Cal Poly officials don’t ♥ provocative T-shirts


A Cal Poly student group hopes to end a university policy that almost stopped them from using the university’s name on a T-shirt that promotes discussion of consensual sex to prevent sexual assaults.

Students at Cal Poly’s SAFER program have been wearing and selling T-shirts that say “I (heart) consensual sex” since 2008 in collaboration with the National Organization for Women.

“Whenever we wear these shirts, inevitably we get questions about them, and it gives us the chance to talk about sexual assault and what ‘consent’ means,” said Kara Barbieri, SAFER’s student educator.

However, the university has long had a licensing policy that excludes use of “sexually suggestive products or language.”

A few weeks ago, Cal Poly officials told program leaders that they’d have to stop using Cal Poly’s name, which appears as part of a website link, on the back of the shirt, or change the front’s sexually suggestive language.

But 1,000 students signed a petition supporting the T-shirts, and parents called administrators.

After that outpouring, the university allowed an exemption for the shirts about two weeks ago, students said.

Cal Poly officials said Wednesday that they initially misunderstood the campaign.

“Because Cal Poly has endorsed the SAFER program as an operating unit on campus, using the Cal Poly name on this T-shirt as a part of this broader campaign can be an exception to the established guidelines,” wrote Larry Kelley, the university’s vice president of administration and finance, in a letter.

Kelley added that any new design would be subject to review by the university.Darin Dorsey, a Cal Poly sophomore who works part time with San Luis Obispo’s Sexual Assault Recovery and Prevention Center and previously was with SAFER, said he hopes to remove the policy altogether as it relates to educational messages.

“I think we should have the backing of the university on positive messages and not be held to reviews that are based on vague interpretations of what sexually suggestive means,” Dorsey said.

The university’s police department reported five sex-related crimes in 2007 and none in 2008 and 2009, according to the latest statistics available thanks to the Clery Act, which requires release of crime statistics of public college campuses.

But those stats don’t include incidents that go unreported or may be reported to other law enforcement agencies, Barbieri said. She said many incidents go unreported and her program has helped as many as 20 sex crime victims in a year at Cal Poly.

Cornel Morton, the university’s vice president of student affairs, said the T-shirts will be allowed indefinitely.

“It was a misunderstanding that was worked out,” Morton said. “We’re ready to move on from it.”

Kelley added in his letter that “the process has worked as it was designed to work, and the several people involved in the review did their jobs correctly.”