Stanford University announced today that it would expand its definition of sexual assault to include all non-consensual sexual acts. This change brings Stanford into line with the definition used by its peer institutions, including Yale and UC Berkeley.
This decision reverses the University’s action of October 2014, in which Stanford narrowed its definition of sexual assault to include only penetration and oral copulation carried out through force, threat of force, or while the victim was incapacitated. None of Stanford’s peer schools use such a narrow definition.
“Clearly we went too far and should not have changed the definition to make it unduly narrow,” said Provost Etchemendy. “That was a mistake, and I am very sorry.”
Students had complained that this narrow definition led to a very low rate — 1.9 percent — of reported sexual assault in Stanford’s recent climate survey. “Obviously, if you define assault very narrowly you can get a really low number,” said President Hennessey. “That’s how statistics work.”
Yale defines sexual assault as any kind of nonconsensual sexual contact, while Berkeley defines it as any “physical sexual activity without the consent of the other person.” Stanford University spokesperson, Lisa Lapin, said in a statement, “We realized after last Friday’s Town Hall meeting that Yale’s definition is better. Stanford is proud to lead from behind on this issue.”
Lapin stated that the university will expel any student who is found responsible for conduct that meets the definition of either rape or sexual battery under California’s penal code.
“Students believe that anyone who commits a sexual attack through force or on an unconscious victim deserves to be expelled regardless of whether the attack involved penetration” said Stephanie Kalfayan, Vice-Provost for Academic Affairs. “Frankly we agree. Anyone who would do those things is a terrible person and a threat to the Stanford community.”
Stanford also announced that next year it will administer the American Association of Universities (AAU) sexual assault climate survey rather than its own independent survey.
Stanford students raised legitimate concerns about the definition of sexual assault after a University press release in October announced that only 1.9 percent of students experienced sexual assault, based on a Stanford-created climate survey conducted last spring. Stanford today acknowledged that 43.3 percent of female undergraduates experience sexual assault or misconduct during their four years at Stanford, a figure that the Provost called “appalling.”
Stanford’s climate survey claimed that only 6.5 percent of undergraduate women experienced penetration or oral sex through force or incapacitation (including attempts), a number that was much lower than data reported by peer schools that used the AAU survey. Yale reported 20.4 percent, Harvard reported 14.9 percent and Dartmouth reported 18.3 percent.
“Clearly something went wrong with our survey,” said Vice Provost Stephanie Kalfayan. “It appears that we inadvertently asked a confusing question about incapacitation that resulted in an undercount of assault.”
Stanford’s climate survey also lacked the dozens of pages of data on race, gender and disability that the AAU survey included. “Our survey wasn’t very accurate or transparent compared to our peer schools’,” said Lisa Lapin, “but we can learn from them and improve in the future.”
Kalfayan responded to student objections to the term “gender diverse” in the University’s climate survey to describe transgender, genderqueer and gender non-conforming students and those who marked “I prefer another term.” “We apologize for our insensitive use of the term ‘gender diverse’ and will work to correct systemic issues that disproportionately create unsafe spaces for transgender women.”
Stanford’s climate survey reported that only 28 percent of undergraduate women and 45 percent of undergraduate men believe it is very likely that a student found responsible for sexual assault will be held accountable. Stanford Vice Provost for Student Affairs Greg Boardman said “Obviously we are alarmed that more than half of undergraduate men think that they won’t be punished even if they rape someone.”
According to Provost Etchemendy, “Stanford believes in the value of data in helping to eliminate sexual violence. To achieve this goal, the University administration is committing to a campus-wide, sustained effort among faculty, staff, students and parents. Stanford University takes this issue very seriously.”
This is a satirical representation.
Stephanie Pham ‘18 and Lauren Schlansky ‘18
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