A group of students is in the process of creating a new student organization that aims to raise awareness and educate the community on the subject of campus sexual assault. The idea for the student group grew out of a Sophomore College course this summer called “One in Five: The Law, Policy and Politics of Sexual Assault” with law professor Michele Dauber. The group will be called One in Five after the class.
The three-week experience was “completely immersive,” according to Dauber. Students read 100 pages of material per night and wrote multiple essays. The group traveled to Washington, D.C. and New York City to meet over 40 guest speakers who spoke about the topic, including members of Congress and other legislators. They also spoke with several survivors of sexual assault from Columbia, Yale and the University of North Carolina who have become activists for this cause. Students were inspired by their stories and message.
“Talking to them and hearing their experiences with sexual assault was both emotional and very moving,” said Stephanie Pham ’18, leader of the new group. “Every person said the reason why [this issue] is being brought to attention today is because of student activism. Students are the ones bringing light to this issue.”
Pham also talked to some of her friends who she knew were survivors, finding that many of them wished they could feel “safer” at Stanford. At the end of the class, Pham decided to focus her final project, in collaboration with Lauren Schlansky ’18, on action to raise awareness of sexual assault on Stanford’s campus during New Student Orientation (NSO). The pair hoped to break from activist practices that they perceived as acts of aggression or whining. They hung informational flyers and held a demonstration in White Plaza during orientation.
“We wanted to be peaceful, to start educational, informational discussion and to bring an intelligent and insightful perspective,” Pham said. “We wanted to create a climate among students to show that other students are here to listen, to believe and support survivors.”
Pham said she was moved by the response to the demonstration. A few survivors talked to her after the event, telling their stories and commenting how it was important to know that students care that sexual assault happens here.
Through working on the project and talking to students during NSO, Pham and her classmates came to the conclusion that there needed to be sustained effort to accomplish their goals. She noted that the issue of sexual assault “reaches every corner of campus,” affecting professors, RAs, students and even parents.
“Sexual assault is an epidemic,” Pham said. “And the only way to start changing that is through a sustained effort among students who really care about this issue. So we thought, ‘Why not a student group?’”
Acting as a student organization would allow interested students to work directly with University organizations in an official capacity. Pham hopes to collaborate with organizations like the Women’s Community Center, the Feminist, Gender and Sexuality Studies Program and multicultural groups on campus, especially because women of color are sexually assaulted at much higher rates than other groups, she said.
“If there’s a consensus on campus that something’s wrong, that we don’t feel protected, we feel unsafe and that these things are happening to our friends, we need to as a community…sit down and say, ‘If we want to have the best university in the world, we need to fix these issues,’” said Matthew Baiza ’18, another active member of One in Five who participated in the Sophomore College. “But I think even before you can sit down about that, you have to have a student body that is educated on the issue.”
Dauber, who taught the course, is excited about the formation of the group.
“As a teacher, it’s very exciting to me,” Dauber said. “I feel like I’ve achieved my goal that they are so excited to start an educational organization. They feel completely on fire to share this information with their peers, and that is every educator’s dream.”
Reaching out to freshmen
Jenny Han ’19 had just arrived on campus for NSO when she encountered the demonstration, and it captured her curiosity. Students from the One in Five SoCo, including Pham and Baiza, had assembled in White Plaza during NSO holding signs spelling out “RAPE HAPPENS HERE.”
“It seemed like something every college campus should have to raise awareness,” Han said. “I felt like it was a good message.”
Along with the demonstration, students joined Pham in postering around campus. According to Dauber and Baiza, unlike in previous years, this year’s NSO did not include discussions and presentations with representatives from the Title IX Office and the Office of Sexual Assault and Relationship Abuse Education (SARA), so the group was concerned that incoming freshman were not receiving an adequate education on the topic.
Han also noted that she thinks many freshman are not aware of the gravity or the closeness of the issue.
“The only way I really knew about [the Brock Turner case] is from reading about it in The Daily,” Han said. “No one really talks about it.”
Han claims that “scary path,” the dirt route behind Kappa Alpha near Lake Lag and the site of the alleged rape by Turner, is also a subject that isn’t discussed among freshmen. Members of One in Five have already begun an initiative to light the path and implement police patrolling, although there’s been some pushback from the University.
Despite the lack of awareness among her classmates, Han hopes that members of the class of 2019 will become more educated on this issue and possibly get involved with the group.
Han learned more about One in Five after meeting Pham in class during the first week of this quarter. She and two other freshman stayed after class to talk for more than an hour about “how awful Stanford is [regarding this issue],” she said. She, along with other freshmen, were inspired to join the emerging organization. Some of them will now be founding members.
“We need as many freshmen as possible,” Han said. “The urgency of the matter makes it something everyone should get into.”
Responding to campus climate
The recent campus climate survey reported that 1.9 percent of Stanford students are victims of sexual assault. The report has ignited discussion surrounding the potentially misleading nature of this statistic.
“The main issue [with the statistic] is that survivors are going to think that they’re in this alone,” Pham said. “It also creates a false sense of security.”
Han is concerned students will ignore the issue because they think it could never happen to them.
“My dad is more concerned about me being attacked by a mountain lion than me being sexually assaulted,” Han said.
Baiza emphasized the importance of educating the Stanford community on the issues surrounding sexual assault in order to enact change.
“It’s hard to strike a balance of something that will help survivors, that will help them to cope with what they’ve gone through, but also treat the [alleged] perpetrators fairly,” Baiza said.
The group hopes that bringing light to this issue through students rather than faculty members or administrators will be influential in the way campus awareness affects survivors of sexual assault.
“When you meet someone who’s a survivor, when you know a survivor or when you are a survivor yourself, you want to know that someone else isn’t going to have to go through the same things you did,” Baiza said. “What we’re focusing on is being able to educate others from a student perspective, because we don’t have that on this campus.”
The existing campus organizations that deal with the issues of sexual assault, like the SARA Office and the Title IX Office, aren’t student-run. There hasn’t been a student group at Stanford that deals exclusively with the topic of sexual assault in many years, although One in Five will not be the first of its kind.
During the SoCo, students met with a former member of the Stanford Rape Education Project (SREP), a student organization that existed during the 1980s and 1990s. The group aspired to educate students on sexual assault issues, was responsible for one of the first comprehensive campus climate surveys in the country (in 1988) and successfully pushed for reforms on the university level, according to Dauber.
“Many of the students’ imaginations were captured by the idea that there was a student-led, student-run and student-empowered organization that focused on this issue and was intended to educate peers and empower themselves,” Dauber said.
Baiza claims he feels a sense of responsibility now that he has finished SoCo and has gained knowledge on this issue, and he thinks his classmates feel the same way.
“Once you know something is wrong, I don’t know how it wouldn’t bother you that you don’t take action on it,” he said.
Action through education
The group plans to host “student-to-student discussions” in student residences often throughout the school year, especially in freshman dorms. Members have also begun discussion with some of the sororities and are hoping to organize events for members of their organizations as well. They plan to hold viewings of the documentary “The Hunting Ground,” which follows the stories of several victims of sexual assault on college campuses.
“[The movie] does a really good job of throwing information out there and also making it relatable,” Baiza said. “Putting a face to the numbers really makes a difference in getting people to do something.”
The group wants to start holding these discussions as soon as they are able.
One of the major events One in Five is hoping to present later this year is a Congressional summit. During the SoCo, students met with Rep. Jackie Speier of California’s 14th District, who suggested the idea. The summit would feature members of Congress and other important figures who would discuss their personal positions as well as recommend specific actions to address the problem. Baiza thinks that an event like this would help students better understand how their elected officials think, especially because the bureaucratic systems in Congress and on college campuses can be very similar, he said.
“We’re trying to reach as many aspects of student life possible and…to reach as many corners as possible,” Pham said.
Collaboration with the University
In addition to student-driven programming, the group wants to work directly with University administrators to combat sexual assault on this campus.
“The University is very vital to helping to make the lives of students better,” Baiza said. “They are the central part that helps put all of Stanford together. Between their responsibility to the students and our desire to bring about change, it’s important that both of us are able to work together to, at the very least, educate the community.”
“We are not trying to put down this university, but we think it’s time that Stanford shows it cares about its students,” Pham said.
“[According to the climate survey] 72 percent of women [at Stanford] think the university wouldn’t hold the student accountable, which is really scary,” Pham said.
Ideally, the group would hold some kind of conversation every day “to break down rape myths,” Pham said, since misconceptions about sexual assault are widely believed.
“There are so many misconceptions of sexual assault on this campus,” she said. “Especially for the incoming freshmen.”
Members also hope to foster open dialogue on the topic of prevention through accountability. The idea of immediate expulsion upon being accused of sexual assault has been discussed by Stanford students in recent years, but One in Five chooses not to take a group-wide position, opting to encourage constructive discussion instead.
“We’re not trying to say [to the University], ‘You’re doing these things wrong. Fix it,’” Baiza said. “We’re trying to say we want to work with the University and with students to let them know that these are the issues we have on campus.”
“The most powerful thing on this campus is the voice of the students,” continued Baiza. “Students can bring about change if they really work at it and desire for it to happen. That’s something that’s really undervalued sometimes.”
Contact Sarah Danielle Ortlip-Sommers at sortlip ‘at’ stanford.edu.
This post has been updated. A previous version referred to the Feminist, Gender and Sexuality Studies Program as the Feminist, Gender and Sexuality Studies Department. The Daily regrets this error.