What is @CatcallsofSantaBarbara and who runs it?

Trigger Warning: Mentions of sexual harassment and rape

 

Fall quarter of 2019 for UCSB had become a wake-up call for the community to confront the safety crisis in Santa Barbara. It started with five too many harassment cases. What came next was community members, especially those who are students at UCSB and SBCC, holding a demonstration against sexual assault, demanding justice, demanding a safer community, demanding compassion and love for victims. In the middle of all of this, I had stumbled across @catcallsofsantabarbara on Instagram and was immediately impressed and moved by all of the #chalkingback that was being done. 

Pictured is the Instagram page of catcallsofsantabarbara.

 

If you aren’t familiar with what @catcallsofsantabarbara is, it is more than just an Instagram account; it is a platform that gives victims of sexual harassment an opportunity to be heard. Their stories are written in chalk with bright, eye-catching colors all around Santa Barbara--usually around where the story had happened. This account is one of many accounts stemming from the original, @catcallsofnyc, started by Sophie Sandberg in 2016. (Please visit www.chalkback.org to learn more about Sandberg and the initiative.)

The Instagram account was all I could think about during that time. I gushed about it in class and talked about it with friends. I thought it was amazing that a resource like this existed for us in the Santa Barbara community. Next thing I know, Rebeca Adam, admin and creator of the account, agreed to an interview, and as I told her then, I must admit now that it was a bit of a fangirl moment for me. 

 

The origin: 

Pictured is a hand chalking the beginning of the sexual assault account in pink chalk.

 

SBCC student, Rebeca Adam, began the account after following Sanberg’s account for some time. She stated, “I knew that there was definitely an issue of harassment in Santa Barbara, but around here no one really talks about anything having to do with oppression, racism, sexism, and you know, it still exists”. She continued to say that not talking about issues like these only exacerbate the problem. Rebeca recounts how she claimed the username "catcallsofsantabarbara" back in August of this year, and within 15 minutes, Sandberg reached out to her to fill out an online application to become a part of the chalk back movement. Fortunately, she was accepted and the account has since amassed 1.1k followers and counting!

 

The Behind the Scenes:  

Pictured is Rebeca's and Isabel's hands picking chalk to work with out of a box of chalk.

 

I asked Rebeca how she juggles school, work, and running the account. Does she have any help? How many times a week does she do this? All of these questions flooded my brain once I realized how much effort and passion has to go into running the account. Rebeca revealed, “I think we’ve got a good enough system going. We have a team now. I go to SBCC so I have four different people to help me over there and the UCSB one - which has been active recently - has six people now including me. We usually go three times a week. It’s like every other day pretty much”. 

I asked her more about where she decides to chalk the accounts of harassment and guessed that they had to be near where it occurred. Rebeca confirmed my guesses, “Normally yes we do that if they include the place. When it comes to the frat ones, we’ve had a couple of them removed when we released the location of those so we don’t give out the location when we do the fraternity ones. If there’s no location written in, I’ll go to an area that a lot of people travel by just to raise awareness in those areas as well." It is important to mention that she does try to do it near the location and gave me an example of an instance where someone was catcalled near a Taco Bell and she had one written across the street from it.    

 

Discussing the harassment incidents at UCSB:  

Pictured is a sidewalk with the phrase, "Hold Frats Accountable" in pink and green chalk.

 

I couldn’t wait to ask Rebeca and Avery Hogan, who she brought to the interview and is a part of her chalk back team, their thoughts on what has been going on at UCSB. The reasons why the account has been brought to my attention and what everybody can’t stop talking about. Rebeca explained, “It’s heartbreaking that there is a safety crisis going on in our community. Of course, we want to raise awareness against that and we’ve taken the stance against the stereotype which has normalized the idea that these types of things just happen at frats like ‘Oh, of course, it happened at a frat.' That’s not the kind of logic that should be associated with assault. It’s very normalized. It’s very dangerous. It’s very perpetuating of rape culture. While a lot of assault thanks to the MeToo movement is no longer normalized, why does this entity get to continue to prosper when they have this really dangerous stereotype attributed to them?"

Avery chimed to say, “I wanted to talk about fraternities’ reputation. Sigma Pi has a reputation for being rapey and that’s just normal. People are just like ‘That’s just a part of their shtick as a frat at UCSB’. It’s just completely, unacceptably normalized." 

I had seen comments pop up from UCSB students about what they think should be done to resolve the safety crisis and saw some demanding that UCSB should disband frats, others saying UCSB should provide names of perpetrators, and unfortunately, some saying that girls just shouldn’t go to parties. I wanted to know what Rebeca and Avery could offer as a possible solution.

Rebeca started by saying that she believes in reforming greek life, “I think there is a lot of money and privilege that runs in those institutions that makes it easier for people to get away with certain things. One of those things is unfortunately assault." She also believes in the reformation of how these situations are handled by UCSB, “When the school held the public forum, they did say some of their punishments towards the frat. They’re going by the books that they normally go by. I understand how it has to be very controlled and institutional but if it’s not working and these things keep happening, that means that there needs to be a refocus on who these solutions are targeting. You can’t just release an email saying, ‘Here young women. Here’s a self-defense class designed for you to go to so if you’re walking on a street at least we tried to prepare you for this.' It gives an indication that there is a place for these types of dangers and puts it on the back of potential ‘targets’ to have to feel like they need to be prepared."

Avery offered his viewpoint, “I think the idea of disbanding greek life is something that needs to be thought about before anything like that happens because that just might push the issue of UCSB’s limited sphere of control that they have over it and just put it in the hands of the cops or where it’s not going to be brought up even and not being able to go to UCSB about it.” 

Rebeca also added that personally, she feels that those belonging to a school affiliated organization “need to understand that they have the responsibility to keep anyone who goes into their house safe." She believes that if they collectively create an environment that wouldn’t perpetrate these kinds of painful and unacceptable acts that the acts could have been prevented and Avery agrees, “There’s a strong cultural force behind that."

 

Chalking Back with the Chalkers:

Pictured is both Rebeca and Isabel where Rebeca is holding a box of chalk. On the left is Rebeca and on the right is Isabel.

 

It was a very exciting experience to watch Rebeca and Isabel Bahamonde-Partlan, a UCSB student and chalker, in action. They brought with them a generous pack of chalk with all sorts of colors on their mission to create a work that grabbed everyone’s attention. They discussed amongst themselves what color combination they wanted to go with and decided with a watermelon theme. Various shades of pinks and greens later, they were on their way to completing the story and chalking their username.

My chalking experience had a lot to do with location because I started to realize the number of frats down the street from where we were. I was worried all their hard work would be gone seconds after we leave. Isabel disclosed to me that their work does disappear sometimes, “We had people come by and wash them off. For the Sig Pi one, they sent out a couple of pledges and they were just scrubbing the sidewalk." Though it’s important to know that most chalking experiences aren’t like that and in fact, they can be quite positive and encouraging. Isabel continues, “While we were chalking, this guy stopped and ‘Hey and I’m really proud of you guys and appreciate what you’re doing.'"

 

How can others get involved:  

Pictured is Rebeca and Isabel chalking on the sidewalk.

 

Feeling like your hometown needs to be apart of the chalk back movement? Just like Rebeca has done, you too can create your own catcallsof account on Instagram for your local community by completing the online application to establish the handle as part of the chalk back movement. 

Want to support @catcallsofsantabarbara? It is encouraged to spread awareness by talking to others about the account and share their posts on your IG stories as it shows you also stand with survivors. Rebeca welcomes you to share your own stories, if you feel comfortable, and let others know that it exists as a resource if they ever feel the need to share their stories. The account does not share your personal information and keeps you anonymous. 

Want to chalk your support? If you’re interested in chalking with the team, please DM the account. 

In the same vein of getting involved, if you’re wondering how to be a good male ally, I asked Avery for his advice. He leaves you with this: “Some very big key points are things that everyone should do is believing survivors, showing support by listening to people’s stories, and if you really want to show support then active activism -- joining and being apart of movements that are helping people that are dealing with these issues. Being active about it and trying to do something. A lot of what it is is doing something to help."

 

Conclusion: 

Pictured is the finished product of what they were chalking. It reads: Hold Frats Accountable. "My freshman year at one of my very first parties, I was taken advantage of at Sigma Nu late at night..." @CatCallsofSantaBarbara. 

 

When Rebeca Adam had used the phrase “safety crisis” in the interview, it serves as the perfect way to describe what so many people especially women are and have gone through. And when I say many people, I mean MANY people as Rebeca had let me know she was still in September’s DMs about survivors’ accounts while November is almost coming to an end. It was a phrase that finally gave our situation the appropriate amount of emergency. It was validating everyone’s experience. Finally given to everyone was a phrase that did not minimize what was and is actually happening in Santa Barbara and Isla Vista. Rebeca Adam and Sophie Sandberg gave our community a voice. A platform. A space to be listened to and regain power.

 

I'd like to thank Rebeca Adam, Avery Hogan, and Isabel Bahamonde-Partlan for their time, dedication, and compassion. 

 

All Images are by Rosalie Rubio.