Stanford students, faculty, alumni call for new sexual-assault survey | News | Palo Alto Online |


Stanford students, faculty, alumni call for new sexual-assault survey

Alumna: 'There is a great opportunity for Stanford to be a leader on this issue'

A growing chorus of students, faculty and now alumni are calling on Stanford University to issue a new climate survey to more accurately capture the prevalence of sexual violence on campus, describing the administration's refusal to do so as "disappointing" and "trivializ(ing)" the concerns of many students and faculty.

As of Tuesday afternoon, 27 faculty members and more than 90 alumni had signed two separate letters supporting a recently passed student referendum asking Stanford to replace what they describe as a problematic campus climate survey conducted last year.

These students, faculty and alumni support administering a new survey based on one that the national higher-education nonprofit the Association of American Universities (AAU) conducted in 2015. While 26 public and private universities, from Harvard and Brown to the University of Arizona, participated in the AAU survey, Stanford opted to create its own, which the university said was based on one conducted by the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.

Students, faculty and alumni say that shifting to the more commonly used survey will not only allow Stanford to do the important work of comparing its data to many of its peer schools, but send a message that it takes seriously their concerns regarding the administration's response to sexual assault. The university has repeatedly defended the quality of its survey and rejected the sentiment held by many on campus that the results downplayed the severity of sexual violence at Stanford.

Results from Stanford's survey were widely criticized on campus almost immediately after their release in October. Students and faculty said methodological flaws led to "misleading" rates of sexual assault, and decried a university press release that led with one such rate. The survey's finding that 1.9 percent of all students — both male and female, undergraduate and graduate — had experienced sexual assault is "impossibly low," many student-activists and faculty members have said, and sent a damaging message to victims of sexual violence as well as the entire student body.

Last week, the Stanford student body passed by 90.6 percent a referendum asking the administration to conduct a new survey based on the Association of American Universities' methodology, to repeat the survey at least once every three years and to release the results publicly. The referendum gathered 1,975 "yes" votes, student newspaper the Stanford Daily reported.

Matthew Cohen, a sophomore who serves on Stanford's student government and has led the survey re-do effort, said that is an "incredible" turnout for a student election. It followed the Associated Students of Stanford University's own unanimous resolution that called for the same action. That, coupled with the faculty and alumni letters, Cohen hopes, will send a strong message to the administration.

"I think it's very clear where public support is," he said.

Provost John Etchemendy wrote in an April 17 response to the alumni letter that while "Stanford values input from students on issues important to the student experience ... The argument that the ASSU referendum should be considered the dispositive factor in future university decision-making on an issue of such complexity is, at best, questionable."

He noted that the referendum was voted on by only about 31 percent of the student body and did not include any analysis or opposing arguments.

Etchemendy also defended the university's choice not to participate in the AAU survey. Stanford was not able to see the survey before committing to it, and would not have been able to tailor questions specific to Stanford nor have access to the raw data, Etchemendy wrote. He also said that the university believes in minimizing "survey fatigue."

"All of the university's communications about the climate survey have emphasized the troubling nature of the findings and the large numbers of students experiencing some form of sexual violence," Etchemendy wrote. "We have not sought in any way to downplay the prevalence of sexual offenses at Stanford and have no reason to do so. On the contrary, we must grapple with the reality of the problem in order to address it effectively."

The faculty, though, said the survey "has come up short" in accomplishing this aim.

"Such a survey, undertaken in good faith, should have the effect of signaling Stanford's commitment to addressing this issue in a forceful and unqualified manner so as to, among other things, convince community members of both the seriousness of the issue and the robustness of Stanford's response," the group of faculty wrote. "In that, the survey has come up short."

Alumni, too, wrote in a letter addressed to the administration, faculty senate and Board of Trustees that they are "deeply troubled by the administration's efforts to trivialize the concerns of so many current students and faculty."

If Stanford does not reconsider its "disappointing refusal to administer an improved survey," the alumni wrote, "we and many other alumni will be forced to reconsider our voluntary financial support of the university."

Both letters argue that the survey's reliance on a very narrow definition of sexual assault, which excludes sexual touching due to force or incapacitation, artificially inflated the rate of students who were categorized as experiencing the less-severe sexual "misconduct" and produced a too-low number of those who had been sexually assaulted.

The survey found that 14.2 percent of all students and 32.9 percent of undergraduate women experienced sexual misconduct, while only 4.7 percent of undergraduate women had been sexually assaulted since coming to Stanford.

Stanford also phrased a survey question about incapacitation due to drugs or alcohol differently than many other universities, including the AAU schools as well as MIT, whose survey Stanford said it based its own on. Students and faculty have pointed to the question as another potential reason for the low rate of sexual assault.

Using the Association of American Universities' study, which was created by an independent research firm, would "ensure that Stanford uses a standard definition of 'sexual assault' and that its results will allow for easy comparability with peer schools," the 27 faculty wrote in their letter.

"It will also add Stanford's data to the national pool, which helps to increase the breadth of knowledge about this issue nationally, something that as scholars we believe to be an important value for a research institution to uphold," the letter states.

Alumna Nancy Leong, associate professor at the University of Denver's Sturm College of Law, said she and other alumni collaborated on their letter after feeling Stanford's response to concerns raised about the climate survey was "unsatisfying." They also wanted to show support for current students, and send a strong message that alumni who contribute to Stanford — financially and in other ways, like interviewing prospective students or connecting soon-to-be graduates with job opportunities — care about how the university responds to sexual violence.

"There is a great opportunity for Stanford to be a leader on this issue, but unfortunately that has not happened yet," Leong wrote in an email to the Weekly.

Leong said that while the alumni letter gained quick support — 40 signatures in less than 24 hours last week, and up to the more than 90 who have signed on since then — many alumni contacted her to say they support the letter but felt they couldn't sign. Some are untenured professors who feared retribution or other consequences, Leong said.

Those that signed the letter include many law professors and lawyers, including Baine Kerr, a high-profile attorney well-known for representing college-victims of sexual violence, and range from recent graduates to as far back as the class of 1968.

A subset of the signers, all law graduates, wrote a separate response to the provost this week requesting further clarification and data.

The faculty letter includes both active advocates for sexual-assault reform and others from across departments and disciplines. The signers include Shelley Correll, director of the Clayman Institute for Research on Gender; Michele Dauber, a law professor and staunch reform advocate who helped write Stanford's policies for adjudicating sexual violence; Estelle Freedman, a history professor who has written extensively about feminism, sexuality and sexual violence; as well as professors from the biology, sociology, music, English and literature departments, Stanford Medical Center and the Graduate School of Education. Seven out of 13 tenured faculty members from the Department of Sociology signed the letter.

At a faculty panel event devoted to the topic of sexual assault on Monday afternoon, Dauber said that good data around the effectiveness of Stanford's own processes for addressing sexual assault is still lacking.

"What we really suffer from is a lack of information about the processes themselves and how they work and whether they're effective," Dauber said. "We need to insist on transparency and insist on good data."

Stanford's new Title IX coordinator, Cathy Glaze, stood up from her seat in the audience during a Q&A session following the panel to say that she agrees.

"I agree that we need more transparency and I would like to start a dialogue with all of you so we can have less skepticism, more trust and we can move forward," Glaze said.

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


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17 people like this
Posted by Hopenchange
a resident of Professorville
on Apr 19, 2016 at 8:34 pm

Why are your Stanford Sex pieces usually so long and overwrought? Seems like a good editor could make them more readable and to the point.

21 people like this
Posted by Sam
a resident of another community
on Apr 19, 2016 at 8:38 pm

Sexual assault is a huge issue, but look at the underlying problem....ALCOHOL. Both alcohol and sex education need to be addressed simultaneously, more than is currently taught, and repeatedly reinforced. And for those who suggest that Stanford ban alcohol on campus, these kids will find it easily off campus. We're dealing with underdeveloped brains, inexperienced drinkers, feelings of entitlement, and high testosterone levels. This needs to be dealt with as a complete package!

13 people like this
Posted by Alum
a resident of Midtown
on Apr 19, 2016 at 9:07 pm

Great article. Sorry that the Stanford PR office doesn't like it ^^^^. I think it's great -- very balanced and fair. First rate objective reporting.

19 people like this
Posted by Nauseated
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Apr 20, 2016 at 9:21 am

Nauseated is a registered user.

It has been said before, but bears repeating:
High levels of testosterone and alcohol ( or drugs) don't mix. They exacerbate each other and incite not only excessive risk-taking but also violent acts. The threat of male violence is real.

15 people like this
Posted by Alice Schaffer Smith
a resident of Green Acres
on Apr 21, 2016 at 7:49 am

I attended the Monday discussion at Stanford and was very impressed by the need for standardized questions. Stanford's refusal to join the AAU survey suggests to me that they are afraid to find the truth on campus.

Sadly, there were mostly women at the Stanford Symposium on Sexual Assault. Perhaps the administration is mostly made up of men in the decision-making positions at Stanford and mirror the military and other institutions who do not listen to their constituents and take meaningful corrective action.

Sexual assault by faculty members on junior faculty and students was also addressed by the AAU survey. This goes beyond alcohol and drug overuse on campus. Having been sexually assaulted by my immediate superior on the first week in my branch office at IBM at the age of 22, I am very conscious of the need for a management structure which encourages a safe working environment.

More publicity and the polling of the faculty at Stanford would be my next steps suggestion.

31% turnout in a student vote is ASTONISHING. Stanford should remember that these students will someday be alumni/ae and will no doubt vote with their lack of support financially in the future when the University fails to take their concerns to heart.

Bad business decision on the part of Stanford is my final word. Join the survey and move on.

14 people like this
Posted by Pope John (of Stanford)
a resident of Crescent Park
on Apr 21, 2016 at 3:38 pm

I agree with what Alice says above. You can't manage what you don't measure and Stanford obviously just wants to protect itself rather than protecting women students. Just a week ago the editorial in this paper called Stanford out for exactly this -- failing to offer any support to Brock Turner's victim after the verdict (or before).

The Provost has been so thoroughly convinced of his own infallibility. Not unlike another figure who was convinced that he could turn a blind eye to sexual abuse victims because he was infallible. But as the Good Book says, "Pride goes before destruction, And a haughty spirit before stumbling." Proverbs 16:18

Lots of stumbling ahead for John Etchemendy.

7 people like this
Posted by Lisa Douglas
a resident of Green Acres
on Apr 21, 2016 at 5:49 pm

The Bureau of Justice Statistics, a branch of the Department of Justice, has the campus sexual assault rate at approximately 6.1 female victims per 1000 female students, or 0.61%. That number was published in 2014 during Eric Holder's tenure as Attorney General and Barack Obama's tenure as President, so right-wing papering-over of sexual assault is not likely to be a primary motivator. If Stanford's rate for victims of all genders is really more than three times the Obama/Holder DoJ number, then there is no need to do another survey. There is clearly a huge problem that needs to be addressed immediately and without further bureaucratic delay.

6 people like this
Posted by Alumna
a resident of Portola Valley
on Apr 22, 2016 at 10:44 am

So let me get this straight. This PR calamity for Stanford was kicked off by this this statement from Stanford, in the Huffington Post story on this subject: "Stanford has also downplayed criticism of the survey, saying that only a small number of people have raised objections to it.

Web Link
“There really is a single primary critic and students who were in her class,” Lisa Lapin, a Stanford spokeswoman, told The Huffington Post.Lapin is referring to Michele Dauber, a law professor at Stanford who has vocally criticized the survey. In response to Lapin’s comment, Dauber said it was “unfortunate” she’d been singled out, and noted that Cohen was not in her class."

After this was published, over 2 dozen faculty rallied behind this "single critic" and signed a group letter, alums rallied, students rallied, there is now I understand a grad student letter too. Basically every segment of campus community has rallied against this blatant attempt to silence and marginalize 2000 students and attack the credibility of a faculty member. Agree or disagree with them on the merits, this is not the right way to carry on a debate in a free University.

The threat to the academic freedom of the faculty is clear -- this is a heavy handed effort to chill and silence respectful dissent on which survey to use. By the way, it doesn't seem to be working since now there are nearly 30 faculty backing her. Now what? Will Lisa Lapin argue that all 30 of them have passed Dauber in the hallway at one time or another so they don't matter either?

The threat to dissent is also clear. When Stanford argues in the national media that it can disregard this many student and faculty voices, governance at this University is off the rails. Will the Board of Trustees and the new President insist that this conflict is not worth it, join the AAU survey and move on?

I suggest that the alums should donate the money to Stanford's ASSU to conduct a new survey themselves and simply bypass the administration entirely. Then they won't have control over the situation at all. That would come as a shock to Stanford. A nice wake up call on what it feels like to have someone else have control over you and you have no choice in what is going to be done to you, and you just have to accept whatever happens that is being done by someone with the power. Perhaps the boot should be on the other foot, as they say?

It appears to me that the PR officer who issued that statement, Ms. Lapin, has succeeded far beyond the dreams of the activists in rallying support for their cause. Perhaps she is a mole for the activists. She is doing Stanford no favors.

Like this comment
Posted by Caroline V.
a resident of Portola Valley
on May 7, 2016 at 11:33 am

I thank Stanford Alumni and faculty members for their support and community effort to address the lack of compliance and request a new sexual assault review. I also thank Elena Kadvany and Palo Alto Weekly for their dedication through detailed reporting and for giving our community the opportunity to express our comments.
Sexual assault is not the only unlawful discrimination that is being covered up. The Bay Area has an epidemic of mobbing. Mobbing is group bullying used over time to intentionally expel someone out of a group/or workplace. Mobbing is also used to threaten the co-worker and/or peers from coming forward. Mobbing has become an epidemic in our schools, campuses, healthcare settings and many non-profit organizations, but is being covered up. Mobbing is malevolent behavior designed to secure the removal of an individual from an organization through unjustified accusations, humiliation, harassment even defamation, and then with the help of administrative and executive power force that person out with no due process.
Here are some examples of helpful academic research and literature:
Davenport, N., Schwartz, R.D., and Elliott, G.P. (2005). Mobbing : Emotional Abuse in the American Workplace. Ames, Iowa: Civil Society Publishing
Duffy, M., and Sperry, L (2007). Workplace Mobbing: Individual and Family Health Consequences. The Family Journal: Counseling and Therapy for Couples and families (15)4 (398-404). Retrieved from Web Link doi: 10.177/106648070730506
Twale, D. and DeLuca, B. (2008). Faculty Incivility: The Rise of the Academic Bully Culture and What to do about it. San Francisco, Ca: John Wiley & Sons, Inc
I graduated with honors, received Masters in Occupational Therapy (OT) and had a job offer in Pediatric OT, but Dr. Pendleton and Dr. Schulz-Krohn denied me to take the National Board exam using false, defamatory, and unsubstantiated statements. SJSU subjected me to discriminatory labor practice, hate crimes and used mobbing to push me into a defenseless position. To this day I have not received the proper student due process and a network of SJSU/CSU administrators refuses to abide by the rules and refuse to respect our laws. SJSU faculty and staff retaliated against me first for disclosing the violations of the OT Practice Act, lack of training, and lack of supervision and later in my defense for disclosing the repetitive patterns of abusive and illegal conduct among SJSU faculty and staff in collaboration with Bay Area Healthcare settings and school districts. It was my duty to advocate for my clients and disclose the Medicare fraud, Elder abuse and Neglect, lack of infection control, fraud under IDEA guidelines and the collaborative effort to cover this up. It is my duty to protect other students therefore reported the violations and lack of compliance. SJSU and its CSU administration have the policies in place to prevent bullying, harassment, intimidation, retaliation, discrimination, fraud, hate crimes, but they ignore their own rules and act above the law. SJSU violated S90-5, S99-8, S99-11, Executive Order 928, 929, 1045, 1058, and 1063, ignored several education laws, penal codes, government codes, and even our Constitution. Law enforcement in San Mateo and Santa Clara County among other state and federal agencies advertise they investigate abusive, illegal, and criminal conduct, but no investigation has taken place since I first reported the incidents in 2012.SJSU campus police filed my report under SG 1301140 but refuses to release the investigation and CAIT reports and Police Chief Decena ignores all type of communication. It took me over 2 years to recuperate as an adult. I cannot imagine what young students go through. The nightmares, anxiety and depression are gone, but the constant flashbacks continue to affect my life. What I experienced at SJSU is happening in K-12 and all over the Bay Area. Teachers, students, healthcare providers, and caregivers who disclose abusive and illegal conduct in our education and healthcare settings are retaliated against. We are silenced by high litigation costs, lack of media reporting and fear of further retaliation. We have the laws in place to prevent malicious conduct, but the current administration no longer enforces our laws and prefers to cover up sexual assault, bullying, discrimination, hate crimes, drugs and gang activity. Despite increased funding California remains at the bottom of all 50 states and reports increased rates of depression, suicidal ideation and truancy. It is time we stop the abusive and illegal conduct in our schools. Bullying leads to suicide, so we need to stop it. We have the laws in place, so why are they not enforced?
I have requested the help (and continue to) of Congresswoman Eshoo( since 2012), Congressman Honda and his Anti=bullying Caucus (2012), Congresswoman Lofgren (2014), Assembly member Gordon (since 2014), Senator Hill (since 2014), Governor Brown, who is also the President of CSU Board of Trustees (since 2012), Lt. Governor Newsom and State Superintendent Torlakson, who are CSU Trustees, Cogresswoman Boxer (2015), Senator Feinstein (2015), Attorney General Kamala Harris (since 2014), Supervisor Tissier, Supervisor Horsley, Supervisor Slocum, but my certified mail is either ignored, returned as "undeliverable" or answered "they have no purview".
We all know there is a huge gap between what has been promised or intended and what has been executed. The solution is very simple: transparency, fiscal responsibility and accountability.
I thank everyone who supports our community efforts.
Caroline V.

6 people like this
Posted by Wassup, Doc?
a resident of Evergreen Park
on May 9, 2016 at 5:50 pm

I would love to know how it came to be that Stanford has more crime and more rapes, in particular, than much, much more populous campuses anywhere in the US!

What at does Stanford do that seems to attract the most students who commit crimes of all types? Who commit the most rapes? Are the most competitive students more deviant? Are the brightest students more likely to have criminal tendencies?

What is the connection between errant behavior and Stanford"s admissions process?

Obviously, Stanford is doing SOMETHING terribly wrong to have such awful criminal startistics! They need to research this one!

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