More than 150 sophomores protested Stanford’s new drug and alcohol policy and what advocates described as the University’s failure to protect survivors of sexual violence in a demonstration led by Sexual Violence Free Stanford (SV Free) at Sophomore Convocation in Frost Amphitheatre on Sunday.
Protestors raised a banner with the words “Stanford Protects Rapists” in red paint and handed out flyers articulating a range of concerns about the University’s inadequate response to sexual violence. Concerns in the flyer included disciplinary measures in the original version of the new drug and alcohol policy that advocates feared would disincentivize survivors from reporting incidents of sexual violence. They stood silently with the banner in front of the student section before moving to present it to parents.
Students joined the protestors throughout the demonstration, which lasted the entirety of convocation. Other students remained in their seats but expressed their support for the protest with applause.
Sofia Scarlat ’24, co-chair of SV Free and co-director of the Associated Students of Stanford University (ASSU) Sexual Violence Prevention Committee, said students chose to protest the University’s positions on sexual violence at convocation “because it’s one of the only events during the year where we have admin with students and parents.”
“And we really thought that this is an issue that we need to raise awareness about not just to students, but also to admin and parents,” she said, adding that the protestors “felt it was necessary to stand up and disrupt the ceremony in this way.”
Protestors were primarily met with a lack of response from the administrators who spoke at the event, including University President Marc Tessiger-Lavigne and Dean of Students Mona Hicks, both of whom did not directly acknowledge the protestors when speaking.
But the event’s first speaker, Vice Provost for Undergraduate Education Sarah Church, briefly acknowledged the protestors, saying that all voices and perspectives are welcome at Stanford, but adding that she hoped the protestors would not block parents’ views during the ceremony.
Protestors criticized the original lack of an explicit acknowledgment in the University’s new drug and alcohol policy that students who report incidents of sexual violence that involve underage drinking or drug use would not face disciplinary action. The new policy went into effect on Sept. 1 and has since faced backlash, including from Resident Assistants (RAs), who cited the policy as one of their reasons for going on strike.
The University has updated the policy and made changes that address some of the advocates’ concerns, though it is not clear when the updates took place. The policy now states that except when students are reporting sexual violence all violations of the drug and alcohol policy must be reported.
The policy’s section on sexual violence currently states that “students who report experiencing Sexual Violence” and “witnesses who aid any report of Sexual Violence will not be subject to any reporting or disciplinary action under this policy.”
Still, advocates are calling for an addition to the policy stating that “should a sexual assault victim report an assault,” any ongoing displinary action related to the victim’s drug or alcohol use will be halted and “any negative finding or consequences will be rescinded,” Scarlat said.
University spokesperson Pat Harris wrote that “the prevention of sexual violence is of utmost importance to the University, and nothing in the alcohol and other drugs policy is intended to chill victims’ willingness to seek help or report such matters,” in a statement to The Daily.
Advocates’ concerns also go beyond the drug and alcohol policy. According to Scarlat, co-director of the Associated Students of Stanford University (ASSU) Sexual Violence Prevention Committee, the protest was spontaneously planned a few days before convocation due to time-sensitive concerns about the University’s lack of protections for survivors of sexual violence.
Stanford is entering a quarter-long “deep red zone,” when two classes of students — frosh and some sophomores — are on campus for the first time and particularly vulnerable to sexual assault, Scarlat said.
Scarlat said that while the Row is traditionally composed of upperclass students, half of students on the Row this year are sophomores. Scarlat added that historically, the majority of sexual assaults have occurred on the Row, and advocates are concerned that the majority of Row residents are particularly vulnerable to assault given their lack of on-campus experience.
The University did not immediately respond to a request to confirm and comment on SV Free’s statistics on row housing and assaults.
Chaidie Petris ’24, who helped organize the protest, said that they hoped the protest would help inform new students about the threat of sexual violence at parties. Petris also said the protest was also motivated by the University’s failure to protect survivors in previous quarters.
The flyer distributed by protestors particularly raised concerns about the 2019-20 annual Title IX report, which found that of the 187 incidents of sexual violence, no student perpetratorsfaced expulsion during that academic year.
The flyer also pointed to the recent RA strike, which, protestors said, left RAs unprepared to handle reports of sexual violence. It stated that “many RAs are refusing to report instances of sexual assault disclosed to them,” despite being mandatory reporters under the University’s Title IX policy. “They don’t trust the administration. And, they don’t necessarily understand the purpose of mandatory reporting and that’s very dangerous,” Scarlat said of RAs.
Student Collective Action Against Residential Education (SCAARE), the group that led the RA strike, did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
Harris did not respond to how the University is enforcing the role of RAs as mandatory reporters.
Currently, Counseling and Psychological Services (CAPS), The Bridge, the Confidential Support Team (CST) and the Sexual Health Peer Resource Center (SHPRC) provide confidential support for survivors.
But according to Petris and other advocates, some survivors have not received follow-up information on reports they filed last year. Protestors are calling on the University “to take direct action against the people with sexual assault charges against them,” preferably through expulsion or disciplinary action rather than non-hearing resolutions, Petris said.
The Sexual Harassment/Assault Response & Education (SHARE) Title IX Office office “strives to complete the review and hearing processes as expeditiously as possible,” University spokesperson E.J. Miranda wrote in a statement to The Daily. The SHARE office attempts to complete the Title IX Procedure investigation in 120 days and the SHARE Hearing Procedure in 90 days, Miranda wrote.
Miranda wrote that “many complaints do not go through the full investigation and hearing process – usually a mediation-like process that SHARE oversees,” because they “are resolved through an informal process,” “resolved through an intervention that we [the University] hold with the responding party” or “dismissed due to various circumstances.”
“Cases may be dismissed for different reasons, such as the complaining party decides not to pursue the complaint further; there may be a lack of jurisdiction; or the initial investigation shows that the matter doesn’t exceed the threshold for a policy violation,” Miranda wrote.
Ayanna Minnihan ’24 stood with the protestors during convocation. While Minnihan was not involved with planning the protest, she said that she was motivated to join the protest because she was proud that the protestors were raising concerns around the University’s response to sexual violence and that their call “was so loud and clear.”
“I was really happy to stand with them,” Minnihan said.
Oliver Pe, the parent of a sophomore, said that he appreciated the issues raised during the protest. “As much as convocation was a shared event for all the families, we also understand that the reason we’re here anyway is for the students,” he said. “And knowing this, being transparent about what’s happening on campus is one of the things that I think we believe is also important, for not only the families but also the students.”
Scarlat called on community members to reach out to administrators about their plans to prevent sexual violence and said that she hopes the administration will actively seek out the opinions and perspectives of student advocates.
“We really just want admin to talk to us,” Scarlat said. “We’ve reached out in a lot of different ways, but all their responses have been very inconclusive, very inconsistent, and very passive-aggressive and ignorant in general. We just want to talk to them and we don’t think that that’s a big ask.”
But Harris wrote that the administration remains committed to engaging with advocates.
“Administrators continue to engage with students who have expressed concerns about the policy, and have both exchanged emails and connected on Zoom with students this past week,” Harris wrote.
Victoria Hsieh and Lorenzo del Rosario contributed reporting.
The article has been updated to include statements from University spokespeople and another confidential resource for survivors, the Confidential Support Team.