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Stacie Silva, an agricultural systems management freshman, was walking home to the on-campus Cerro Vista apartments from Bioresource and Agricultural Engineering (building 8). It was evening and she was alone.
Silva suddenly noticed someone walking not too far from her. The figure looked suspicious and seemed to follow her.
Feeling nervous, she rummaged through her backpack. Her hands finally found what she was searching for: pepper spray. She pulled it out and, shortly after, the figure turned the corner and disappeared.
Perhaps the unidentified individual saw the spray and decided to leave. Or perhaps there was no threat. Either way, Silva was happy she had it.
“I’m a paranoid person, and I’d like to know that if someone attacked me, I’d have a fighting chance,” Silva said.
The spray could have come in handy that night. Silva was permitted by Cal Poly policy to have it on campus. Though according to the Office of Student Rights and Responsibilities Standards for Student Conduct, students are not allowed to possess “chemical agents” on campus.
However, University Police Department Chief George Hughes said Silva wasn’t breaking any rules, because mace and pepper spray do not fall under the category of dangerous chemicals and agents.
“There are several things that can be considered a dangerous chemical,” Hughes said. “People can make chemical weapons out of acid or other things. We are trying to capture those things that people carry around that can be mixed into a dangerous mixture. Since pepper spray is allowed on campus, then I guess it wouldn’t be considered a dangerous chemical.”
Mace and pepper spray are also allowed in the University Housing units on campus, according to its student handbook.
“(University Housing) said that it is allowed as long as it’s not inappropriately used,” Hughes said.
Hughes did mention there are pros and cons to allowing students to carry spray on campus and in residence halls.
The most obvious benefit is the spray can be used as a self-defense tool, Hughes said. But there can also be a potential for students to use it inappropriately or to commit a crime.
Hughes said he has not heard of students using pepper spray for wrong reasons, and neither have his fellow officers. As a result, Hughes said the benefits seem to outweigh the risks of inappropriate use.
Though mace and pepper spray can be effective in self-defense, RISE — a crisis intervention and treatment center in San Luis Obispo — education services coordinator Ashleigh Zereen said using physical actions such as punches and kicks may be more effective.
A student may not always have their pepper spray, Zereen said, and it would be wise to know how to use the body against an attacker. And even if a student does have their spray, two issues can come up, Zereen said.
First, the spray can be intercepted by the attacker and used against the student. Second, an adrenaline rush may cause the student to forget how to use the spray or not immediately grab it.
Zereen recommended that students, both male and female, learn basic self-defense tactics such as how to escape a headlock or grab, simple kicks and punches and knowing where to hit the attacker to cause the most damage to protect themselves.