3 survivor advocates work to ensure activism will continue after they graduate

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Maia Brockbank ’21, Krithika Iyer ’21 and Julia Paris ’21 came to campus during the aftermath of Brock Turner’s sexual assault conviction. Four years later, they have emerged as some of the strongest voices for survivor advocacy on campus. And now that they are months away from graduating, they are looking ahead to continuing their legacy of advocacy, both inside and outside of traditional institutions like the Associated Students of Stanford University (ASSU).

The three now serve as co-chairs on the ASSU Committee on Sexual Violence Prevention and Survivor Support. They also co-founded SVFree Stanford, which combats sexual violence on campus and supports survivors.  

Their work has helped drive campus initiatives like the creation of the YWCA Sexual Assault Center on campus, the availability of rape kits, the replacement of panels with judges in Title IX hearings and the the implementation of the amnesty policy for survivors during COVID-19.

Brockbank, Iyer and Paris met in LAW 7065: “One in Five: The Law, Politics, and Policy of Campus Sexual Assault,” taught by law professor and survivor advocate Michele Dauber.

“Freshman winter, the three of us actually all took [Professor] Michele Dauber’s ‘One in Five’ class, which is a class on sexual violence policy and the landscape at Stanford in particular, and it gives an outline of what kind of activism you can take in that sphere,” Brockbank recounted. Dauber has worked to advocate for survivors on campus and beyond, taking the lead in the movement to recall Judge Aaron Persky ’84 M.A. ’85, who presided over the Turner case. 

The three quickly became friends and started applying their coursework to support Title IX advocacy on the ASSU and beyond, joining projects run by other survivor advocates on campus.

Their drive to advocate grew during their sophomore year, when the Trump administration took power and former Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos announced plans to roll back protections for survivors and Obama-era Title IX regulations.

“The three of us especially have sort of an interest in and focus on policy advocacy, and how that can be paired with activism,” Brockbank said. They began to place their campus advocacy into a national context, helping them gain support on campus from other students. 

They now approach advocacy on two fronts. Through the ASSU, the three advocates work with members of Stanford’s administration directly. And independent of the University, they work with students interested in survivor advocacy to combat sexual violence.

They are now turning their attention toward encoding more legal aid for survivors under the Sexual Harassment/Assault Response and Education (SHARE) Procedures, supporting survivors who are living off-campus due to COVID-19 and transitioning their work to sustain the next generation of survivor advocates.  

On campus, one of the greatest challenges the advocates face is the lack of trust they say many Stanford students have in the administration and Title IX Office’s commitment to protecting survivors: “I think the degree of that trust in each other on both sides can really fluctuate,” Brockbank said. 

At times, advocates have also expressed frustration that they are left out of important conversations on Title IX issues. According to Paris, when the DeVos regulations were finalized over the summer of 2020, survivor advocates were not provided with sufficient advance notice to prepare for the changes. Additionally, when Stanford released the SHARE Procedures, Brockbank, Iyer and Paris found that the administration had not implemented their recommendations. 

“We may not have policy degrees or law degrees, but we can say, ‘This should not be worded like this, it should be worded like this, or, ‘You should be providing this service to these people, it should be accessible,’” said Brockbank.

Administrators have consistently stressed their commitment to incorporating student, faculty and activists’ concerns into their policies. “Throughout this process, we have made every effort to welcome and include feedback from faculty, staff, and students,” Vice Provost Lauren Schoenthaler, who oversees the SHARE Title IX Office, wrote in a statement to The Daily. “We continue to hone our work to meet the needs of our community and provide robust support to parties involved in a procedure, especially students.”

Paris also explained that the group sometimes struggles to recruit new members because the slow pace of change can often seem frustrating to aspiring advocates. “Even over the course of four years, were still working on projects and objectives that we started our freshman and sophomore years,” Paris said. She explained that advocacy can entail a great deal of emotional and mental labor, often without immediate progress. 

But there have been opportunities for administrators to at least hear what survivors and advocates have to say. Iyer cited the Reverse Town Halls, which allow members of the Stanford community to bring their concerns to administrators, as a positive avenue for community and administrative engagement. “One thing we find, especially with sexual violence, is that it touches so many other areas that people are working on, and [it’s important to] really find a way for everyone to talk about it regularly,” Iyer said.

As graduation nears, the trio is working to share their institutional knowledge with the student body. Since some advocacy efforts take place in closed-door meetings with administrators, the advocates said that members of the campus community are often unaware of ongoing initiatives. 

The three stressed how crucial recruiting new advocates is to propelling change into the future. To recruit new advocates, Brockbank, Iyer and Paris often turn to social media. They are particularly focused on fostering a diverse community of individuals with distinct perspectives. The group has also connected with prospective advocates through Dauber’s class, for which Iyer will be working as a teaching assistant next quarter. 

“At the heart of community organizing is community, not organizing,” Brockbank said, reflecting on the words of a fellow advocate at a Haas Center event. “You have to have a community of people that will give you the sustainability to keep going and push through it.”

This article has been corrected to reflect the most updated name of the YWCA. The Daily regrets this error.

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Kathryn Zheng ’24 is from Tenafly, New Jersey. She plans to major in International Relations and currently writes for News and Satire.