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Students say Stanford’s sexual misconduct services, policies are unclear, damaging

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Students said a lack of clarity and general distrust of Stanford’s sexual assault and harassment services prevent them from speaking out. They especially criticized what they characterized as an inadequate response to reports of faculty misconduct and a slow rate of policy change on campus.

The comments came at an open forum on Friday, part of the University’s external review of its sexual harassment and violence policies. At a Tuesday open forum on the same subject, faculty and staff raised concerns that the University’s services and policies forced faculty members to face personal costs or leave Stanford for speaking out. 

As a result of their concerns, students said they wanted to see policy change result from the external review. Associated Students of Stanford University (ASSU) Sexual Violence Prevention Co-Director Maia Brockbank ’21 described the current rate of change as “infuriating.”  Individuals quoted in this article agreed to have their comments reproduced in The Daily under conditions they specified.

University spokesperson E.J. Miranda wrote in a statement to The Daily that the University “welcome[s] input of the community on how we can enhance and expand our services and support.” 

“The external review will lead to recommendations for improving the experiences of community members affected by sexual violence or harassment,” Miranda wrote. 

Miranda declined to respond to specific criticisms raised at the open forum. He wrote that many of the criticisms raised at the open forum had been addressed in a document with responses to over 90 student-submitted questions on sexual violence answered by Provost Persis Drell and Senior Associate Vice Provost for Institutional Equity and Access Lauren Schoenthaler. 

Brockbank said that students often reported not understanding the process for making a Title IX complaint or receiving different pieces of information from different people in the Title IX Office, saying that it was not uncommon for students reporting similar offenses to be given different timelines on the process of their case. 

Drell and Schoenthaler wrote that the University has taken steps to increase the transparency of University action through consolidating resources and publishing its annual Title IX/Sexual Harassment report.

Sandra Schachat, fourth-year geological sciences Ph.D. student, said a lack of clarity about making a complaint, combined with “gross incompetence” in the Title IX Office had created widespread distrust of the University’s ability to respond to sexual violence, saying she had seen the Title IX Office Coordinator Cathy Glaze send students the transcripts from confidential interviews with other students when Glaze first held the position. Glaze served as Title IX coordinator between 2016 and 2018, reprising her role in 2019 after Former Title IX Coordinator and Director of Equity Investigations Jill Thomas resigned in October.

Drell and Schoenthaler wrote that when Glaze was the Title IX Coordinator in 2016, she was recommended by “student leaders” and was a “compassionate” person with a “strong record.”

Students said their distrust in University Title IX resources had also created a distrust of the external review committee members. The committee members are administrators from peer institutions and were present on the call.

“We didn’t really want an external review by Title IX coordinators from other schools because our institutional trust in Title IX coordinators at Stanford is so low that we don’t feel we can trust you either,” said Elizabeth “Betsy” Kim ’22, who has written for The Daily. “This is not necessarily what students wanted.”

In a response to a question about institutional distrust, Drell and Schoenthaler wrote that they hoped recent University efforts like hosting a town hall in December and the external review would be “hopefully indicators of our efforts to make genuine progress on these issues in the interest of the safety and wellbeing of our community.”

Students also said the University’s definition of sexual assault — which requires that the act be unwanted penetration conducted by “means of force (express or implied), violence, duress, menace, fear or fraud” or when a person is “unaware or incapacitated” — prevented survivors from coming forward. 

Emma Tsurkov J.S.M. ’15, a fourth-year sociology Ph.D. student, said the University’s definition is “diminishing” to survivors. A situation in which a victim said “no” but with no coercion or force involved would be considered sexual misconduct under the University’s definition, not sexual assault, according to Tsurkov.

Ella Booker ’23, a Daily staff member, said Stanford’s definition is one of the “narrowest in the country” and could dissuade survivors from reporting the incident.

“It makes victims doubt their experience and encourages so much doubt about the assault,” Booker said. 

Drell and Schoenthaler wrote that they were unable to change the definition without approval from the Office for Civil Rights, which they wrote has not been forthcoming. 

‘Grossly irresponsible’

Students said the process to report sexual harassment and misconduct by faculty is especially difficult to navigate and unlikely to result in sanctions.

Tsurkov described the process as “convoluted, complex and even hostile,” citing University policy that does not provide legal counsel to students pursuing a case against faculty and staff. The University does provide legal counsel to students pursuing cases against other students.

Schoenthaler and Drell wrote that the University has mandated training to prevent such incidents from faculty and staff, adding that the University has separated with 12 faculty or staff members in the 2018-19 school year in response to cases raised.

Kim pointed to the University’s handling of a case involving Marty Stepp, a former Stanford computer science lecturer who resigned amid a Title IX investigation and allegations of sexual misconduct raised by multiple students, as evidence that the University was not serious about vetting faculty.

“There was proof that Marty was not someone who should be allowed around students, and instead, we gave him more access to the really vulnerable,” Kim said. “And there was no follow-up about if there would be a change in [hiring] practice.”

Jade Lintott ’21 said that she had been a computer science section leader while the investigation was going on and had not been told about the allegations, even while she could have been at meetings with Stepp.

“It was grossly irresponsible,” Lintott said.

In response to student-submitted questions about Stepp, Schoenthaler and Drell wrote that they could not comment on individual matters and that the Title IX Office was responsible for conducting an “individualized assessment” to put in “interim measures in place to protect students” during the investigation.

Jenny Hong, a Ph.D. student, said that the concerns raised during the open forum were “recurring” since she had come to Stanford in 2011.

“I know that sometimes the whack-a-mole analogy is used, but in this case, the analogy is more that the mole is in the exact same hole each time,” Hong wrote in a statement to The Daily.

May 4, 12:44 p.m.This article has been corrected to reflect that Stanford defines sexual assault as unwanted penetration, not an unwanted sexual act, as a previous version of the article incorrectly stated. The Daily regrets this error.

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

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