that because that’s what I think, sex should never be talked about. I really enjoy reading the column even though I think abstinence is the way to go because I just find it entertaining to read about.”

With people having such strong opinions on sex, other colleges with sex columns have also faced backlash.

The University of Kansas newspaper, the University Daily Kansan,  has faced controversy for its annual sex issue, Sex on the Hill. Yet, Malcolm Gibson, the general manager and news adviser for the University Daily Kansan, said the issues are always popular. In fact, Gibson said the issues are popular “for readers and advertisers (because) virtually all of (their) mainline advertisers are in it.”

However, Gibson said not all daily sex columns are quality.

“We were one of the first papers to have a sex column, and it was done brilliantly in the beginning,” Gibson said. “We don’t really have one now because sex columns are like opera and poetry — they’re either really, really good or really, really bad; not much in-between.”

Gibson said, though, that administrators have not always approved of Sex on the Hill because parents on campus tours see it. The issue of content of college papers, and the impression from prospective parents, has also bled into stories that don’t necessarily involve sex.

The University Collegian from the Catholic, private La Salle University in Pennsylvania ran a story about a professor, Jack Rappaport, who hired strippers to prove a point at an off-campus seminar. However, this story was delayed from being published by the La Salle administration, and thus caused other news outlets to break the story first.

Vella said the college did not want the article to run because of how it might look to prospective parents.

“While I definitely think the school wanted to keep its reputation unblemished, I also think the timing of our printing upset the school,” Vella said. “Spring is the prime college recruitment season, and I’m sure the administration was wary of how potential students, and their parents especially, would react to the situation.”

When the administration conceded and let the story run, the paper was told to run it on the bottom fold of the front page, which it did. Vinny Vella, the editor-in-chief at the time, said the administration often wanted unflattering stories to be ran this way.

This time, though, the top fold was blank besides four words: “See below the fold.”

Kevin Smith, the incoming editor-in-chief of the Collegian, said the decision to print the direct heading was difficult.

“We initially intended to run the story with a banner headline, but as the news editor and I spoke, we realized that if we ran it below the fold with blank space above, we would not only be complying with the wishes of the administration but alerting our readership to the struggles that we go through in order to bring them the news,” Smith said. “Once we informed the editor-in-chief of our idea, we met as a staff and concluded that we were making the decision for the right reasons.”

When asked what would happen if his paper decided to run a sexually-charged story, Vella said the administration would “condemn it” if told ahead of time, but if surprised by a story, “the papers would be confiscated by administration.”

Such aversion to unflattering stories, concerns about insensitive wording with sex-related issues and the Mustang Daily sex columns show the difference between struggles of public and private universities when tackling sex. Yet, the issue of the handling of sexual topics, and sexual assault in society, not just at a college level, remains very real.

Cal Poly psychology professor, Shawn Burn, who also works with the SAFER program, said the discussion of sex, especially consensual sex, is important in addressing healthy sexual relationships.

“It is virtually impossible to talk about sexual assault without talking about sexual consent, for it is consent that separates sex from sexual assault,” Burn said. “We have to talk about the situations in which the ability to determine whether consent is being given is compromised — for example, by intoxication — and when an individual is not capable of giving consent — she or he is too intoxicated or underage, for example.”

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2 Comments

  1. A minor spelling error was fixed, as well as a stray comma.

    -Caitlyn Harkins, copy editor

  2. I think the MD should be a little more conscious of the words they use regarding rape. Saying “reported rape” versus “alleged rape” would be more appropriate here.

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