Sexual assault task force recommends expulsion as expected sanction

April 8, 2015, 7:00 a.m.

On Wednesday, the Task Force on Sexual Assault Policies and Practices recommended making expulsion the expected sanction for students who have violated University policy on sexual assault and removing undergraduates from the panels that will adjudicate those cases.

The findings were included in a report released by the task force, which also recommended consolidating the resources available for victims of sexual assault.

Provost John Etchemendy Ph.D. ’82 convened the task force last June, and change to the University’s current process of handling sexual assault cases has been demanded by demonstrators on campus in the last year.

The 18-member task force — which included faculty, students, staff and one alumna — conducted over 80 meetings, town halls and interviews over the last nine months, according to University spokeswoman Lisa Lapin. The group also surveyed other university campuses.

“I take this report very, very seriously because they went to so much trouble, they did so much work, they gathered so much input,” Etchemendy said. “They were so diverse themselves as a group, and they came to a consensus view on some very hard issues.”

The report features recommendations in three areas: community education, student support and resources and the investigation and adjudication of sexual violence cases.


Consolidating campus resources

The biggest potential changes involve the consolidation of University resources and procedures regarding both the support and adjudication process.

The task force calls for a “confidential support and response team” comprised of multiple full-time counselors who will provide not only help in the aftermath of an assault, but also guidance about the University processes for dealing with sexual assault.

Currently, students can seek help from the Office of Sexual Assault and Relationship Abuse Education & Response (SARA), confidential sexual assault University counselors, Counseling and Psychological Services (CAPS) or the Young Women’s Christian Association rape crisis hotline, among other options. A common theme, according to the report, was confusion among students, faculty and staff regarding how to help individuals impacted by sexual assault.

Elizabeth Woodson ’15, president of the ASSU and co-chair of the task force, detailed some of these issues.

“Previously a lot of resources have existed, but the decentralization has made them very confusing to navigate and made it hard to get all the help that you need, especially in that moment of confusion and trauma for any person involved,” Woodson said.

Etchemendy explained that after adding several resources over many years, the system for seeking help has become “confusing.”

“People who felt that they had been sexually assaulted found it very confusing about where to go and who to get advice [from],” Etchemendy said. “They felt that they were sent from office to office.”

“It’s a terrible way to treat someone who has just gone through probably a very traumatic experience,” he added.

The task force’s proposal consolidates resources into one office. This system will provide confidential advice and follow-through 24/7 to both the impacted and responding parties involved in instances of alleged sexual assault.


Addressing the adjudication process

The task force also calls for a unified investigation and adjudication process. The current system has two separate entities: the Title IX investigation, which is mandated by federal law when the University becomes aware of a possible sexual assault, and the Office of Community Standards’ Alternative Review Process (ARP), which is the University’s internal disciplinary process.

After receiving a report of prohibited conduct, the Title IX office will decide whether or not the complaint warrants an investigation. If the investigation reveals that a charge is warranted, the office will notify the involved parties, and the case will most likely proceed to a hearing before a panel.

The task force proposes continuing to use panels to evaluate cases of alleged sexual assault. Currently, five people serve on the ARP panels, but the new report recommends reducing this number to three. Additinally, under the implementation of the new panel, a unanimous decision is required to give a sanction of expulsion.

Etchemendy vocalized his support for the continued use of panels, an approach still not common among other universities.

“There is wisdom in collaborative decision making,” Etchemendy said. “I strongly believe that the panel approach is a better way to go that the single decision-maker approach.”

While the current system allows undergraduate students on ARP panels, the report recommends that undergraduates not be allowed to serve on the new panels. The report cites multiple reasons for this suggestion, including the creation of an experienced and trained reviewer pool.

“Undergraduate students are at Stanford for a relatively short time,” the report said. “They may be called away from campus for study abroad or competitions or performances; and they have packed schedules when they are here.”

In addition, the report warned of “the many points of overlap between and among groups of students” that may result in the reviewer knowing a suspect or having common friends.

However, some members of the Stanford community have argued against removing undergraduate students from the panels in the past.

In a Stanford Magazine article published earlier this year, Vice Provost for Student Affairs Greg Boardman said that removing students from review panels would “take away from our Fundamental Standard.”

“It’s part of the culture here,” Boardman told Stanford Magazine. “It would be a huge shift.”

The task force did not make a recommendation on whether graduate students can serve on the panels, “leaving it up to the provost to resolve.”


Moving forward

If the president and provost decide to permanently adopt the program proposed by the task force, they must seek approval from the ASSU and the Faculty Senate before changes are officially made. The pilot program, which will centralize authority in the Title IX office, is expected to be implemented next fall and would run for the next three academic years.

Additionally, the task force recommends expanded community education and outreach in an attempt to prevent sexual violence in the first place. Etchemendy said that while people tend to focus on the University’s adjudication responsibilities, the increased awareness and information training the task force calls for is perhaps the most important step for the University.

One of wonderful things about a university is also one of the hardest things about a university, and that is that there are constantly new people coming in: new students, new freshmen, new transfers, new graduate students,” Etchemendy said. “Inevitably all of them will need to be educated. They may be coming from societies and countries that have very different standards where this does not come naturally to them, so the education has to be a constant function.”

“If we can educate and prevent any sexual assault on campus, that would be the ideal situation,” he added.

Etchemendy also stated that the ultimate goal is to improve campus culture, particularly by encouraging bystander intervention in situations that might raise a red flag.

“What we want to achieve is a change in culture of the University – and of society for that matter,” he said. “Everybody in the community should feel responsible for other people in the community.”

Etchemendy explained that he will form two implementation teams within the next month that will focus on attempting to implement as many of the recommendations as possible by the start of the next academic year.

Woodson emphasized the importance of the task force’s report.

“It’s a critical turning point for the nation, and specifically for Stanford,” she said. “It’s a way to enhance our education…It’s really important that people know the number to call, know the office to go to, but also understand the roots of sexual violence in a historical and cultural context and that we bring that education into our academic space as well.”

Correction: This article originally stated that a unanimous decision was required to find a student responsible of violating University policy. In fact, a unanimous decision is required for findings of responsibility and giving a student a sanction of expulsion. Only two out of three panelists are required to give a student a santion other than expulsion. The Daily sincerely regrets this error. 


Contact Sophie Stuber at sstuber8 ‘at’ and Andrew Vogeley at avogeley ‘at’

Sophie Stuber is a senior from Aspen, Colorado, studying International Relations, French and Creative Writing. Sophie has written for the Daily since freshman year . This year, she spends a significant portion of her time working on her thesis, which is about designing an international legal framework to aid people forcibly displaced due to climate change. Aside from academics, Sophie loves reading, writing short stories, listening to NPR, and adventuring outside. Any of her friends will tell you that she loves to talk about the mountains, skiing, Atlantic articles, and Rebecca Solnit essays.

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