Nearly 40% of undergraduate women who have been at Stanford University for four years have experienced some form of nonconsensual sexual contact, according to results from a campus climate survey.
Stanford released on Tuesday its results from the Association of American Universities (AAU) survey, in which 33 colleges and universities across the country participated. Provost Persis Drell said she is "deeply troubled" by Stanford's results, describing sexual violence as a "chronic public health issue."
"Despite many efforts at Stanford over the years, it is evident that much more needs to be done," she said in a letter announcing the results.
Stanford's response rate of 62% — about 10,000 undergraduate and graduate students — was the second-highest in the country. This is the first time Stanford participated in the consortium survey; the university was sharply criticized in 2015 for using its own survey that critics suggested downplayed the prevalence of sexual violence at Stanford. The 2015 survey found that nearly one-third of undergraduate women had experienced sexual misconduct during their time at the university.
The new survey results shed further light on an issue that many members of the campus community have been pressing Stanford to systemically address for years. Since starting at Stanford, 23.8% of undergraduate women and 21.7% of all TGQN students (which includes transgender women, transgender men, nonbinary/genderqueer, gender questioning or gender not listed), both undergraduate and graduate, have experienced nonconsensual sexual contact by physical force or inability to consent (defined as being passed out, asleep or incapacitated due to alcohol or drugs). By comparison, across all of the participating AAU institutions, 26% of undergraduate women reported nonconsensual sexual activity.
More than 20% of all Stanford students experienced harassment that interfered with their academic or professional performance or created a hostile environment at school. The majority of perpetrators are other Stanford students and are either friends or acquaintances of the victims.
Less than half of Stanford students (44%) believe that university officials are very or extremely likely to conduct a fair investigation into sexual misconduct allegations. Female undergraduates and students who identify as transgender, nonbinary or gender questioning were even less trusting that their campus officials would investigate reports fairly.
About 10% of undergraduate women said they experienced rape or sexual assault, attempted or completed penetration by physical force or inability to consent, at Stanford. Just under 12% of TGQN students, undergraduate and graduate, reported experiencing the same.
The rate of sexual touching (defined by the Association of American Universities as kissing; touching someone's breast, chest, crotch, groin, or buttocks; or grabbing, groping, or rubbing in a sexual way, even over a person's clothes) was highest among female undergraduates at 19%. Just under 15% of TGQN students reported having been touched in this way since enrolling at Stanford.
According to the survey, about half of nonconsensual sexual activity happens on campus at a residence hall or dorm, while 18% of women said they have experienced sexual misconduct at fraternities.
The survey also probed the emotional and academic consequences of sexual violence. Stanford women who had been sexually assaulted said they had difficulty concentrating on schoolwork. Twenty percent said their class attendance went down and 13% had difficulty going to work. Eleven percent considered dropping out of school and 9% withdrew from some or all of their classes.
Overall, rates of sexual assault at schools that participated when the Association of American Universities survey was first administered in 2015 have gone up for undergraduate, graduate and professional women and slightly for undergraduate men.
Students' knowledge about school definitions and procedures related to sexual assault and misconduct, meanwhile, has increased since 2015, according to the AAU.
"The disturbing news from this year's survey is that sexual assault and misconduct remain far too prevalent among students at all levels of study," Mary Sue Coleman, president of the Association of American Universities, said in a statement. "The good news — made possible by comparing data from the 21 schools that participated in both the 2015 and 2019 surveys — is that students are more knowledgeable than they were four years ago about what constitutes sexual assault and misconduct, how to report it, and what resources are available to victims."
Drell detailed several steps the university is taking in response to the results. Stanford plans to further analyze the data, including by disaggregating by school and degree level. The university is also bringing onto campus a community coordinator from the YWCA of Silicon Valley for "those who prefer to access resources from outside the Stanford community on issues of sexual violence and harassment." This staff person will also be available to partners and families of Stanford students.
Stanford is also launching an external review, conducted by unidentified "national experts," of university offices that deal with sexual violence and harassment. Drell expects the reviewers to produce recommendations for improvements that Stanford can act on.
To better support transgender and gender non-conforming students, Stanford will launch later this fall a new website with resources for that community as well as education for faculty and staff.
"More than a website, though, this is an effort toward developing a deeper understanding of gender identity, gender expression and how we can all engage in gender-inclusive practices," Drell said.
Stanford is holding a community meeting today (Wednesday, Oct. 16) to present the survey results from 4-5:15 p.m. at Building 420-040 on the Main Quad. People can also provide feedback anonymously via an online form or speak to university staff from multiple offices directly on Wednesday, Oct. 30, from 4-5:30 p.m. in the Old Union Clubhouse Ballroom.
Stanford administered the AAU survey last spring on the recommendation of a campus advisory committee. The university has started to release more information about its handling of sexual misconduct, including with a first-ever report last year on how the university responded to incidents of sexual misconduct involving students, staff and faculty over the last school year.
Campus resources related top sexual violence are available at stanford.edu.