Almost 20 students protested outside the office of Cornel Morton, vice president of Student Affairs, demanding the replacement of The Women’s Center’s red handprints Thursday during UU Hour.
Participants gathered at a booth provided by the Progressive Student Alliance (PSA) in the University Union at 11 a.m. to rally and make posters with phrases such as, “We will not forget” and “Handprints are not the problem, sexual assault is” written in red marker.
The march to Morton’s office in the Administration building began at 11:30 a.m. with participants carrying posters and chanting, “Save the red handprints, we will not forget.”
Housing and Residential Life removed the handprints just before the start of fall quarter 2005 in direct conflict with a campus policy that states a red handprint is to be painted at the site of a reported sexual assault on campus.
“The handprints were the voice for survivors,” said Susan Cooper, a chemistry sophomore and member of PSA. “It’s erasing the voice they had.”
Last fall, Morton assured students that the red handprints would continue to be placed on campus in accordance with the university’s policy. He also formed a task force to propose new ideas for displaying the handprints along with ways to enhance education and awareness about sexual assault in the Cal Poly community.
It has been more than eight months since the handprints were removed without formal approval and some students are fed up with the slow progress.
After numerous attempts to have them replaced, and meeting with Morton and the leader of the task force, students decided to find a new way to get the administration’s attention.
“We’ve tried other avenues with the administration,” said Nelson Bonilla, a computer science senior and co-director of PSA.
PSA organized the protest, directed at Morton, to express their disappointment in the administration’s refusal to replace the handprints, and to urge them to repaint them as soon as possible.
“(Morton) is the man with the power to change the policy,” said Matt Sutter, a history senior and member of PSA.
As Morton appeared outside his office, the protesters’ rants changed to “Dr. Morton, make them permanent.” He assured the protesters that he supports their interests and appreciates their concern.
“I can’t stand here and argue against the position you’ve taken,” Morton said. “We as a university have the job of helping everyone understand that sexual assault occurs on campus.”
Morton said that the process of replacing the handprints has been difficult because “it’s essentially an approvals process.” He also said that the administration would like to develop a better education program to accompany the handprints before they are restored.
“We’ve got to do a better job of helping this university understand what they mean,” Morton said.
He added that the task force has come back with some recommendations that he thinks students will be satisfied with. The task force will submit their recommendations to President Warren Baker who will then review them with a committee on May 1.