University responds to over 90 student-submitted questions on sexual violence

University pledges action; responses criticized for lack of change

By

Provost Persis Drell and Senior Associate Vice Provost for Institutional Equity & Access Lauren Schoenthaler responded to 92 questions submitted by students after an Associated Students of Stanford University (ASSU) town hall on sexual violence on Dec. 4.

Schoenthaler, whose position includes overseeing the Title IX office, and Drell addressed concerns ranging from the increase in drugging reports in the fall to criticism of the University’s handling of a $50,000 donation from Jeffrey Epstein in 2004.

Their response has been criticized as an inadequate response to the issue of sexual violence on campus.

“The answers provided by [Stanford] are a combination of untrue, misleading and defensive responses that are not worth spending any time reading,” Stanford Law professor and activist Michele Dauber wrote on Twitter.

Students push for actionable change

In a note at the start of the questions, Drell and Schoenthaler emphasized their empathy for those who had come to the town hall to express discontent.

“Our responses in many cases are policy explanations that cannot adequately address that underlying hurt,” Drell and Schoenthaler wrote. “Please know that we recognize and respect the emotional trauma involved in the discussion of these issues for many people in our community, even if individual responses here do not fully convey it.”

Drell and Schoenthaler also pointed to state and federal regulations that could potentially limit the University’s response to sexual violence. At a January Faculty Senate meeting, Drell said that the University cannot currently make any changes to its sexual violence adjudication policies due to a 2018 agreement with the Office of Civil Rights. Drell’s response followed the release of the ASSU’s report on sexual violence prevention.

In response to questions about action the University planned to take, Drell and Schoenthaler pointed to three upcoming initiatives.

The University is working with the YWCA of Silicon Valley to provide resources to the Stanford community on sexual violence and is also discussing requiring annual sexual harassment training for undergraduates, according to Drell and Schoenthaler. The Office of Sexual Assault & Relationship Abuse Education & Response (SARA) is considering making the Violence Intervention and Prevention Program (VIP) — a sexual and relationship violence training program — mandatory for Greek chapters, Drell and Schoenthaler wrote later.

Former ASSU President Shanta Katipamula ’19 M.S. ’20, who also moderated the Dec. town hall and compiled the questions submitted, wrote in a statement to The Daily that she was glad to see the University was considering expanding mandatory training as “students have been asking for [the expansion of these programs] at least since I was a frosh.” 

The University will also undergo an external review of its sexual violence and harassment policy, to be conducted by “national experts” next month, according to Drell and Schoenthaler.

Katipamula wrote that she hoped that students affected by the University’s sexual violence policies would have a chance to speak with the reviewers and that the results of the report would be released publicly.

“A policy intended to make conditions better for students must be vetted directly by students, otherwise it is sure to be inadequate,” Katipamula wrote.

Dauber criticized the University for not releasing more details about who the experts conducting the review would be.

“Students have requested to know who is conducting this external review and have not been provided this information,” Dauber wrote in a statement to The Daily. “This lack of transparency and lack of ASSU participation in selecting the reviewers threatens to erode trust in the outcome before the review is even conducted.”

The University will provide more information about the external review closer to the date of the event, and an open forum for students on March 10, Schoenthaler told The Daily.

Only one student expelled?

Students asked Drell and Schoenthaler questions about the University’s expulsion policy for sexual assault. Individuals found guilty of sexual misconduct or assault are subject to sanctions that can include expulsion for students and termination for faculty and staff, per University’s policy

A student questioned the University’s Title IX/Sexual Harassment Report released in Dec. that indicated only one student has been expelled in a case of relationship violence, as “various administrators have disputed that only one student has been expelled.”

Drell and Schoenthaler wrote that expulsion was uncommon, despite “our support for expulsion,” as many cases end in non-hearing resolutions, or students agree to leave the University without the ability to re-enroll, such as Brock Turner. They added that since 2000, three students have been expelled and three students have voluntarily left the University for reasons related to allegations of sexual misconduct and relationship violence.

Voluntary permanent removal from the University for students has the same effect as expulsions with the added benefit of not requiring complainants to go through hearings, Schoenthaler told The Daily.

Schoenthaler also wrote that the expulsion data cited in her and Drell’s responses to student questions could be found in past Title IX/Sexual Harassment Reports.

Dauber characterized Drell and Schoenthaler’s decision in the report to group different cases of separation from the University into one category as “deliberately obfuscatory,” as opposed to directly addressing the accuracy of the one expulsion figure. Dauber has previously questioned the accuracy of this figure, stating that this expulsion was not under the category of sexual assault.

Dauber also criticized the University’s enforcement of the expulsion policy.

“The policy was altered in 2015, following a lengthy task force process, in part in order to address the historic lack of expulsion,” Dauber wrote. “Clearly the process is not working to achieve the desired result.” 

Schoenthaler wrote that expulsion continues to be an option for punishing students found guilty of sexual violence.

“Every panel deliberation [of a Title IX case] begins with expulsion as a sanction,” Schoenthaler wrote. “Despite our support for this sanction, we acknowledge it is not common.”

Addressing faculty harassment

Nineteen questions stemmed from student concerns about faculty harassment. Students asked about the process to report faculty harassment, what steps the University was planning to take to make the reporting process easier and how it would handle screening prospective staff for past misconduct. 

One student asked why students undergoing a case against a faculty member did not receive free legal services paid for by the University. Students undergoing a Student Title IX proceeding against another student are given nine hours of attorney service paid for by the University, as laid out in the Student Title IX Process.

Drell and Schoenthaler wrote that the University does not provide students with free attorney time in cases against faculty because there are no hearings in the Title IX Administrative Process for such cases. 

“We recognize the concerns of students in navigating processes like this, and we will work to improve efforts to provide support people and advisors to help students who are participating in the process,” Drell and Schoenthaler wrote.

Dauber wrote that this justification for not providing students with free legal services in faculty cases was inadequate. According to Dauber, faculty cases were more difficult for students to understand and involved less transparency and communication with the University. Dauber also wrote that students were still provided attorney time in peer cases that do not go to a hearing. 

Schoenthaler wrote that she did not have more information to provide regarding the attorney issue beyond what was written in the responses to the questions, citing a January Faculty Senate meeting where Drell said she would not commit to legal aid for students with faculty complaints.

Town halls: A source for action or a black hole?

Dauber has criticized the town hall for failing to produce substantive campus change.

“If students want real change they will have to stop asking nicely and engaging in useless fake dialogue like this,” Dauber wrote on Twitter. 

Katipamula wrote in a statement to The Daily that she was “disappointed by the non-answers to many of the questions” and that it was unlikely that one town hall would result in the change students wanted to see.

“These conversations must be actionable, not just an opportunity for the administration to provide a statement saying they care and then move on,” she wrote.

However, town halls could address student sentiments that the University’s administration is inaccessible, Katipamula wrote. 

“The role of student government should at a bare minimum be to create opportunities for students to engage in dialogue with the University,” Katipamula wrote. “I also can say from personal experience that it can be quite cathartic to even just verbalize your grievances to a decision-maker.”

Schoenthaler wrote to The Daily that “there has been great momentum for change on campus,” and that the University was taking actionable steps to respond to sexual violence. 

In addition to the three initiatives outlined in response to the student question about action, Schoenthaler elaborated that the University was also considering creating a standing committee on sexual violence, expanding Residential Assistant (RA) training and upstander programs and improving communication between survivors and the Confidential Support Team.

Dauber suggested that students seeking change pursue other avenues.

“Students elsewhere have found greater success by building a coalition with alumni, donors, Trustees, faculty, feminist and civil rights organizations, labor unions representing Stanford workers and elected leaders at local, state and federal level in order to increase the power and effectiveness of their efforts,” Dauber wrote in a statement to The Daily.

Contact Kate Selig at kselig ‘at’ stanford.edu.

While you're here...

We're a student-run organization committed to providing hands-on experience in journalism, digital media and business for the next generation of reporters. Your support makes a difference in helping give staff members from all backgrounds the opportunity to develop important professional skills and conduct meaningful reporting. All contributions are tax-deductible.


Get Our EmailsDigest

Kate Selig '23 is a news managing editor. Questions, comments, concerns? Send her an email at kselig 'at' stanford.edu.