Faced with reports of three women being sexually assaulted at fraternity parties since Halloween, Cal Poly has cracked down on the Greek system and ordered its leaders to produce a comprehensive plan to change a culture that can put female students at risk.
As university officials await that plan, questions remain on how effective Cal Poly’s current disciplinary policies are in creating a safe and healthy campus environment — especially since campus counselors are seeing a striking rise in women coming forward to talk about being assaulted.
Many leaders within the Cal Poly community, as well as sexual assault prevention advocates, say the focus needs to be on men: that the most effective way to stop assault and rape in the Greek system is to promote self-policing among fraternity members.
That means getting fraternity brothers to actively take the stance that sexual assault is wrong and illegal and to step in to stop behavior that can lead to rape.
“I think Cal Poly is taking a great first step,” said Jennifer Adams, executive director of RISE, a local nonprofit that counsels victims of sexual assault and domestic violence. “The university has shown a commitment to wanting to address these issues. But I do think it’s much bigger than just suspending these fraternities or putting them on probation. Sexual assault happens in a culture that allows it to happen.”
In the university’s fall quarter, more students visited the university’s sexual assault resource center for counseling than during all of the 2013-14 school year. Most students came to talk about incidents that occurred within the past year, program officials said.
Counselors believe it’s a positive sign that more assaults are being reported, rather than hushed up, as Cal Poly grapples with a problem that universities are facing nationwide.
Cal Poly’s response to the three reported sexual assaults has included imposing a “social probation” or temporary ban on social activities at all fraternities and sororities or third-party venues until Greek leaders create the blueprint for cultural change.
Cal Poly already has been tightening oversight on Greek organizations for several years to curb out-of-control drinking. A year ago, the university ordered the Greek system to develop a party registration policy that limited event times, banned hard liquor and kegs, and required guest lists to be submitted in advance.
While the tighter policies targeted drinking, they also could influence the number of campus sexual assaults since national studies show intoxication often is a factor in those cases.
Keith Humphrey, Cal Poly’s vice president for student affairs, said some fraternities have failed to follow the party policies, “creating an environment that allows for unsafe activity to happen.”
“It is also clear,” he said, “that party attendees are not stepping up to self-police when they see risky behavior happening.”
Cal Poly takes a range of punitive actions when Greek organizations violate policies — from warnings and meetings with fraternity leaders to suspensions and permanent disaffiliation, meaning Cal Poly no longer recognizes the Greek organization.
The university recently imposed a six-year suspension on Pi Kappa Alpha, one of the three Cal Poly fraternities accused of hosting a party where a sexual assault occurred this school year. Pi Kappa Alpha also violated the university’s party registration policy. The fraternity is appealing the suspension.
Meanwhile, Cal Poly is updating its sexual assault policy to reflect new laws and mandates from the California State University system.
The university’s sexual assault policy, which is posted online, says that “to establish that someone has consented to sexual activity, the person must either hear this consent stated verbally or receive this communication nonverbally in a way that would nonetheless be seen as consent by reasonable people.”
Shifting the focus
Adams said that from a young age, girls are taught to be fearful and mindful of men’s sexual pursuits. She said prevention efforts have taught college-age women to watch their drinks at parties, help each other to sidestep predatory men, and avoid walking home alone. The tips are wise, but have failed to stop sexual assault reports in the San Luis Obispo community, Adams said.
“For decades, we’ve been telling women what to do or not to do,” Adams said. “But we have to shift that focus to young men to what they shouldn’t be doing and to call each other out for inappropriate behavior and activities.”
Alex Horncliff, Cal Poly’s Interfraternity Council president, agrees with Adams. He says fraternity members need to step in when they hear remarks and see behavior among friends that encourages sexual violence.
Horncliff gives presentations on campus as a student assistant with Cal Poly’s campus-based sexual assault prevention center.
“We talk about the factors of consent, and the ‘Yes means yes’ law, we talk about bystander intervention and to stand up when they see something happening and do something about it,” said Horncliff, a senior and member of the Lambda Chi Alpha fraternity.
“People need to understand when behavior is wrong and stop it,” he said. “And that extends to the non-Greek community as well. It’s a passion of mine to promote sexual assault prevention efforts across the entire school.”
About 3,500 of Cal Poly’s 20,186 students are in the Greek system — about 17 percent of the student body.
All fraternity members receive some training in sexual assault awareness and prevention during the year from Cal Poly’s sexual assault resource center, Safer, which educates more than 12,000 students a year on sexual assault and dating violence. Safer also provides crisis counseling, self-defense workshops and other services.
Quantifying the problem
Cal Poly has seen a dramatic increase in the reporting of sexual assaults, which “we consider to be a positive development,” said Christina Kaviani, coordinator of the Safer center.
Kaviani said last school year the university counseled 48 students total on sexual assault issues compared with 58 students just in the 2014 fall quarter.
Thirty-three of the students counseled this school year reported being victimized by sexual assault, domestic violence or stalking, according to the center. The other 25 people included roommates, close friends and significant others of assault victims.
“People are feeling more empowered to report, and we want people to know the university will support them,” said Kaviani, adding that sexual assaults are typically under-reported. “… Our primary concern is to help victims with their psychological state.”
Safer’s statistics don’t include those who reported incidents directly to Cal Poly’s dean of students.
Most assaults were committed against women by someone known to them, and alcohol was a factor in many, but not all of the incidents, Kaviani said.
The center counsels those who report assaults and works with victims to determine if they’re willing to notify law enforcement. But they don’t require police involvement unless the student is under 18.
A Campus Climate Survey performed in spring 2014 and released last fall showed that 8 percent of women who responded had experienced unwanted sexual contact while at Cal Poly. Overall, 5 percent of the 6,366 respondents said they had experienced unwanted sexual contact while at Cal Poly.
Thirty-eight percent said the incident happened in their first quarter, the highest of any quarter, while 80 percent cited an off-campus location. About 46 percent said the perpetrator was an acquaintance or friend; 35 percent said the perpetrator was a stranger.
Students made anonymous comments in the survey such as “I knew I was violated, didn’t give consent, but at the time didn’t want to make a big deal of it. I regret that decision.” And “It was my first week in college. … I wanted to forget about it and not let it define my freshman year.”
The survey did not ask whether alcohol was involved or specific locations where the incident occurred, such as fraternity residences.
Several national studies look at those questions.
A 2007 study commissioned by the U.S. Department of Justice found that women who frequently attend fraternity parties are far more likely to be raped than those who don’t.
In about 70 to 80 percent of male-on-female rape cases, which make up nearly all reported cases in the Greek community, the woman is intoxicated, the study found.
The study also cites research by multiple surveys indicating one in four women report rape or an attempted rape sometime during their college careers — and up to 5 percent of college women survive rape or attempted rape each year.
At RISE, Adams also said one of her center’s biggest challenges is creating an environment in which those who report rape feel comfortable going to police and moving through the legal process.
“People must feel safe to come forward and speak up,” she said. “The first assumption shouldn’t be that they’re lying. Those perceptions have to change.”
Focusing on men
As Cal Poly reviews its sexual assault policy and calls on Greek organizations to create a culture that’s less risky for women, the university also is focusing programs for men.
In addition to the Safer training on sexual assault and awareness that all fraternity members receive, Cal Poly offers a four-week volunteer program to train fraternity men on ways to combat attitudes and behaviors that perpetuate sexual assault.
Taking a six-week course called the Men and Masculinities Program is mandatory for those accused of sexual assault or relationship violence. The university averages about five cases per quarter of men referred to the Men and Masculinities Program.
Beyond working with fraternities, Cal Poly is taking aim at reaching men in male-dominated majors. Unlike most CSU campuses, Cal Poly has a majority male student population with about 55 percent men and 45 percent women.
The university is now developing a men’s program to provide educational outreach and partnerships with male-oriented groups on campus aimed at preventing sexual assault. The program would be led by a coordinator who would create a plan to reach young men in male-dominated majors.
Coordinators of Safer say the idea behind a men’s program is to reach out to those enclaves and break down negative or hostile attitudes that can develop toward women.
The university is still in the planning stages of how this program might work and its funding mechanism.
But its main focus is on educating men in Cal Poly’s male-heavy majors — including engineering and computer science — to respect women, speak about them appropriately, and act considerately toward them.
Potential for change
A host of ideas for preventing sexual assault have been kicked around nationally at college campuses.
The University of Virginia now requires three sober and clear-headed fraternity members to monitor parties.
Dartmouth University banned hard liquor on campus last month and will require students to participate in a sexual violence prevention program all four years.
Sororities don’t allow drinking in their houses as part of a nationwide policy, but some now are considering a change. The idea is that they’d more effectively prevent problems such as spiked punches and date rape drugging if they were in their home facilities.
However, Kristen Henry, Cal Poly’s student Panhellenic leader of sorority chapters, said that hosting parties at local sororities hasn’t been discussed.
“I don’t think it’s on the table,” Henry said. “It’s not something that we’re considering.” Henry said Cal Poly’s sororities abide by the existing national policy of alcohol-free residences and that allowing alcohol would increase insurance costs.
However, Henry said she believes Cal Poly’s social probation is a good idea that will lead to cultural change.
Henry said that a gathering of fraternity and sorority leaders in late January led to candid discussions and a commitment to comprehensive education about self-dignity and bystander intervention.
“It was great to get all of our chapters and councils in one place,” Henry said. “We’re ready to work to follow up on proposals and ideas. I think everyone understands the seriousness of the issues and why this is such a big problem on campus. We all need to be part of the solution.” Joi Sullivan, Cal Poly’s Associated Students Inc. student body president, said that Greek leaders have worked hard to enact change, looking at changes made at other universities. They have sent a draft of their plan to the university’s administration. But the key will be for the Greek community at large to embrace a new outlook, Sullivan said.
“It’s a matter of heart,” Sullivan said. “It’s a matter of (the Greek community) recognizing it’s not an easy decision by the university to issue a probation, and it’s not just about you and your convenience. It’s about proactive change.”
TWO CALIFORNIA LAWS TARGET SEXUAL ASSAULT
California lawmakers approved two new laws in 2014 to address the issue of sexual assault and campus safety. The new laws are:
SB 967: California's controversial “yes means yes” legislation, applicable to college campuses, requires “an affirmative, unambiguous and voluntary decision” by each party to engage in sexual activity; a dating relationship is not a basis for assuming consent.
Campuses must adopt “detailed and victim-centered policies and protocols regarding sexual assault, domestic violence, dating violence, and stalking involving a student that comport with best practices and current professional standards.”
Campus policies cannot allow lack of consent because the complainant was asleep or unconscious; under the influence of drugs, medication or alcohol; or unable to communicate because of physical or mental condition.
Colleges must use a preponderance of evidence standard to adjudicate sexual assault policies — meaning that it was “more likely than not” that consent was not given. College campuses must adopt policies that incorporate SB 967 or risk losing state funding for student financial aid.
AB 1433: To participate in the Cal Grant program, campuses must disclose to local law enforcement “any report of a violent crime, hate crime or sexual assault, whether committed on- or off-campus” as soon as practically possible.
UPDATE: THREE CAL POLY SEXUAL ASSAULT CASES
Here's a look at the status of three reported sexual assault cases at Cal Poly fraternities this school year:
1) Pi Kappa Alpha: Halloween night; 740 W. Foothill Road. The Sheriff’s Office investigated; the District Attorney’s Office chose not to file charges, citing insufficient evidence.
2) Alpha Gamma Rho: Dec. 13; 132 California Blvd. San Luis Obispo police investigated, but the alleged victim chose not to report the crime. The department has retained the evidence in case the woman changes her mind.
3) Unnamed fraternity residence: Late night Jan. 9 or early morning Jan. 10; 1200 block of Monte Vista. San Luis Obispo police identified a suspect, and forwarded the case to the DA’s Office, however prosecutors won’t charge the case due to a lack of evidence to prove the case beyond a reasonable doubt.