How Ulzi is shifting campus sexual assault culture

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The cold evening air caresses my face as I make my way down Crandall Way. I glance at my watch— 9:04 p.m. It’s the middle of week five, and I promised both my mom and myself that I would leave the library before sunset, but leaving the library late at night is almost inevitable during midterm weeks. I survey the street ahead of me, peeking over my shoulder every few seconds to make sure nobody is following me. I’m holding my phone in one hand and my full hydro-flask in the other, just in case I do get attacked. I only release my breath once I am safely inside my apartment.

If you are a woman, chances are you have practiced the same sense of alert, dread and paranoia I relayed in my personal experience of walking home alone at night. However, with the launch of the app Ulzi, our days of walking home alone may change for the better.

Cal Poly alumnus and Ulzi co-founder Elan Timmons was shocked when he heard that one in five women will be sexually assaulted during their time in college. After talking to his close female friends, this statistic held true. He soon discovered that all of his female friends constantly felt unsafe walking home, whereas all his male friends felt the exact opposite and were also oblivious to the appalling statistic of sexual assaults.

Timmons, along with co-founder Maxwell Fong, decided to publish their close friend’s story about her experience as a sexual assault survivor. The next day, to their surprise, their story was flooded with uplifting comments, and they had three more stories in their inbox from readers who also wanted to come forward with their stories. “It was like a snowball effect, the more we wrote and shared, the more stories that came in,” said Timmons. This was the beginning of Ulzi.

As Ulzi grew and the #MeToo movement started, Timmons was pleasantly surprised with people’s willingness to share their personal stories about sexual assault. “One of our mentors was brutally raped in college 30 years ago. She said one in five women were sexually assaulted back then, yet, 30 years later, this same statistic holds true,” he said. “We’re battling the same issues after millions of dollars has been invested in promoting sexual assault awareness. This is an issue that needs to be solved. Right now.”

So, how can we help improve safety? Timmons stresses the importance of bystander intervention: “It’s hard to be an active bystander. You never know when to intervene. That’s where our app comes into play. We are providing a technological solution in being an active bystander. You’ll know how you can best help when someone nearby is in trouble and not be able to turn a blind eye anymore to danger. Be a part of the solution and don’t be ignorant just because it’s easier.”

Political science sophomore Clare Camper recently became involved with Ulzi as a marketing ambassador after hearing from a friend about Ulzi’s growing impact on safety within the community. She quickly signed on to assist the marketing side on campus because she wanted to participate in their efforts to make the San Luis Obispo community a safer place.

“Ulzi emphasizes connection, safety and community,” Camper said. After working for Ulzi these past few months, her perspective on college campus assault culture has changed. She sees the great influence the community has on safety through our ability to connect with each other.

She stresses the importance of Ulzi as an app of inclusivity, an app that both women and men are encouraged to download. “It’s cool seeing the reactions from men when I explain to them that this app is not just for women. They can join and become a part of the Ulzi community, too. It’s amazing seeing how much people are willing to help each other and the potential widespread impact this app will have,” she said.

Camper has gotten over 600 Cal Poly students to download the app by boothing. Because Ulzi works as a crowdsourcing app, it becomes more useful as more people download it. Ideally, there will be so many people on the app that it will create a larger network of support and accountability.

Camper goes on to highlight the simple, yet effective features of the app. “It’s not a complex process. You swipe up if you’re in danger, and it will alert the people around you who also have the app downloaded that you’re in danger and need help. It’s incredible how much you can do in a single swipe,” she said.  

Ulzi differs from other apps because it serves as a sort of “life alert” app. It shows the proximity of other app users when you log on, ensuring that you aren’t actually alone when walking home late at night. “It really makes people realize they can help out people who are close to them,” Camper said.

Over the next five years, Ulzi hopes to expand into natural disaster management and alerts, preparing communities before disaster strikes by connecting with them and routing them to safety. They are also currently working toward providing safety for victims of domestic violence and locating loved ones suffering from dementia. “I see this app being utilized worldwide,” Ulzi Chief Marketing Officer Starr Hall said. “It takes safety and makes it part of daily social interactions and notifications. It isn’t just an incident activated app, it’s a daily keep in touch and be present and available app.”

Joining Ulzi’s talented and passionate team has shown Hall the positive impact a simple app can have on the community. “There is no in-box thinking at Ulzi, it is always about what we can do and be next. Where else can we go? Where can we take this that no other company has even thought about?” she said. “Our app technology can change public safety and make the world a safer place.”

As I walk down Crandall Way again, I reach down for my phone in my pocket. Instead of calling my sister to keep me company and be witness to my whereabouts, I open Ulzi and I feel more at ease. It’s comforting seeing other users on the app who can help me, all at the touch of my fingertips. I still look over my shoulder from time to time, but at least I know there are others around me who care about my safety just as much as I care about theirs.  

Ulzi launched nationally on Feb. 7, 2019. Join Timmons, Hall, Camper and the rest of the Ulzi team by downloading this free app. Together, we can change the college assault culture, one swipe at a time.

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