More than 300 Stanford University students gathered in White Memorial Plaza Thursday afternoon for a rally against sexual assault, demanding the administration make major policy changes in their handling of sexual misconduct cases.
The rally was organized by Leah Francis, a 21-year-old senior who this week went public with the story of her own sexual assault, which she says has been grossly mishandled by the administration.
Students hopped on board with a social media hashtag now linked to Francis' campaign, #StandWithLeah. On white pieces of paper, students finished the sentence "I #StandWithLeah because..." with statements like: "I #StandWithLeah because I wish I had been this brave," "I #StandWithLeah because these actions should have real consequences" and "I #StandWithLeah because justice for survivors is a right."
Students were asked to tape the pieces of paper to a long wall behind a stage in the plaza. By the end of the rally, the wall was completely covered.
Francis wearing a maroon Stanford shirt with "IX" in red tape covering the emblematic Stanford tree image -- spoke to the crowd about her experience reporting sexual assault to the university, a process that has taken twice as long as the 60 days recommended under federal gender-equity law Title IX. Francis first reported the Jan. 1 off-campus assault on Jan. 7, and is now waiting for Vice Provost for Student Affairs Greg Boardman to issue a decision on her May 21 appeal of the sanctions handed down to the male student who assaulted her. She said Thursday that she has been told he will make this decision early next week.
Two other students joined Francis in speaking publicly about their experiences with sexual assault. Sarah Roberts, a sophomore, said she was assaulted toward the end of the fall quarter.
"I'm here because the first friends I told about my assault, they said, 'Me too,'" she said. "I am here because I am so (expletive) tired of being failed by the system."
Freshman Carla Lewis spoke about the trauma, stress and depression she endured since an on-campus assault this year. She said support she received through Counseling and Psychological Services (CAPS) and the Sexual Assault & Relationship Abuse Education & Response Office (SARA) proved invaluable in the aftermath of her trauma. One reform Francis is pushing for is that SARA be more fully staffed, she said this week.
Francis led the hundreds of students out of White Plaza, through Tresidder Union and to Boardman's office, yelling in unison along the way chants like, "Get on board, Boardman," and "Rape is a crime. Enforce Title IX." Francis stopped in front of the door to his office, continuing to chant as she taped the door in the same red "IX" as on her shirt.
Friends of Francis who helped to organize the rally also urged graduating seniors to wear red tape on their caps at commencement June 15. Francis is not graduating on time she said she took a reduced course load and her academic life suffered after the assault but she will walk at commencement. The male student who assaulted her is not allowed to attend or walk but will receive his diploma.
At Thursday's rally, freshman Madelaine Bixler said she's upset at the administration's lack of support and response to Francis' case.
"We want to have a campus that is consistent with its message of caring about its students," she said. "You get accepted into Stanford, and you have this whole facade of 'This is a family' and 'This is a place we care about' and then you have things like this happen and you realize that justice isn't something that's handed to you just because you go to a prestigious institution."
Another freshman, Kyle Neil, said Francis' story was not particularly surprising, "but at the same time, it still is extremely jarring that Stanford is not doing all that it really can to help all the victims."