Nearly one-third of undergraduate women at Stanford University reported in a new campus climate survey that they experienced sexual misconduct during their time at the university a "striking and troubling finding," President John Hennessy and Provost John Etchemendy wrote in an email to the campus community Thursday announcing the survey results.
The 2015 Campus Climate Survey, which was administered this spring and had a 59 percent response rate, also found that 4.7 percent of female undergraduates had during their time at Stanford been sexually assaulted -- defined by university policy as a nonconsensual sexual act involving intercourse, digital penetration, oral sex or penetration "accomplished by use of force, violence, duress or menace; or inducement of incapacitation or knowingly taking advantage of an incapacitated person."
In the survey, the separate sexual misconduct category included acts of either completed or attempted penetration without consent and/or oral sex without consent when force, threat of violence or incapacitation were not indicated; and when students had experienced completed acts of sexual touching without consent or some completed acts of clothing removal without consent. (Sexual touching includes incidents when someone touched, fondled or rubbed up against the intimate body part of another.)
"The results show clearly that we have much more work to do in battling sexual assault and sexual misconduct at Stanford," Hennessy and Etchemendy wrote. Regarding sexual assault rates, they added, "To us, any number above zero is unacceptable."
In the hours after the much-anticipated results were released on Thursday afternoon, students and faculty began to criticize what they describe as data that, as presented, creates a warped picture of the prevalence sexual assault at Stanford.
In particular, they disputed the rate of sexual assault among all students, 1.9 percent, which includes the responses of both male and female students.
"Male and female students are both victimized sexually but at very different rates, with women being victimized at around three to five times the rate of men," said Stanford Law Professor Michele Dauber, who developed much of the university's original policy for adjudicating sexual assaults and has become the campus' most vocal sexual-assault reform advocate. "Combining the rates makes the resultant number completely uninformative."
Dauber, along with student-government leaders and a sexual-assault student-activist group, also called into question how sexual violence was categorized: as assault or misconduct. Unlike recent climate surveys administered at other schools, including Harvard University and Yale University, which asked whether an incident occurred when a student was "unable to consent or stop what was happening because you were passed out, asleep, or incapacitated due to drugs or alcohol," Stanford's survey required students to indicate that they were both intoxicated as well as incapacitated in two separate answers.
Stanford students who selected "taking advantage of you when you were drunk or high" but who did not also select "taking advantage of you when you were asleep, unconscious, or unable to resist or respond," would have been categorized as sexual misconduct rather than assault.
"In alignment with Stanford's definitions, an impacted student's intoxication must reach the level of incapacitation for nonconsensual penetration or nonconsensual oral sex to be categorized as sexual assault," an appendix included with the survey results notes.
Dauber contends that the unusually low rate of assault and the much higher 14.2 percent rate of students who experienced sexual misconduct very likely indicates that there was confusion over this item. The highest rates of sexual misconduct were for undergraduate women (32.9 percent) and gender-diverse undergraduates (30.8 percent).
The president and vice president of the Associated Students of Stanford University (ASSU), Stanford's student government body, wrote to students Thursday night to express their discontent with the survey's "blurred definitions" of misconduct and assault.
"We believe there is a narrative of violence hidden underneath the data - as the blurred definitions of 'misconduct' and 'assault' helps create an illusion, one that is unnecessarily conducive to tolerance of unwanted sexual activity," ASSU President John-Lancaster Finley and Vice President Brandon Hill wrote in an email titled "Creating a Culture of Respect at Stanford."
"Sexual violence of all forms is a problem at Stanford, and one we are required to confront," the email continued.
In a statement released Thursday night, organizers from student-activist group Stand With Leah said the survey process "was confusing for survivors and led to errors of categorization."
"These misleading and problematic survey questions very likely dramatically suppressed the percentage of women experiencing sexual assault, as well as increasing the incidence of misconduct," wrote organizers Tessa Ormenyi, a recent Stanford graduate, and Elisabeth Dee, a current senior.
Ormenyi told the Weekly that the results were particularly frustrating for student-activists who received the same response from administrators over the last year when asking questions about sexual assault: "We need to wait until the survey comes out; We need to wait until we know the numbers."
"They made it seem like this was the first stepping stone in the process for reforming everything at Stanford and unfortunately, it's not a very good starting point when the numbers are very misleading," Ormenyi said.
"I think rape is a huge problem on campus and combining it into numbers for sexual misconduct minimizes the experience of survivors on campus and tells them that their experiences aren't valid or real," she added.
The Stand With Leah press release also points to peer schools' statistics they said are more representative of true assault rates: the number of female seniors who experienced sexual assault during their four years at the university. While Stanford's rate is 6.5 percent, Harvard's is 14.9 percent and Yale's, 20.4 percent.
Though the university cautioned against comparing its survey results to other campus climate surveys, Harvard and Yale's rates also use the same definition of incapacitation used by Stanford, and were drawn from the four-year rate of seniors who experienced penetration through force or incapacitation.
The gender breakdown in response rates at Stanford, Harvard and Yale did differ. While almost even numbers of Stanford undergraduate women and responded -- 67 percent and 65 percent, respectively -- about 10 percent more women than men responded at both Harvard and Yale. Both universities compensated for the gender response differences and potential bias by using weighted adjustments.
Harvard and Yale were two of the nearly 30 top colleges and universities who participated in a recent Association of American Universities (AAU) survey, considered one of the largest surveys of its kind on campus sexual violence. Participating schools released breakdowns of their individual results and efforts around sexual assault along with the overall survey findings. Some schools, including Yale, released rare documentation of reported sexual assaults and disciplinary cases from 2014. Dauber called this level of transparency "laudable."
"Stanford University is a national leader," the Stand With Leah press release reads. "However when compared with the humility, clarity, and transparency exhibited by our peer institutions, Stanford has isolated itself as an institution ... deliberately resisting transparency."
Among Stanford undergraduates, the survey found sexual assault is most prevalent for gender-diverse students (defined as people who self-identify as transgender, genderqueer, gender non-conforming, preferred another term and/or selected multiple gender identities) at a rate of 6.6 percent compared to 4.7 percent for women and 0.6 percent for men.
Dauber said a more representative percentage for undergraduate women would be found in rates among female seniors, who are reporting for a longer period of time since the survey asked respondents about their entire time on campus rather than, for example, the last year.
The percentage of female seniors who have been sexually assaulted (6.5 percent) combined with those who have experienced sexual misconduct (36.8 percent) totals a concerning 43.3 percent.
"These numbers are really sobering because they mean that almost half of Stanford female undergraduates are the victims of serious sexual misconduct and assault during their four years at Stanford," Dauber said in an interview Thursday.
The majority of nonconsensual sexual acts reported in the survey were committed by other Stanford students primarily men -- on campus and involved alcohol or drugs, the survey found. Nearly 85 percent of respondents who had experienced any kind of nonconsensual sexual act said the person or people responsible were Stanford students. Nearly 80 percent of all nonconsensual sexual acts reported were perpetrated by men.
Nearly three-fourths of the students whose responses were categorized as sexual assault indicated that the act was accomplished by a person or person taking advantage of them when they were drunk or high, according to the survey. Close to 70 percent of students who reported an experience of sexual misconduct involving nonconsensual penetration and/or oral sex indicated the same.
The survey also found troubling and conflicting rates concerning reporting and students' perceptions of how the university responds to reports of sexual assault.
Only 2.7 percent of all respondents who experienced any kind of nonconsensual sexual conduct formally reported the incident to the university. Only 12.5 percent of sexual assault victims reported the most recent incident of nonconsensual contact to the university, the survey stated.
Reasons for not reporting included: did not think it was serious enough to share (84.7 percent); it was unclear if harm was intended (70.5 percent); the victim did not want any legal or disciplinary action to be taken (54.9 percent); the victim felt at least partly at fault or it wasn't totally the other person's fault (50.8 percent); and the victim felt embarrassed or ashamed, didn't want anyone to know what happened (34.5 percent).
A "key" recommendation from a university task force on sexual assault convened last year was that Stanford streamline its response to and support of student sexual-assault victims, many of whom told the task force that the university process is difficult to understand, with many moving parts and different steps that involve different offices or individuals, and how the "decentralized, confusing system undermined their recovery and ... likely decreases reporting by others who experience sexual violence."
Ormenyi said the 2.7-percent rate is consistent with her observations of survivors' reluctance to report. She hopes its the number that "sticks out to the administration in the weeks to come and years to come."
Students also took issue with a statement in the report's executive summary that "Survey respondents expressed trust in Stanford to respond appropriately to incidents of sexual violence," which was based on responses to the statement: "Stanford would take any reports of sexual assault seriously."
While the university counted students who responded "very" or "moderately" likely, to show an 87 percent rate, student activists focused only on the "very likely" respondents, which totaled just 55 percent.
In addition, the responses to the statement by gender were significantly different: Only 46 percent of women, compared with 62 percent of men, said they believe it is "very likely" that Stanford would take any reports of sexual assault seriously.
To the question of whether the university would hold accountable someone found responsible for sexual assault, only 28 percent of undergraduate women feel it's very likely, compared to 45 percent of undergraduate men. When students who responded "moderately likely" are added in, the totals are 64 percent of undergraduate women and 79 percent of undergraduate men.
A high number of students surveyed also reported witnessing sexist and homophobic behaviors on campus. More than three-quarters of undergraduates indicated they had witnessed sexist remarks or jokes about women on campus. Just over half of graduate respondents said the same.
The total rate for male and female students who have experienced some kind of stalking since starting at Stanford is 11 percent, or about 1,000 students. The most common stalking behavior indicated was persistent phone calls, text messages or other communications from someone after they were asked to stop.
Students also indicated high rates of dissatisfaction with Stanford's crisis services. About half of both female and male undergraduates said the university's "support systems for students going through personal crises" are ineffective. More than 80 percent of gender-diverse undergraduates said the services were inadequate.
A university in transition
The survey results on sexual violence come at a time of transition for Stanford. The university's first-ever dedicated Title IX coordinator, Catherine Criswell, stepped down in September. Mark Zunich, one of the Title IX office's two investigators, is leading the office on an interim basis while the university conducts a national search for a permanent replacement.
Stanford is currently facing two Title IX investigations opened earlier this year by the U.S. Department of Education's Office for Civil Rights.
This fall, Stanford will begin rolling out new adjudication procedures drawn from recommendations made by the university's sexual-assault task force in April. The task force, which was made up of administrators, faculty, staff and students, recommended that the university replace its current disciplinary process, known as the Alternate Review Process or ARP, with a new three-year pilot program that creates a single rather than two-pronged process for the investigation and adjudication of violations of university policy. (Currently, two entities participate in this process: the Title IX office and the Office of Community Standards.)
The task force's most notable recommendation was that Stanford move to expulsion as the "expected" consequence for sexual assault, as long as a three-member review panel unanimously finds the accused student responsible. In its history, Stanford has only expelled one student for sexual assault through force in a case that involved multiple victims.
Hennessy and Etchemendy wrote in their announcement Thursday that implementing the task force's recommendation is "our most immediate focus."
The university is also working to expand confidential campus resources for students as well as education on sexual assault and misconduct, consent and bystander intervention.
"These are concerning issues for us, but they also are vital issues that require the attention and engagement of all members of our campus community," Hennessy and Etchemendy wrote. "We must all play a role in developing solutions and modeling behavior that makes clear that sexual violence and sexual misconduct are unacceptable at Stanford."
ASSU's Finley and Hill called on their peers to take seriously the campus' need for education around sexual violence.
"As students, we have an unyielding responsibility to establish and maintain a culture of respect for our fellow classmates, as well as those that are a part of our broader university community," they wrote. "The results of the campus climate survey tell us that we are neglecting this responsibility. Furthermore, Title IX establishes that sexual violence is a discriminatory violation of a person's right to receive an equal education, and the results of the survey tell us that efforts on the part of Stanford administration to provide a non-discriminatory education are insufficient.
"In short, Stanford, we have a long way to go."
The Palo Alto Weekly has created an archive of past news articles, social media reaction and other content related to the ongoing sexual assault issues at Stanford University. To view it, go to storify.com/paloaltoweekly.