"The Clapback" interviews 61 rape and sexual assault survivors at Cal Poly

Apr 12, 2019

A student’s senior project at Cal Poly in San Luis Obispo went live on the web this week. It calls out the university as a place where sexual assault is common and victims don’t feel supported. The project is called “The Clapback: An Investigation of the Sexual Assault and Rape Culture at Cal Poly San Luis Obispo,” and features interviews with 61 rape and sexual assault survivors.

Senior Amelia Meyerhoff, herself a survivor, described why her project is called "The Clapback."

“I want our voices to be a slap in the face to anyone who has ignored us or invalidated our experiences,” she said.

Meyerhoff’s interviews detail survivors’ fears of running into their perpetrators on campus and the difficulties they faced reporting under Title IX. That’s the federal law that handles allegations of sexual misconduct at educational institutions that get federal funding. Meyerhoff said of the students and alumni she interviewed, just 19 percent of alumni ended up reporting incidents to the Title IX office, and of current students, only 18 percent.

“88 percent of those who reported said that it worsened their trauma,” said Meyerhoff, adding many felt like the investigative process at the university ended up protecting alleged perpetrators. “It silences us. It definitely brushes survivors under the rug.”

Meyerhoff said the victims of sexual assault she spoke with did had positive things to say about confidential reporting and counseling services available on campus, like SAFER. But she also quoted statistics from the Rape, Abuse & Incest National Network (RAINN) that said 11.2 percent of all students experience rape or sexual assault at universities. She said this could equal about 3,000 students at Cal Poly and Meyerhof questioned where the SAFER office had the staffing and resources to adequately address victims' needs on campus.

A recent California lawsuit prompted changes in how Title IX cases are being handled across the state, and the California State University system is responding. But advocates for victims’ rights say these changes may actually make the reporting process more difficult moving forward.

“Title IX operates at a much larger scale than Cal Poly can control,” Meyerhoff said. “But I hope [this project] shows how the policy overall, at all the universities in California, is really failing us.”

In response to Meyerhoff’s project, Cal Poly president Jeffrey Armstrong released a statement saying he agrees more needs to be done, including how the university responds to allegations of sexual assault and how it listens to those affected.

Read the full text of Armstrong’s response here.