Shae Ashamalla

Editor’s Note: This article discusses specific experiences and themes regarding sexual assault and sexual harassment. Survivors of such experiences can access virtual confidential services through Cal Poly Safer’s website

The sun had already set by the time Morgan Saltamachio was walking back from class to her Cerro Vista apartment, where she worked as a resident advisor. As she entered her building, someone on the second floor balcony was yelling at her. Thinking it was one of her residents, she responded.

She quickly realized that the male student was not one of her residents. He was heavily intoxicated, Saltamachio said, and wasn’t just shouting — he was cat-calling her. Saltamachio said she felt fear when she realized she would have to get past him in order to reach her apartment on the third floor.

As she reached the second floor, he was there — standing in the middle of the staircase.

“The only option I had to go up the stairs was either to squeeze in between him and the inner stairwell railing, or squeeze in between him and the outer railing,” Saltamachio said. “I didn’t want him to push me over the railing or something.”

He continued to ask her questions about where she was going and where she lived, trying to get her to go back to his apartment with her, Saltamachio said. As she squeezed past him, he brushed his body against hers attempting to show her a video of some sort, continuing to yell at her not to go.

The next day, Saltamachio found out the same male student had gone on to attempt to sexually assault someone else that same night.

When university administrators sent out emails in October about two separate on-campus rapes, it amplified the discussion surrounding sexual assault and sexual harassment on campus.  

While neither are unique to Cal Poly’s campus, the subject has gained more awareness in recent years. The last time Cal Poly had a fully in-person school year in 2019, prior to the pandemic, dating and sex-related crimes shot up when compared with the year prior

Mustang News sent students a survey in November, asking about sexual assault, awareness of resources and opinions on university response.

Of the 548 students who responded, 74.1% self-identified as women, 23.4% self-identified as men and 2.6% self-identified as transgender or non-binary.

Fifty-three students, a little under 10% of all who responded to the survey, said they had faced either sexual assault or sexual harassment at Cal Poly since the fall quarter began.

About 43% of respondents, 236 students, said they know someone who has faced sexual assault or sexual harassment at Cal Poly in the last 10 weeks.

A vast majority of respondents — 81% — said they either feel unsafe or sometimes feel unsafe walking on campus during the night. Of the survey respondents, 19% of students said they either feel unsafe or sometimes feel unsafe walking on campus during the day.

Of the respondents who self-identified as women and live on campus, 94.4% either feel unsafe or sometimes feel unsafe walking on campus at night.

About 71% of students who responded said Cal Poly is not doing enough to address sexual assault and sexual harassment on campus. A vast majority of survey respondents shared comments in their responses about how they feel the university needs to address the sexual assault and sexual harassment more and how current programs are not enough.

In an email interview with Mustang News, Cal Poly President Jeffrey Armstrong wrote that Cal Poly offers programming that raises awareness about sexual assault and sexual misconduct, decreases and addresses its occurrence on campus and provides support to survivors.

“While it bears repeating that our campus is safe overall and experiences relatively low numbers of violent crime, any degree of sexual misconduct within our university community is unacceptable,” Armstrong wrote.

Armstrong credited his commissioning of a 2011 task force following two on-campus rapes reported within the same week 10 years ago. The task force, Armstrong wrote, led to changes and improvements including required alcohol abuse training and an expansion of Safer and other counseling and health services at Cal Poly. 

Armstrong added that university programming on sexual assault and sexual misconduct goes above and beyond what is required of students, which includes training during Week of Welcome, extra training for those in athletics and Greek life and programming offered by Safer, the Cal Poly Police Department and the Civil Rights and Compliance Office.

“As you can see, the university’s programming around sexual misconduct is broad,” Armstrong wrote. “Nevertheless, as in all areas of university operation, we know there is always room for improvement. We strive to keep an open dialogue and continually determine where and how we can do better.”

Mandatory online training is ineffective, students say

One point of improvement respondents noted in the survey concerned the required online training that all Cal Poly students have to take prior to the school year, which is mandated by a systemwide Cal State policy.

About 64% of student respondents said they think the required online training about sexual assault is either ineffective or very ineffective. 

About 53% of respondents said they do not know how to report a sexual assault at Cal Poly, although outlined in the online training.

Those survey statistics are not surprising to Christina Kaviani, who works for Lumina Alliance, an organization that addresses sexual and intimate partner violence in San Luis Obispo County. 

“When you have a topic like this, it’s very hard to translate it into an online format that’s engaging,” Kaviani said. “It needs conversation, it needs dialogue, and for people to process and share with peers.”

Kaviani said that a better way to teach students about topics like this would be to offer a mandatory class that first-year students must take upon arriving at the university.

“That [would be] a total step in the right direction of developing socially conscious individuals,” Kaviani said.

In regards to Cal Poly offering more programming like implementing in-person sexual assault training during WOW, Kaviani said it still isn’t enough.

“Any topic just talked about once is not going to sink into people’s heads,” Kaviani said.

Of the respondents who self-identified as women and live on campus, 94.4% either feel unsafe or sometimes feel unsafe walking on campus at night.

Reporting remains an obstacle, but so is an unsupportive environment

In his email to Mustang News, Armstrong noted how low reporting remains one of the largest obstacles and that without victims making formal reports, the university will be unable to know the true extent of the issue on campus.

“We need survivors to report,” Armstrong wrote. “And in order for reporting to increase, we have to maintain a system that protects and supports survivors.”

But the stigma surrounding those who report sexual assault and sexual harassment remains and there is no guareantee true action will be taken in response to reports. When aerospace engineering freshman Caitlin Hallisy faced harassment in October, she didn’t want to seem like she was overreacting so she didn’t report what happened to her.

Early in the quarter, Hallisy was walking home from a volleyball game with friends when she was approached by a male student who asked for her Snapchat.

He said he wanted to make plans to hang out at some point. Thinking the interaction was harmless, she agreed.

Later that same night, after Hallisy had messaged him multiple times that she was busy and didn’t want to meet up, the male student tracked her location using Snapchat’s Snapmaps feature, which gives live updates on the current location of users.

He made his way to her dorm building and messaged her to let him inside. Hallisy did not respond to his messages, but before she knew it, the male student had made it inside. He managed to find her in a hallway after searching through her building’s floors.

When he found her, Hallisy said he tried to get her to go off-campus with him and tried to grab her hand.

To get away from him, she ran into one of her friend’s dorm rooms and locked the door. He followed her and began pounding on the door for 10 minutes, Hallisy said.

She remained inside the dorm room while she had a male friend persuade him to leave. She then proceeded to block the male student on all social media.

Hallisy said she chose to not report what happened because she didn’t want it to seem like she was overreacting, despite being on edge for days after the incident that he would return to her building.

“It did seem kind of messed up, but at the same time, I didn’t want to cause any drama between me and him and prolong this incident,” Hallisy said.

Saltamachio, who was harassed by the male student in her building in October, chose to go through with reporting her experience to the Civil Rights and Compliance Office.

She said the process was difficult and incredibly time-consuming.

After being unable to meet with David Groom, the associate dean of Students and director of the Office of Student Rights & Responsibilities, for a day due to a miscommunication by the front desk staff, Saltamachio was finally able to speak to someone who then sent her to the Civil Rights and Compliance Office.

Morgan Saltamachio walks through the Cerro Vista apartments. Shae Ashamalla | Mustang News

Once she located that room, she found that it was locked. After calling for assistance, she was eventually told that her experience didn’t qualify as sexual harassment.

“It’s a hard process to report. I reported mine, and it was exhausting. It’s triggering, and it’s a lot of work,” Saltamachio said. “If you’re in an environment where you don’t have that support, and you don’t have people talking about it, why would you report?”

Saltamachio added that there isn’t enough accountability placed on those who commit sexual assault or sexual harassment, on top of how there is not adequate support for survivors to come forward. 

“We should be able to be at school and feel safe about where we are,” Saltamachio said.

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