What began as a senior project for a Cal Poly student has turned into a means of empowering victims of sexual assault, raising awareness and demanding change from the University.
“The project is called The Clapback and the reason for that is I want our voices to be a slap in the face,” Cal Poly Senior Amelia Meyerhoff said.
The voices of 61 Cal Poly students and alumni, some of whom reveal their trauma for the first time, share personal experiences of sexual assault.
“I wanted this project to be a space where survivors can come talk to me and feel validated and supported,” Meyerhoff said.
Respondents were asked to provide the details of the assault, how they navigate school as a survivor, how the experience impacts their daily life, where they find support and healing, and any closing thoughts.
One female student described waking up to a male student sexually assaulting her, another said she was sexually assaulted after blacking out from alcohol, and one woman recalled being forced to have sex after she withdrew the consent she initially gave.
Among these voices is Meyerhoff, herself.
“During my second year at Cal Poly, I was raped by someone who I thought was my friend,” Meyerhoff said.
The assault devastated Meyerhoff. She kept quiet for months and though she shared her story in a campus therapy group, it was never reported to police.
“I don’t think there would have been any justice for me,” Meyerhoff said.
That lack of trust in the system is not unfounded.
Statistics from non-profit Rape, Abuse and Incest National Network (RAINN) find 46 out of 1,000 sexual assault reports lead to an arrest. In total, 995 out of 1,000 perpetrators ultimately go free.
“I do think this project will show how wrong the systems can be,” Meyerhoff said.
Meyerhoff said Cal Poly and other universities nationwide fail victims. She alleges inefficiencies in Title IX investigations and inadequate support for survivors on campus.
In response to Meyerhoff’s project, Cal Poly president Jeffrey Armstrong issued a statement, where he recognized sexual misconduct is a reality on campus.
“We will continue to improve how the University responds to sexual misconduct, supports survivors, and tell all of campus that we will not tolerate sexual misconduct in our community,” Armstrong’s statement reads in part.
“I really hope the administration and President Armstrong reads through the findings and testimony and I mean all of them because they’re all valid and significant to the climate of the University,” Meyerhoff said.
Here is Armstrong’s statement in its entirety:
Sexual misconduct is not welcome on our campus. It is heartbreaking, abhorrent and against everything for which our university stands. Unfortunately, it is also a reality on our campus and in our society.
On a personal level, it is gut wrenching knowing members of our campus community experience traumatic events such as these. We will continue to work diligently to ensure that we are addressing this issue with the humanity, gravity and comprehensiveness it demands.
We take every opportunity afforded to us to hear the concerns of our campus community members. These concerns are taken seriously, and we consider them as we constantly review and work to improve the programs and services we provide across campus. We are listening.
We also understand that there are sometimes frustrations associated with the investigative process around sexual misconduct — that an individual investigation may not end the way a campus community member wished, or that the university cannot be more forthcoming with details about specific cases.
Our Title IX investigative process and procedures are outlined not by the university but rather by California State University (CSU) mandate and by federal and state law. The same is true for the privacy constraints around these cases. The university does not have the latitude to change these processes and procedures as we might wish.
That said, the university’s Equal Opportunity staff are dedicated professionals who are thoroughly trained in how to apply the existing laws and CSU mandates to ensure that Cal Poly is following the law in its Title IX programs — and who do so with the utmost sensitivity to our campus community members in mind.
Likewise, we have passionate and dedicated staff members in our Safer program and other areas of campus who are focused on providing thorough support for survivors of sexual misconduct. I am proud of all of our employees who work tirelessly to support and provide for the wellbeing and safety of our students.
Some survivors have shared their concerns that the university is not doing enough — that we need to provide more resources for investigating sexual misconduct and providing support to survivors. I agree; there is always more to be done and we are adding to our programs. Safer added a full-time advocate last spring and has hired a second, part-time advocate. And the Equal Opportunity Office added an assistant director position that will increase capacity for investigations and provide additional resources to support training and outreach for students, faculty and staff. The office has also received approval to hire a full-time staff person who will support students, faculty and staff and will be the first point of contact to answer questions and schedule appointments.
Preventing sexual assault requires a comprehensive approach. Over the years, the university has enhanced programming around awareness and prevention. For example, sexual assault awareness and prevention is now a required, foundational education component of our student orientation programing. Other programs have been created to combat sexual assault on a multitude of fronts. We have also established the With Us program – an initiative with objectives that include preventing sexual assault by training and empowering students to recognize and intervene in situations where the threat of a sexual assault may exist.
These changes will help. But I am aware that it is still not enough. We will continue to add to these programs. We will continue to improve how the university responds to sexual misconduct, supports survivors, and tell all of campus that we will not tolerate sexual misconduct in our community.
Perhaps most importantly, we will continue to listen.