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University begins efforts to reexamine policies for handling sexual assault cases


Stanford has begun reexamining its policies for handling sexual assault cases in the wake of protests and calls for change by a sexual assault survivor earlier this month.

During the June 12 Faculty Senate meeting, University Provost John Etchemendy Ph.D. ‘82 announced the creation of a new faculty-student committee tasked with improving educational efforts surrounding sexual assault and harassment, as well as studying the University’s disciplinary processes for reported cases.

Dean of the Law School M. Elizabeth Magill and ASSU President Elizabeth Woodson ‘15 will chair the committee, which will begin work this summer. The creation of the committee has been well received among student and faculty.

“I think that [the formation of the committee] is a great first step from the administration. It shows dedication to action,” Woodson said. “The goal that Magill and I share is a vision that no student at Stanford is sexually assaulted. If that does happen, then justice is delivered swiftly and effectively, and the survivor is thoroughly supported in the aftermath.”

“I am very glad that the Provost is taking [the problem of sexual assault] very seriously,” said David Palumbo-Liu, a faculty member that hopes to join the new faculty-student committee. “They can affect change that can close loopholes or address things that the initial ARP [Alternate Review Process] couldn’t.”

Stanford currently uses the ARP to adjudicate reported cases of sexual assault and harassment. A revised ARP was approved by the ASSU and the Faculty Senate in May 2013 following a three-year pilot program.

In his presentation to the Faculty Senate, Etchemendy said that the newly established committee will be asked to consider, among other issues, whether the University’s disciplinary process should use expulsion as the “presumptive” outcome in cases where students are found responsible for sexual assault.

This conversation was sparked on June 3, when student Leah Francis ‘14 sent an email to the student body detailing her story as a survivor of sexual assault. Francis criticized the University’s handling of the case — most significantly, that it did not expel her assailant, a senior, despite finding him responsible for sexual assault, sexual misconduct and violating the Fundamental Standard.

Through the ARP, her assailant was originally suspended for five quarters beginning summer 2014, but he was allowed to graduate and return for graduate school in fall 2015. Following Francis’ appeal for expulsion, the University reportedly made a final decision to withhold the assailant’s degree for two years, no longer suspending the student and not expelling him either.

After the initial rally in White Plaza on June 5, students, faculty and staff also protested outside the June 12 Faculty Senate Meeting and have been using the hashtag #standwithleah to raise awareness on social media.

“It really hits home,” Palumbo-Liu said of the emotionally-charged protests. “It’s a civil rights issue. You should be able to go out of your dorm without feeling threatened and you should have full access to your education.”

Despite the outcry to change the punitive aspects of the ARP, some criticize the implementation of the original policies surrounding the system.

Michele Dauber, the faculty chair of the Board on Judicial Affairs from 2011 to 2013 and one of the primary authors of the ARP, noted in particular the amount of time it took for the case to get settled and the reportedly reduced punishment of the assailant.

“They, in my opinion, appear to have manufactured mitigating factors that do not exist anywhere in the penalty code and essentially, in my opinion, mitigated his punishment based on the fact that [the assailant and victim] had a dating relationship in the past,” Dauber said. “I feel like my time drafting the ARP was wasted by the University because they hadn’t implemented the policy that they have, so I don’t feel very optimistic about [revising the] policy.”

Woodson also addressed those challenges.

“[Problems of implementation] are definitely within the awareness of faculty administrators that I’ve spoken to, and that is very important to us,” Woodson said. “[The sexual assault committee’s] job is to deflate that, and make sure that concerns around not stopping at a policy change or even in reviewing the policy are taken.”

Additionally, according to Woodson, there are plans to develop an educational campaign about “affirmative consent.” During the Faculty Senate meeting, Etchemendy announced that all incoming students will be required to participate in online training related to the matter before arriving on campus next fall.

The ASSU also plans to form a proposal — compiling both outside research and interviews within the Stanford community — to address the state of sexual assault resources at Stanford right now and to present to administrators.

“Another thing we’re working on is continuing conversations that we started in the spring,” Woodson said. “Empathy is critical, especially in this topic, understanding the different pinpoints and why people are confused and why people are scared.”

Woodson emphasized the importance of ensuring that as much input from the student body reached the ASSU, collaborating with individual student body efforts for joining the reform conversation.

One of these is led by Taylor Brown ’16 and Brandon Camhi ‘16, who hope that the reforms not only include harsher punishments and stricter enforcement of sanctions through the ARP, but also education and survivor resources.

“Currently, the resources are limited,” Brown said. “[Counseling and Psychological Services] does not have the capacity for long-term counseling — which is what sexual assault victims typically need. If a Stanford student needs long-term counseling they must go off campus using private insurance. There is also no academic support specific to survivors.

“Another overarching issue is that although there may be many resources, they are not streamlined,” Brown added. “It is extremely unhelpful to survivors when they are simply handed a stack of pamphlets. There needs to be more professional support and guidance.”


Contact Catherine Zaw at czaw13 ‘at’

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Catherine Zaw was formerly the Managing Editor of News for Vol. 245 and Vol. 246. To contact her, please email [email protected]