Editor's note: All of the students' names in this story have been changed at their requests to protect their privacy.
It was one of those impossibly warm, sunny fall days at Stanford University last October when four female students met, some for the first time, in a campus courtyard. They had found each other by chance, brought together by a shared experience: Each said they had been physically or sexually assaulted by the same male student over the course of his four years at Stanford, and each felt failed by the institution obligated to address such acts of violence perpetrated on and by its students.
It was Stanford's failure to adequately investigate each subsequent report of sexual and/or physical violence at the hands of the young man, "Robert Smith," that "allowed him to continue to act with impunity," said "Sara Ortiz," the first of the women to report allegations to Stanford, in 2012.
"Celena Dako" came next, reporting in April 2014 that Smith had allegedly tried to sexually assault her on campus the month before; then "Ashley Patel," who in June 2014 alleged that he had physically assaulted her off campus the summer prior. A fourth woman, "Annie Richardson," said Smith sexually assaulted her in 2010, their freshman year, but she never told anyone who worked for the university.
The women told the Weekly their first impressions of him were nothing noteworthy -- he seemed average, reserved, quiet.
"A regular freshman," Ortiz said.
Stanford's Title IX office, which is dedicated to upholding federal gender-equity law Title IX by overseeing the reporting and adjudication of complaints of sexual violence, eventually found in all three reported cases that Smith had violated university policy that prohibits relationship violence, sexual misconduct and sexual assault. Under federal law, universities are obligated to investigate reports of sexual violence and provide necessary remedies to students, regardless of whether an incident is also the subject of a law-enforcement investigation or whether it took place on campus.
In an interview with the Weekly, Smith said he denied all allegations at the time. He continues to vehemently deny them today.
Consequences still in place for Smith, however, include a 15-year ban from campus, during which time he must seek professional counseling for sexual harassment and sexual violence; a permanent no-contact order between him and three of the women; and a prohibition from university-sponsored alumni events, on or off campus, according to a letter issued in January 2015 by then-Title IX coordinator Catherine Criswell.
These were administrative remedies -- rather than disciplinary -- that both parties agreed upon in order to avoid going through Stanford's disciplinary process for sexual violence, known as the Alternate Review Process (ARP). ARP is currently overseen by the Title IX office together with the university's Office of Community Standards, which investigates student misconduct. (A new pilot Title IX process is set to go into effect on Feb. 1, replacing ARP.)
The women and Smith said they chose not to pursue the Alternate Review Process in part because of its poor reputation, particularly within the student body, as both fruitless and arduous.
Though the three women, and Smith, have all moved forward with their lives and graduated from Stanford, the impact of what happened is far from over. Two of the women have filed complaints against Stanford with the U.S. Department of Education's Office for Civil Rights, cases which are currently under investigation. And all of the women speak to the emotional damage from which they are still trying to heal.
Viewed separately, each woman's experience could have been an anomaly, chalked up to one-off, unintentional errors on the part of administrators, but taken together, the women see systemic flaws in Stanford's handling of sexual violence and discrimination issues.
Each woman said she experienced a series of missteps by the administration that caused her greater pain than she had already gone through. Communication at the Title IX office was poor, both externally and internally, they said. This has only been compounded by changes in leadership and staffing at the Title IX office, which was formed as a dedicated office in May 2014, in the midst of one of the women's cases, and is operating today without a permanent Title IX coordinator.
The women also felt that the alleged assaults and the administration's poor response caused collateral damage, which they had to bear without adequate support: failed classes, leaves of absence, damaged mental health, altered life plans and a grim lack of faith in the university.
Smith, for his part, said he felt like the odds were stacked against him -- particularly during a time on campus when student awareness and activism around sexual assault was gathering momentum. Well-attended campus protests in support of survivors of sexual assault and broad media coverage of the topic at Stanford were sparked by an email then-student Leah Francis sent in June 2014 campuswide and to media outlets with the subject line: "Stanford University Lets Rapists Graduate -- Only Suspends Them."
Stanford, like all higher-education institutions operating under Title IX, uses a lower burden of proof than courts do to determine responsibility. Smith sees this "preponderance of evidence" standard -- that it is more likely than not that an incident happened -- as something "leveraged by Stanford, essentially, as a threat against the accused."
Smith, less than three months from graduation at the time, said Title IX office staff members told him that one likely outcome of being found responsible through ARP would be not being allowed to graduate.
Despite maintaining his innocence, Smith said he wasn't confident in his chances of moving forward with the Alternate Review Process. Through ARP, Smith's fate would have been placed in the hands of a trained hearing panel -- three students and two faculty or staff members, four of whom must agree on a finding in order for a student to be found responsible for a violation and sanctioned.
He opted instead, like the female students, to pursue informal resolution -- agreeing to the campus ban and other consequences to, in essence, make the case go away so he could graduate on time in 2014.
Stanford spokeswoman Lisa Lapin said that the university cannot speak to specifics of these cases. Unless a student waives his or her privacy rights under the Family Education Rights and Privacy Act, the university is legally unable to comment.
In a Parents' Weekend address last February, Provost John Etchemendy described the dilemma this presents for universities.
"Universities, who I guarantee are trying to do the right thing, must remain silent in the face of media questioning about specific cases," he said. "And that means many inaccuracies stand unchallenged in the press. It is no wonder that in most press accounts, the university comes across as uncaring or inept. They appear to be stonewalling, while in fact they are just obeying the law."
Ortiz's college experience was irreversibly shaped, from start to finish, by what she describes as Stanford's inadequate, discouraging response to her report of sexual assault.
Ortiz did not immediately report the increasing violence she said was occurring in her relationship with Smith, a fellow freshman she met in her dorm in 2010. A week after they met, he allegedly sexually penetrated her while she was intoxicated, "despite, as he later acknowledged, her repeated requests for him to stop," according to the Office for Civil Rights complaint she filed against Stanford in July.
The aggression continued to escalate, according to her complaint. On the morning of Feb. 4, 2011, Ortiz texted Smith to end their relationship. That afternoon, he entered her unlocked room and they got into a verbal altercation, according to her complaint. He then allegedly pushed Ortiz onto the bed and choked her until she could not "scream, breathe, make any noise, move (her) limbs, and (she) almost blacked out," her OCR complaint reads. He allegedly whispered several times words to the effect of, "No one is going to notice when you die; no one will remember you," and then initiated non-consensual sexual intercourse, according to a Jan. 8, 2015, letter from then-Title IX coordinator Criswell notifying Ortiz that Smith had violated university policy.
Ortiz, who said she had been a "serious and driven student all of her life," stopped going to class after the alleged assault, her OCR complaint states. Her friends and resident assistants became concerned and convinced her to contact Stanford's Counseling and Psychological Services (CAPS) for help.
She said she had to wait three weeks to get an appointment, a common complaint of many students about the counseling service.
After several sessions with a male counselor, she finally felt comfortable telling him what allegedly happened. In response, he pointed out that the sweater she was wearing at the time was falling off one of her shoulders, she said. He "asked her to consider whether she placed herself in potentially risky situations because she wanted to appear sexually available," her OCR complaint states.
After that session, Ortiz canceled her future CAPS appointments and did not return, she said. Left with feelings of self-blame, she "felt she had she had nowhere to turn on campus for help even as she faced a serious mental health crisis as a direct result of the sexual assault," her OCR complaint reads.
During her sophomore year, close to a year after the alleged assault, Ortiz became increasingly concerned about the possibility of Smith inflicting harm on other students. She decided to make an official report to university administrators. In January 2012, she met with her residence dean, Valentina del Olmo, who she said discouraged her from reporting the alleged assault or seeking any disciplinary action through the Alternate Review Process. Del Olmo told Ortiz that "an official report would provide (her) with only negligible benefits or protections beyond what could be provided through a no-contact order," an interim safety measure the Title IX office can provide without a formal investigation, her OCR complaint reads.
Del Olmo also told Ortiz that "making a formal complaint through Stanford's ARP would be a difficult and unrewarding experience," according to the OCR document.
She suggested that Ortiz instead "should focus on just surviving the rest of the year or just taking time off entirely," Ortiz said.
"The overall impression that I got from my meetings with administrators was that I needed to focus on my own well-being, that I was at risk and that going through anything else would just make that worse. ... I remember feeling very discouraged about any kind of reporting process," she said.
She remembered administrators giving her various options for seeking justice, presenting them as "equivalents" but suggesting "that some of them would be a lot more taxing than others," she said.
Trusting in her university's authority figures, Ortiz took del Olmo's advice and agreed not to move forward with the ARP. Her Office for Civil Rights complaint alleges administrators "misrepresented" the consequences of this decision and as a result, she could not make an informed decision.
But because Ortiz's "primary goal was to deter (Smith) from hurting another woman," she said she told del Olmo that if Stanford discovered there were other victims, she wanted to be notified and would at that point proceed with the Alternate Review Process, according to her Office for Civil Rights complaint.
In a Jan. 23, 2012, follow-up email provided to the Weekly, Ortiz asked del Olmo, "Would it be possible for me to predicate the possibility of me pressing judicial charges on whether or not (Smith) assaults anyone again?"
Del Olmo responded that her question about seeking more serious charges in the future was "probably best answered by judicial affairs office staff."
Ortiz also asked if another residence dean, set to meet with Smith, could warn him "about what would happen if (he) were to assault anyone else in the future."
Del Olmo stated that Smith's dean would be explaining to him the "potential consequences (legal/ University/Judicial affairs) that he could be subject to."
Smith told the Weekly that he denied all allegations made against him at the time, but Ortiz's complaint claims Smith "did not contest her account of the rape" to Del Olmo.
At her request, Del Olmo provided Ortiz with a no-contact directive, but after running into Smith several times on campus anyway, she became fearful and "generally confined herself to her apartment," her complaint reads.
During Ortiz's junior year, she continued to struggle with mental-health issues and missed many classes, falling behind academically. But toward the end of that year, she felt hopeful her senior year would be different. She had saved up her housing priority for the past three years to ensure she would be placed at her top housing choice, which she was. She was perusing a Facebook event for a housewarming event at the residence when she saw Smith's name listed as an attendee.
"Despite the no-contact order that was supposed to ensure (Ortiz's) safety on campus and in her residence, Stanford assigned her to live in the same house as her rapist," her OCR complaint reads.
After learning of the conflicting housing assignment, Ortiz notified administrators, who apologized for the mistake and offered her several options, including reassigning either one of them. Rosa Gonzalez, director of diversity and access within the Title IX office, wrote in a June 6, 2013, email copying Ortiz that the university would be "putting measures in place to prevent conflicts with 'No Contact Directives.'"
University spokeswoman Lapin said Stanford provides no-contact orders by "issuing a university directive" that is then monitored by the Title IX office.
Stanford Law professor and Title IX expert Michele Dauber, who was instrumental in the creation of ARP in 2010, said no-contact directives are "routinely ignored."
Lapin noted that, as proposed, Stanford's new, pilot Title IX process includes an expedited review process to determine if a no-contact order has been violated.
Faced with the decision about housing, Ortiz said she requested that she be moved rather than Smith. But that July, again feeling unsafe on campus, she canceled her housing and decided to take a leave of absence.
Just before school started, she changed her mind -- it didn't feel right that Smith was on a path to graduate on time and she wouldn't be, she said -- and returned to Stanford. But the loss of desirable housing limited her participation in academic and extra-curricular activities, her OCR complaint states.
Ortiz said Stanford's violation of its own no-contact order "completely changed the rest of the course of my last year at Stanford, when I thought that maybe I could at least redeem this one."
Later that year, on March 5, 2014, Ortiz attended a meeting with Sallie Kim, a lecturer at the Law School who at the time doubled as Stanford's interim Title IX coordinator, to discuss activities related to a campus group she was involved in. The conversation touched on an unrelated sexual misconduct, and at some point, Ortiz mentioned her experience with Smith, according to her complaint.
After their meeting, Kim emailed Ortiz to inform her she had a legal obligation to notify her of her legal rights and options for filing a Title IX complaint. But Ortiz said the subject line ("Letter from Sallie Kim") was vague, so without opening an attachment she thought it was a routine message in reference to the unrelated sexual misconduct about which they had spoken.
This was characteristic of other communication she and the other students involved, including Smith, said they had with administrators throughout the Title IX process -- vague, sometimes confusing emails that could be few and far between.
"They did a very bad job of indicating what was actually going on," Ortiz said.
On May 14, Cathy Glaze, associate dean for student affairs at the Law School (and today Stanford's acting Title IX coordinator), emailed Ortiz as one of the Title IX investigators assigned to the case, according to emails provided to the Weekly. Glaze asked Ortiz to meet with her and a co-investigator, Mark Zunich, "about what happened your freshman year."
Ortiz replied the same day that there had been a misunderstanding "because Sallie Kim confirmed with me that she would not pursue any investigation without my permission." Ortiz had somehow missed an April 24 email Kim sent notifying her that Stanford would be moving forward with an investigation regardless of her desire not to proceed. Under Stanford's Title IX policy, the university can do so subject to a set of criteria established by the Office for Civil Rights, including those referenced in this case -- the "factor of seriousness of the alleged harassment" and whether there have been other harassment complaints about the same individual, Kim wrote.
"I completely understand," Glaze responded, within minutes. "We will respect your decision and not contact you further."
What Glaze did not mention was that another woman -- Dako -- had filed a complaint against Smith, a circumstance about which Ortiz had previously asked to be notified so that she could proceed with the Alternate Review Process.
"At no time after sending the April 2014 letter did anyone at Stanford ever inform (Ortiz) about the existence of other complaints about (Smith), despite her specific request and (del Olmo's) promise that Stanford would do so," her complaint states.
"Stanford's failure to effectively communicate with (Ortiz) kept her in the dark about the investigation and unable to participate in it, influence its outcome or request specific remedies," her OCR complaint alleges.
In fact, the outcome of the investigation Kim referenced in her April 24 letter is unclear, and Ortiz said administrators never indicated whether it proceeded, was rolled in with subsequent complaints about Smith or did not move forward.
As a result of this string of miscommunications, Ortiz said one of the most critical reforms she hopes Stanford will put in place is a better reporting system and more "internal accountability within the school" to keep track of student-perpetrators, particularly those who have been reported by multiple people.
A final misstep that Ortiz said wiped out her faith in Stanford administrators took place after she returned to Stanford for a master's program. In September 2014, Smith called and texted her, according to her OCR complaint. Believing -- falsely, but because no one had told her otherwise -- that the no-contact order had lapsed because Smith had graduated, she panicked. Unable to focus or to sleep alone in her apartment, her grades took a "huge nose dive," she said. Eventually, Ortiz stopped going to classes entirely.
"I felt sick just being on campus, just going to class," she said. "I just wanted nothing to do with the institution."
However, it was during this time that Ortiz found out some shocking news: Ashley Patel, a student in a class Ortiz was TA'ing for, told her not only that another investigation of Smith had been opened, but that it had ended with a decade-long campus ban and permanent no-contact order for all "impacted parties," which included Ortiz. Ortiz said this news "disturbed" her, particularly because it came from another student who Smith had allegedly assaulted rather than the administrators with whom she had been in touch.
Ortiz and the other women also said it felt like Stanford had deliberately isolated them by not keeping them informed about the other investigations.
Ortiz requested that Stanford start a new Title IX investigation into her original complaint, which it did, notifying both Ortiz and Smith on Nov. 10, 2014, according to a final investigation outcome letter. Smith declined via email on Dec. 4, 2014, to comment on the allegations or participate in the investigation, the letter states. He maintained to the Weekly that he denied all allegations at the time.
Given that Smith was no longer a student and more than two years had passed since the alleged assault, Smith could not be disciplined through ARP, but a series of "administrative remedies" were instead implemented. On Dec. 15, 2014, Criswell handed down a permanent no-contact order to apply to Ortiz, Patel and Dako; the 15-year ban; an indefinite ban so long as any of the three women are on campus; the ban on alumni events; and up to a $5,000 reimbursement of Ortiz for counseling services related to the alleged assault.
Criswell found by a preponderance of the evidence that Smith violated university policy prohibiting relationship violence, sexual misconduct and sexual assault by "choking (Ortiz) until (she) almost passed out, and then initiating non-consensual sexual intercourse" in February 2011. Criswell wrote that two witnesses and text messages corroborated Ortiz's allegations. She also cited detailed notes from residence-education staff, taken in January 2012, that state Smith "had no recollection of this incident, possibly because of intoxication, but did not question the account because he believed (Ortiz is) an honest person."
Smith told the Weekly that he made no such comments to a residential staff member. He said he is relying on his memory from the time and does not have access to his Stanford email or documents from these cases.
Criswell also found that Smith did violate not only one, but two directives from the university not to contact Ortiz: the official no-contact order she requested and received and that of a residence education dean who "specifically instructed" Smith not to contact Ortiz in early 2012, according to the outcome letter.
"I understand that you hope another student in your situation would not have to go through the same experience that you did," Criswell wrote in the final determination letter to Ortiz. "As a result of your bringing up this issue, the University has examined its processes and made efforts to improve how no contact directives are implemented and communicated."
Stanford would also reimburse Ortiz for a $200 administrative charge she paid after having to transfer her housing assignment her senior year, Criswell wrote.
By March 2015, Ortiz was still feeling consumed emotionally and decided to take a leave of absence from her master's program at Stanford. She said she is unlikely to return.
Dako, one grade below the other three women, was the quickest to report her alleged assault. After hearing about another woman Smith had allegedly assaulted (who turned out to be Patel) and becoming concerned after seeing him having dinner with a female freshman student, Dako detailed her concerns about what she saw as a dangerous pattern of conduct in an email to Michelle Voigt, a residence dean and "sexual harassment adviser" listed on the website of Stanford's Sexual Harassment Policy Office.
"I don't mean to jump to conclusions, I just know now after having spoken to several different friends that at least two other girls have been subjected to (Smith's) abuses ever since his freshman year," Dako wrote in an April 11, 2014, email to Voigt.
"I don't want to appear histrionic," she continued. "I don't fear for my personal safety but for that of other women on this campus."
Dako, who is now pursuing a master's degree at Stanford, said she had a casual relationship with Smith toward the end of 2013. She ended it in January 2014, and they remained cordial, her OCR complaint states. Then one night in February 2014, they ran into each other on campus and went back to his house, where they listened to music and had a few alcoholic drinks, according to Dako's OCR complaint. They started making out, and she refused his demand to give him oral sex, her complaint states. He then "used duress, including verbal aggression (e.g. calling her a 'slut',' repeatedly telling her she 'should go kill herself') and physical aggression (twisting and pinning her arm) in an attempt to make her engage in oral sex," a July 11, 2014, final outcome letter from Criswell reads.
Smith told the Weekly that this "absolutely" did not take place. He also denied the conduct to the Title IX office, but his "denials were not found to be credible," Criswell wrote in the final outcome letter. Dako provided text messages she sent to a friend immediately after the alleged assault that conveyed her version of events, Criswell wrote. Criswell found that Smith had engaged in attempted sexual assault with duress in violation of university policy.
Two days after Dako wrote to Voigt, Voigt offered to meet with her along with another residence dean, Danielle Masuda. The pair informed Dako of her options moving forward, and Dako expressed a desire to begin the formal disciplinary process -- ARP, according to her Office for Civil Rights complaint. The week after, she also provided to Masuda, Sallie Kim and another administrator four names of other women she had heard or suspected had been assaulted or harassed by Smith, according to emails provided to the Weekly. Ortiz's and Patel's names were on that list. Dako said she was later told none of the women she named wanted to pursue further action.
When they met, the residence deans also told Dako that they would be meeting with Smith and offered her the option of keeping the allegations vague so as to protect her identity, or telling him she had filed a report against him, she said.
Feeling unsure, she asked for some time to decide. However, they met with him and disclosed her name before she could make this decision, according to emails provided to the Weekly.
The real bombshell came two days later, when a residence dean informed her that Glaze had reported Smith "did not contest or deny any of her allegations" but that he had made his own allegations that she tried to "sexually coerce" him on Feb. 6, her OCR complaint reads.
Smith would not comment on the record to the Weekly about the details of the sexual coercion, but Criswell wrote in the final outcome letter that the two were making out, and when Smith wanted to leave, Dako was "verbally insistent about her desire to have him stay and have sex with her." Smith described "physical aggression" including Dako pushing him onto a bed, grabbing his hair and rolling on top of him. The final outcome letter also references a scratch to his face, which Smith told the Title IX investigator he thought was accidental, Criswell wrote.
On April 24, 2014, Dako received a terse email from Sallie Kim with an attachment informing her that she was now, too, officially under investigation for a Title IX complaint. She said this email left her devastated.
Dako saw Smith's complaint as clear retaliation, but Smith told the Weekly that administrators had merely contacted him regarding a vague "incident" of "potential misconduct" concerning Dako and that he had not yet been told of the specific allegations Dako had made against him.
To Dako, Smith's complaint against her was an indication that the Title IX office staff had not received adequate training. Under Title IX, when a school "knows or reasonably should know of possible retaliation by other students or third parties, including threats, intimidation, coercion or discrimination (including harassment), it must take immediate and appropriate steps to investigate or otherwise determine what occurred," according to an Office for Civil Rights guidance document.
"Stanford facilitated retaliation against (Dako) when it agreed to investigate (Smith's) cross-complaint against her even though, by Stanford's own admission, the behavior alleged -- asking (Smith) to have sex -- would not constitute sexual misconduct even if true," her Office for Civil Rights complaint reads.
Criswell later determined there was insufficient evidence to support Smith's allegations. But Smith said he "willingly" decided to withdraw his allegations and not move forward with a Title IX investigation into Dako. He said after communicating this to the university, he didn't hear back for two weeks.
"It was completely nerve-racking what was going to happen going forward. It was eventually communicated to me that the (investigation) was winding down, I would be able to walk during graduation and receive my diploma and that I should expect a final outcome letter," he said.
Smith maintains that he made his complaint against Dako before he was even aware of what she had accused him of. In this and the other cases, Smith said, administrators who contacted him kept the allegations so vague as that he didn't know what they were until far later in the process. (In Dako's case, this was not until after he had graduated from Stanford, he said.)
Without informing him in full about the allegations, investigators asked him about the nature of his relationships with the women and to provide details, from memory, about specific dates, sometimes several years prior, he said.
He told the Weekly the experience reminded him of Franz Kafka's "The Trial," a 1925 novel in which a man is arrested and put on trial by an unidentified agency, without any knowledge of the crime of which he's been accused.
"He maintains he is not guilty, and he is told, 'How do you know you're not guilty if you do not know what you are on trial for?'" Smith said of the novel's protagonist.
Smith said even if he had decided to move forward with a Title IX investigation, and Stanford had taken his complaint seriously, "It would have come down to the preponderance of the evidence and then I would have lost, which was the calculus I made.
"I don't think Stanford would have not taken it seriously. I think they would have given (me) the due process that was in place at the time. I think the due process in place at the time would not have sided with me," he said.
Two events in summer 2014 cemented Dako's waning lack of confidence in Stanford's commitment and ability to support students who participate in processes related to sexual assault.
While she was out of the country and under the assumption that the ARP process would begin when she returned, she received an email from Criswell explaining that because of the Title IX investigation, Smith's degree was pending and "he was going to lose his summer job if he did not have his degree," Dako's OCR complaint reads.
Throughout late June and July, emails flew back and forth between Criswell and Dako. Despite Dako's desire to proceed with ARP, on June 29, Criswell explained that certain remedies were available under Title IX without ARP. If determined to be appropriate, the Title IX office can suggest what's called a non-hearing resolution, a proposed set of remedies that both parties must agree to in order to proceed. Under the negotiated administrative remedies between Dako and Smith, Smith's degree hold would be released. By agreeing to the remedies, the students would also waive their right to appeal or move forward to the Alternative Review Process.
Dako agreed to the administrative remedies but said the communication was exhausting, and it felt like the university sped up her case while she was abroad in the name of lifting Smith's degree hold.
"I was staying with a host, not able to sleep at all, not able to do any of my work whatsoever, just sitting in bed like stabbing away at my computer, trying to figure this out," Dako recalled. "That was the first moment I realized that I wouldn't be done (with school) when I thought I would be. I had spent the entire quarter having to skip class because I would have to accommodate meeting times of the administrators who weren't flexible or weren't forthcoming or would not get back to me for weeks at a time.
After struggling academically at the end of the quarter, the university provided Dako with academic accommodations. But an apparent miscommunication between administrators, she said, led to her being placed on academic probation. In a final blow, the university sent a letter home telling her parents she had not met the university's minimum academic requirements.
"The process for academic probation is motivated by Stanford's commitment to offer students support for and guidance through difficulties they face, particularly when there is a risk that these could jeopardize their academic success," Vice Provost for Undergraduate Education Harry Elam wrote in the July 2014 letter. "This process is designed to be helpful for you and to promote a successful career at Stanford."
Dako had not yet told her parents about the Title IX investigation or alleged assault.
"I really wish I had been able to, on my own time, let them know when I felt ready, emotionally prepared," she told the Weekly. "That was gruesome."
That same summer, another complaint about Smith surfaced, just under a week before he was set to graduate.
"Over the past few days, I've received a couple of emails (sent to chat lists) from women on campus who have been sexually assaulted and have gone through ARP," Ashley Patel wrote in a long June 6, 2014, email to residence deans Masuda and Voigt.
"While hearing about the sexual attacks concerns me, I'm writing to report that I had also experienced sexual aggression towards me over the past summer ... that, too, by a man who has a history of sexual violence on campus. Due to it being close to the end of the academic quarter, I decided to disclose the details in this initial email so as to alert you to the severity of his behavior and very much encourage you to require him to seek help before he leaves campus or receives his degree."
Patel went on to describe in detail an alleged physical assault that took place off campus in August 2013. After she refused to engage in sexual intercourse with Smith, he hit her in the face while holding a shampoo bottle and split her lip, according to Criswell's final outcome letter. Patel's version of events was supported by third-party witnesses, including one who confirmed seeing her physical injury the next day, and Facebook messages between her and Smith, Criswell wrote. In text messages, provided to the Weekly, Smith apologized for the incident the next day.
Taking Patel's and Dako's complaints together, Criswell also found "credible evidence of a pattern of behavior from (Smith) that when he was refused sexual acts, he reacted with physical violence against them (the women)."
Patel explained to Masuda and Voigt that she had several reasons for not reporting the alleged assault until almost a year later -- including two that many college students who are victims of sexual assault likely share: She and Smith knew each other, and there had been alcohol involved. She worried she would be blamed for it in some way and held responsible.
"I also continued to tell myself that because he didn't succeed in raping me or battering me heavily, the incidence and violence did not really count as sexual assault," she wrote. "Additionally, I thought that because I was also drinking that day and have known him on campus, administration might (wrongly) conclude that this was just a misunderstanding between two students having a 'good time.'"
Another reason was the "widely believed status quo" that Stanford's disciplinary process yields nothing more than a "slap on the wrist" for perpetrators of sexual violence, Patel wrote. (Typical sanctions for students found responsible for sexual assault are several-quarter suspensions, community service or education around sexual violence. In its history, Stanford has only expelled one student for sexual assault, in a case that involved multiple victims.)
In her email, Patel called this "an embarrassing injustice" to not only victims of sexual assault but a community led by an administration who "in words says it will not stand for violence or misogyny ... but seemingly cannot back it up with action when a student reports such an incident."
"Like many other women on campus, at the time, I truly believed that going through ARP would do very little to help me or alert (Smith) of the deep ramifications of his actions," she wrote.
Similarly, the fourth woman, Annie Richardson, who did not inform the university about her alleged assault, said that now, years later, she doesn't know if doing so would have made a difference.
"When I found out that he had gone on to assault other women, I felt really guilty and depressed and ... like it was my fault, like if I had reported him, he would have gotten kicked out and these other women wouldn't have been assaulted," Richardson said in an interview with the Weekly. "But after getting in touch with (Dako) and hearing about everyone's experiences with Stanford, I can't say that reporting would have prevented these other incidences considering how they responded to things that were even more violent than what I experienced.
"If they couldn't properly respond after that level of violence, then me reporting my assault freshman year wouldn't have made a difference," she said.
Patel, for her part, had the most positive experience dealing with administrators out of the three women. While critical of the university for how it handled other women's cases, she was satisfied with their response to her own complaint. One of the better elements was an offer of mental-health support through one of the Title IX office's confidential counselors. She said she felt safer speaking with that person rather than a counselor from CAPS, which, like ARP, carries a poor reputation with the student body. (Dako went once as a sort of test of the support offered by the university. She said the experience was "useless" and "patronizing.")
But once Patel found out there were other allegations made against Smith prior to the incident she reported -- and more severe than what she had experienced -- she was appalled, she said.
Like the other women, it broke her trust in an institution she esteemed.
"I valued Stanford a lot," Patel said. "The last five years, it's sort of been my home."
Patel, who is now pursuing a master's degree at Stanford, said she felt compelled to speak publicly about her experience to dispel the stigma associated with sexual assault and add her voice to an ever-rising tide of awareness about the issue on college campuses.
"There's a lot of shame and stigma associated with speaking out about sexual assault ... and I think just the fact that survivors of sexual assault have to deal with the aftershocks of it -- emotionally, (the) personal connections that you've lost, (the) academic issues that are inevitably going to happen after going through something like that -- the fact that you have to deal with it on your own in the dark while the perpetrator gets to go through the rest of their lives. ... I just didn't want to be silent about that," Patel said.
Changes proposed, implemented
Equal Rights Advocates, a national civil-rights organization based in San Francisco that supports and advocates for women's rights, filed two separate Office for Civil Rights complaints on behalf of Ortiz and Dako in July, bringing the total number of current Title IX investigations at Stanford to four, according to a list provided by the federal agency.
One of the other four complaints was filed in December 2014 by Leah Francis, who has alleged Stanford failed to promptly and equitably provide a response to and resolution for a sexual-assault report she filed in January 2014. Equal Rights Advocates is also representing Francis.
The Office for Civil Rights, in headlines in recent years for being underfunded and struggling to keep up with the skyrocketing number of campus sexual-assault complaints, can take several years to conduct and conclude an investigation. The students who file them, more often than not, are seeking long-term, systemic reform for future students rather than personal restitution, said law professor Dauber. Francis, for example, told the Weekly that she decided to file her federal complaint instead of accepting a financial settlement Stanford offered her.
"This is not for the faint of heart," Dauber said she tells students. "You need to have the long view. You're looking at institutional change, so you're going to be long graduated from this school."
Dako's and Ortiz's complaints both call for significant policy changes that they hope the Office for Civil Rights will order Stanford to pursue. They're pushing for increased sanctions against students who commit acts of sexual violence against other students and better enforcement of those sanctions; more training for both staff and students and education about the school's policies and procedures related to sexual violence; better resources for survivors; guidelines to ensure oversight and involvement of tenured-faculty advocates and survivor advocates throughout the investigation process; and more resources for Stanford's Office of Sexual Assault and Relationship Abuse Education & Response (SARA).
"I think that schools have to give students real tools to be able to report sexual violence," said Equal Rights Advocates Legal Director Jennifer Reisch. "They can't just have a policy that looks good on paper."
Universities should take concrete steps to make what are complex Title IX processes -- how to report, what an investigation entails, what a student's options are moving forward -- more accessible to students, she added.
"People need to know, for example, what we know as lawyers: what academic accommodation means, that it's a remedy," Reisch said. "But what does that actually mean to a student who's going through a crisis right before final exams? Does she know that she can seek assistance in the form of support, in the form of delay in those exams? Does she know that she might be entitled to some kind of extra time or extra money, if it's necessary, to make up for the loss that she's suffered as a result of this discrimination? Very few people know that.
"I think there's a lot more schools could do to inform students, not just about their technical legal rights but to foster greater awareness of the whole process and how it works and what they are entitled to ask for."
Stanford, for its part, has put several reforms into place in recent years. In 2014, Provost John Etchemendy convened a task force of students, faculty and staff charged with reviewing and issuing recommendations on sexual-assault policies and procedures. (A subset of the four women in this case actually spoke to the task force about their experiences, as other student survivors did to better inform the group's work.)
Top on the list of the task force's final recommendations was that expulsion be the "expected" consequence for students found unanimously responsible for sexual assault. (The university's definition of sexual assault has since changed to what some Stanford professors say is the most narrow definition among all of its peer schools, perhaps to make expulsion a more palatable "expected" sanction.)
The task force also recommended the university replace the Alternate Review Process with a new three-year pilot program that creates a single rather than bifurcated 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. After seeking feedback from students, faculty and staff on a draft process this fall, the university revised and finalized a new version, according to Lapin. The university announced Jan. 22, the day of publication for this story, that the process would begin on a pilot basis on Feb. 1.
Significant changes in the new process include the Title IX office-led investigation and adjudication process; hearing panels made up of three (rather than ARP's five) reviewers who are extensively trained, regularly sit on cases and are not undergraduate students; the creation of a new, full-time hearing coordinator and new "evidentiary specialists" to help review documents during the hearing process; the provision of up to nine hours of free legal assistance for the students involved; and expulsion as the expected sanction for students found unanimously responsible for sexual assault, as defined by university policy.
Some faculty and students still find aspects of the new process problematic; the university said it is considering their feedback.
Stanford has also expanded its Title IX office in recent years. In May 2014, the university hired its first-ever dedicated Title IX coordinator, Criswell. Now, the office has not one but four positions, with the addition of two new investigators and an office manager, according to the university. Criswell, however, left the post in September, after a little more than a year on the job. Glaze is currently leading the Title IX office on an interim basis. The search for a permanent coordinator is "in its final stages," Lapin said.
Stanford also hired two new confidential counselors to serve as 24/7 resources for sexual assault victims, meeting at least in part a demand expressed by Francis and other student activists in 2014 for more confidential counseling resources on campus.
New education on topics like consent and how to be an upstander was also incorporated into new student orientation in 2014 and 2015. All new undergraduates and graduates are now required to complete online training related to sexual violence before arriving on campus. This summer, the university also funded a new, three-week immersive summer course Dauber created and taught called "One in Five: The Law, Policy and Politics of Campus Sexual Assault."
Many on campus were also roused to action this fall in the wake of a controversial climate survey that found what student-activists and faculty said was an impossibly low overall rate of sexual assault of 1.9 percent. They said the way the survey was designed, combined with the way in which the results were presented by the university, created a warped picture of the prevalence of sexual assault at Stanford. The Associated Students of Stanford University (ASSU), Stanford's student government body, unanimously approved this week a resolution calling on the administration to issue a new survey no later than next spring.
Stanford is certainly not alone -- as of Jan. 6, it is one of 161 colleges and universities in the country currently under federal investigation for Title IX violations, according to the Office for Civil Rights. Yet Keasara Williams, a former Equal Rights Advocates attorney who initially represented Ortiz and Dako, said that the nonprofit receives more calls from young women from Stanford than any other university seeking advice or support on sexual-assault issues.
"They're not the anomaly, unfortunately," she said of the women Equal Rights Advocates represents. "There are a lot more students out there."
The four women said they chose to speak publicly to hold Stanford accountable and to change the experience for future Stanford students who are victims of sexual violence.
"It feels empowering to know that at least, hopefully, Stanford will face some kind of public accountability for what it's done, and this isn't something they're going to be able to push under the rug, which it is so successful at doing and at changing the headlines and containing the story," Ortiz said. "It's an incredibly powerful institution."
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.