“Whatever we wear, wherever we go, yes means yes and no means no!”
This was one of the many chants heard on campus Thursday evening, Cal Poly Queer Student Union, Triota, Empower Poly Coalition, Students for Quality Education and Cal Poly Democrats organized a peaceful protest where students condemned of rape culture across college campuses while demonstrating their support for survivors of sexual assault. The march was in part a reaction to conservative speaker Lauren Southern’s event on campus Thursday.
“I know too many people who have been affected by [sexual assault] to not say something about it and the fact that this is a problem in 2017 still baffles me,” communication studies junior Lanie Woods said.
Several Cal Poly administrative staff were also at the March Against Rape Culture.
“Me and my staff are here to support the students and the community members and we want to make sure everybody has an opportunity for free speech on our campus and that they feel safe expressing themselves,” Dean of Students Kathleen McMahon said.
Some students shared their own stories of overcoming sexual violence.
Agricultural science junior and incoming Associated Students, Inc. President Riley Nilsen also joined the march. “Rape culture is real and I hope that moving forward, we are able to recognize [that] and hold each other accountable when it is needed,” Nilsen said.
The march culminated at Clyde P. Fisher Science Hall (building 33) where Southern was set to speak at 7 p.m.
Nilsen noted the irony of Southern coming to speak at a public institution, “where women are getting degrees, going out into the workforce, going out as CEOs, as leaders.”
Southern, a Canadian conservative activist, writer and political commentator, drew a crowd of approximately 100 protesters when speaking on campus Thursday.
Southern’s speech was titled “The Return of the Traditional Woman” and primarily focused on the benefits of traditionalism for women. She cited numerous studies that provided statistical evidence that showed proving women have happier lives with fewer sexual partners and a more traditional role in a marriage.
“When it comes to the happiest vocation for women, having children is the happiest vocation,” Southern said.
Southern has been labeled as a rape culture denier and was asked about her stance on rape culture during the question and answer portion of her event.
“The reason you hear that rape is constantly happening is because the definition of rape has been completely changed; ‘I got drunk and had sex,’ that’s rape; ‘I didn’t have a consent form,’ that’s rape,” Southern said.
In defense of hosting Southern, Cal Poly College Republicans cited their right to exercise free speech.
Several protesters, however, asserted that the right to freedom of expression is not a free ticket to proclaim offensive beliefs.
“Free speech is a great part of our country and a great right that we all have, but it’s disappointing to see how some people use it to hurt others,” psychology sophomore Emma Cohen said. “It’s important to show that we’ll use our free speech to build people up.”