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Stanford among many schools fighting sexual assault with new initiatives


On April 26, the Association of American Universities (AAU) released a new report detailing the initiatives that its member universities have taken to combat sexual assault on college campuses. The report highlights the results of the AAU’s recent institutional survey, which was completed by 55 of the AAU’s 62 member schools, including Stanford.

The report comes as Stanford continues to adopt new programs related to sexual violence, including two just added this quarter.

Push across colleges

The goal of the AAU report is to help universities develop strategies and programs to reduce sexual violence on college campuses by synthesizing the actions other universities have implemented. The report allows the AAU’s findings to be distributed publicly.

Each of the institutions that partook in the AAU’s survey have administered campus climate surveys regarding incidents of sexual violence and students’ perceptions of them. Nine of the universities surveyed participated in the AAU’s campus climate survey and 16 others combined the AAU survey with separate surveys. 30 universities, Stanford included, conducted a different survey altogether. Stanford’s decision not to participate in the AAU’s survey met with criticism from some students, faculty and alumni last year who unsuccessfully called on the University to redo its study.

According to the AAU report, in the last three academic years, 46 out of the 55 universities surveyed — 84 percent — have implemented new education and intervention programs for different student populations. Additionally, 100 percent of surveyed institutions “have changed or are in the process of changing their education and training for students and faculty,” the report states.

Over the past several years, Stanford has increased its general funds budget by over $3 million in order to grow its programs against sexual violence, which include support, education and adjudication systems.

The report provides Stanford with information about how peer universities are working to fight sexual assault, said Provost Persis Drell in a Stanford News article.

“Every university, Stanford included, is deeply involved in improving its approach to preventing and responding to sexual violence,” Drell said. “The AAU report provides an important opportunity for us to learn from the experiences of other universities and to continue developing new approaches here at Stanford.”

Drell added that Stanford will continue to assess its initiatives. The University will also start discussing a new campus climate survey next fall, she said.

“Sexual and relationship violence continues to occur far too frequently in our community,” Drell said. “I want to look at every possible solution, I want us to work in partnership with students on those solutions and I want us to communicate openly about both our progress and our challenges.”

Latest Stanford initiatives

On Wednesday, Stanford students, faculty and staff received a joint email from various Title IX-related administrators announcing the University’s new online platform for victims to report instances of sexual violence. The platform, Callisto, will initially be available for a three-year pilot series.

Student involvement has helped shape many of Stanford’s new initiatives against sexual assault and relationship violence over the past few years, something Callisto’s adoption reflects: The program, developed by a nonprofit and used at a number of other universities, launched at Stanford at the recommendation of the ASSU.

“Callisto allows you, privately and confidentially, to document what happened to you if you have been a victim of sexual or relationship violence,” Wednesday’s email states.  “If you’re not ready to submit a report officially to the university, the system preserves the information securely.”

Victims still have the option to submit a report directly to the University, but can now also do so online through Callisto. Additionally, the online site has a tool that allows victims to report an alleged perpetrator to the University for investigation only if someone else has named the person as an offender.

“There were a lot of things I wanted to accomplish on Senate, but that was my main goal: Let’s bring Callisto to Stanford,” said former Senate chair Shanta Katipamula ’19, who authored the the Senate’s resolution in support of the program. “It’s developed by someone who is a survivor, and they’ve done a lot of research on their end to make it truly empowering for survivors.”

In addition to Callisto, the University has introduced another initiative this year. This quarter, Stanford’s Confidential Support Team started a Skills Support Group that meets each week for students affected by sexual assault, relationship abuse, sexual harassment or stalking. This group is designed to provide a safe space for students to discuss their experiences and offer tools to better address symptoms of trauma.

Older initiatives

Stanford has several initiatives combating sexual assault that predate Callisto. One such event, a performance titled Beyond Sex Ed: Consent & Sexuality at Stanford, was first launched in fall of 2016. In the performance, current students shared experiences and stories with new freshmen and transfer students. Audience members then participated in paired group discussions and an activity to increase students’ mindfulness.

Brianna Booth, director of positive sexuality, design and development at the Stanford Office of Sexual Assault & Relationship Abuse (SARA), created the event.

According to Beyond Sex Ed’s web page, “the program’s underlying philosophy is to engage the culture from the inside out: cultivating empathy, agency and growth in community.”

SAVE workshops are just one of a host of programs Stanford has pursued to combat sexual assault on campus (ANGELA LUO/The Stanford Daily).

In addition to Beyond Sex Ed, SARA introduced SAVE: Stanford Anti-Violence Educators program. SAVE began in spring of 2016 through a partnership with Tanvi Jayaraman ‘16 and Hannah Long ‘16, co-chairs of the ASSU’s Sexual Assault Prevention Committee.

Over the course of spring quarter, the SAVE program trained 20 undergraduate students to hold workshops and facilitate discussions for freshmen about subjects including healthy sexual and intimate relationships and fostering a culture of consent across campus. The students then visited freshman dorms in pairs throughout last fall.

“Upperclassmen are much more relatable and have a better idea of what the social scene looks like and more practical questions of consent that can be workshopped and thought about,” said Michael Kim ’17, a SAVE peer educator for this past year. “The main thing is pushing for cultural change … for the younger students to see that older students really care about this issue.”

In spring of 2015, Stanford implemented its Violence & Intervention Program (VIP) in collaboration with Fraternity and Sorority Life (FSL). VIP trains one or two members in each Inter-Fraternity Council and Inter-Sorority Council chapter to serve as resources, providing education, support and referrals if necessary for problems of sexual assault and relationship abuse.

“It’s really important to tackle sexual assault and sexual violence in a way that stems from peers,” said Danica Bunnett ‘18, one of the VIP chairs.

Once a month, the VIP chairs for each fraternity and sorority host a workshop, discussion, movie screening or some other form of educational programming. Bunnett explained that it can be difficult for survivors of sexual assault to know where to seek out help. VIP provides students with more resources, she said.

“If we can educate [students’] friends about it, then hopefully that word-of-mouth contact between the survivor and the friend will encourage [the survivor] to get help in the place that’s best for them,” Bunnett said.

In addition to peer-to-peer programming, the SARA office also hired two new members last spring: Booth and Grace Poon, the office’s coordinator of prevention education & training.

According to Kim, these two hiring decisions have been instrumental in developing the University’s new programming and education about sexuality and consent.

“From my perspective as a student, I think the hiring of those two individuals is probably the most intentional and hopefully effective … move that the University has made,” Kim said.

Poon and Booth were unavailable for interviews.

Many students believe that while the University’s progress is encouraging, there is always more to be done to address sexual violence.

“We can just be better about reaching as many people as possible and rallying support around survivors,” Bunnett said.



An earlier version of this article stated Michael Kim’s name incorrectly. The Daily regrets this error and has updated the post. 

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Sophie Stuber is a senior from Aspen, Colorado, studying International Relations, French and Creative Writing. Sophie has written for the Daily since freshman year . This year, she spends a significant portion of her time working on her thesis, which is about designing an international legal framework to aid people forcibly displaced due to climate change. Aside from academics, Sophie loves reading, writing short stories, listening to NPR, and adventuring outside. Any of her friends will tell you that she loves to talk about the mountains, skiing, Atlantic articles, and Rebecca Solnit essays.