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Exploring a timeline of Stanford sexual assault initiatives

Lauren Schoenthaler outlines sexual assault initiatives over the years

In the wake of campus-wide and national conversations surrounding sexual assault this year, Stanford students and faculty have been engaged in a number of discussions, initiatives and workshops in reflection. An understanding of what Stanford has done in recent years to address sexual assault contextualizes these actions.

The Daily spoke with Lauren Schoenthaler, the newly-appointed senior member of the Provost’s team in charge of overseeing the Title IX Office, the Office of Sexual Assault & Relationship Abuse Education & Response (SARA), the Access Office and the Office of the Ombuds. The following timeline provides an overview of key initiatives since 1990.

Early 1990s: “The Real World: Stanford”

“The Real World: Stanford,” a skit performed during New Student Orientation, was the first example of Stanford’s efforts to educate incoming freshmen on issues of sexual violence across college campuses.

2000s: Online training

Online coursework specifically aimed at freshmen marked the second early project. Beginning in the 2000s, Stanford required that students complete mandatory online training prior to their arrival on campus. The current version of these classes take the form of Haven, a series of online modules intended to provide an overview of situations and strategies related to potential sexual abuse, relationship violence, stalking and harassment at colleges. Schoenthaler said the program was expanded this year to be required for new graduate students as well as undergraduates.

2009: Alternative Review Process

In 2009, Stanford designed a new disciplinary system specifically for matters involving sexual violence. Prior to this initiative, cases of sexual violence were addressed through the same processes as all other forms of misconduct. The student disciplinary system, which mostly oversees Honor Code charges, was designed to favor accused students in order to make up for the power and authority that faculty members would naturally have over them. To best protect these students, the committee used the highest standard of proof, requiring evidence “beyond reasonable doubt.”

Stanford developed the Alternative Review Process (ARP) in response to calls for a standalone judicial process for cases of sexual violence. ARP manages allegations of sexual assault and harassment, relationship violence, stalking and retaliation.

ARP provides equitable rights for both parties, including an appeal right for the complainant. It followed a “preponderance of the evidence” standard, as dictated by the California Education Code and the Office for Civil Rights. In place of direct cross-examination, each party meets individually with reviewers while the other party listens in by phone and suggests follow-up questions by email. The reviewers consist of panelists informed about issues of sexual violence rather than students and faculty.

“The single most important shift in sexual assault response at Stanford was the recognition that sexual violence cases must be handled in a specialized, trauma-informed process by specially trained panelists guaranteeing both parties parallel rights,” Schoenthaler said. “The ARP process represents Stanford’s recognition of this fundamental value.”

2010s: A shift in perspective

Recent dialogue surrounding sexual assault has seen a fundamental shift. Rather than giving prescriptive instructions, students are now encouraged to identify their own boundaries.

“The shift in the programming this year was to focus more on a values-based discussion rather than a policy-based discussion,” Schoenthaler said. “Essentially, we are asking students to think consciously about their sexual citizenship: identifying their own boundaries, communicating boundaries, listening for boundaries and respecting the boundaries of others.”

Schoenthaler identified Beyond Sex Ed as one of the three most important initiatives in Stanford’s history of combating sexual violence, along with the creation of a Confidential Support Team of therapists and the installation of the ARP.

“Any sexual assault prevention program is based on three interrelated parts: prevention training, supporting people in need and responding and redressing allegations of sexual violence,” Schoenthaler said. “For prevention training, I believe our Beyond Sex Ed values-based program for freshmen has done the most to try and change culture because the program focuses on sexual citizenship and how students should value themselves and each other in all forms of relationships.”

Beginning in 2014, Stanford has also continued to make improvements to ARP. These include increasing oversight by the Title IX coordinator, tightening up evidentiary guidelines and ensuring consistent access to outside attorneys for students.

Community impact of policy changes

When asked whether the statistics for campus sexual violence have changed in light of recent years’ initiatives, Schoenthaler said that reports to the Title IX Office have increased in number.

“We attribute this uptick, though, to some positive factors: a better recognition of when boundaries are crossed and therefore what conduct is unacceptable and a willingness to report concerns and ask for investigations, which indicates a trust in our processes,” Schoenthaler said.

Future Initiatives

Looking ahead, Stanford next plans to focus on its sophomores, juniors and seniors in live training sessions currently being developed by SARA, the Title IX Office and ASSU representatives.

“The programs will both be a refresher of past material regarding sexual boundaries and University policies and processes, but it will also bring in new material that builds on past sessions,” Schoenthaler said. “We hope to cover subjects like bystander intervention, relationship violence prevention and maintaining values of positive sexual citizenship beyond Stanford.”

Contact Xinlan Emily Hu and Emily Jusuf at xehu ‘at’ stanford.edu and ejusuf ‘at’ stanford.edu.