The topic of sexual violence and sexually based crimes can be difficult to talk about, yet it is a topic universities are constantly having to address. At Cal Poly, there is a program that has been aiming to make the subject more approachable. Safer, the university’s resident informational and confidential crisis counseling center, is a crucial resource for students to maintain a healthy and well informed campus environment. Although incoming students learn about Safer during Week of Welcome, the complete portfolio of resources and programs Safer actually offers is unable to be covered due to limited time. To understand the full breadth of Safer’s programming, The Wire sat down with interim-director Kara Samaniego on February 23rd to find out more about the services Safer offers and how their internal structure aids their success.
Safer started as a grassroots movement in 1996, spurred by high profile cases like the one involving Cal Poly student Kristen Smart. The program aimed to bring light to sexually based crimes on the Cal Poly campus and one of the ways it garnered attention was with the “Red Hand Project.” During the project’s duration, red hand prints were placed around the campus at the scene of an assault. Today, there still remain posts with a red hand print in residence halls and in the University Union to commemorate the campaign and what it stood for. After its successful and highly visible start, the program continued to focus its efforts on sexual assault until 2011 when it started to encompass more topics related to student health, advocacy and protection. Safer now offers crisis counseling, a seven week leadership training program and information on how to report dating violence, domestic violence and stalking — in addition to much more. A student can make an appointment or walk into their office in the University Union Monday through Friday for advice or help on any of the aforementioned topics, or to just get free condoms or feminine hygiene products. The variety of services Safer offers is diverse and will only see the inclusion of more resources in the upcoming years.
Although Safer has had a successful past, a recent restructuring by interim-director Kara Samaniego has allowed Safer to do more for the community it serves. With an undergraduate degree in Psychology and a minor in Women and Gender Studies from Cal Poly, Samaniego came back last year to obtain her MBA from the Orfalea College of Business. She has always had a passion for the type of work that Safer addresses and knew that implementing a team based structure would provide more a concentrated effort towards Safer’s overall goal.
The program does follow a generally pyramidic model, but the use Samaniego’s team-based approach has lead to a highly functional dynamic. Under the director, coordinators, and graduate students are three student run teams who work on education, marketing or administration. The education team does just what it’s name suggests: educates the the Cal Poly community through presentations and the use of liaisons from organizations like the greek community. The marketing team was created with the goal to be more intentional with their outreach. In addition to social media management, the team is responsible for creating general, faculty and survivor newsletters and materials for Safer’s three awareness months. Lastly, its administration team keeps stock of informational materials used in presentations, handles outreach to volunteers and conducts internal assessments to improve the work environment. Samaniego’s adjustment to Safer’s internal structure has helped create an efficient work environment, which not only helps the volunteers and employees at Safer, but trickles down to benefit Cal Poly as a whole.
Looking to the future, Samaniego wants to use this new organizational structure to do more on campus. A prospective idea is the inclusion of a multimedia experience during WOW to drive home the gravity of the repercussions of sexual assault and do more to let incoming students know that Safer is there for them. Additionally, Samaniego’s personal interest in combating harassment led to a collaboration with Women in Business in a jointly hosted workshop last month addressing workplace sexual harassment, which is the first of more to come between the two organizations. For members of Women in Business specifically, Safer can help young women feel more confident and prepared in both professional and social settings, with events like the harassment workshop and the understanding that they always have a place to go with issues concerning safe sex, healthy relationships, and much more. Safer’s latest outreach efforts and new programs will continue to help Cal Poly students thrive in a more caring, safer community.
Women in Business’s newly formed partnership allows our club to provide new support systems and resources to our members. We encourage you to check back to see future collaborations and events with Safer on our Facebook page.