An open letter to the Provost

Opinion by Matthew Cohen
Jan. 19, 2016, 11:59 p.m.

Dear Provost Etchemendy,

Last night, the ASSU Undergraduate Senate unanimously approved a resolution that strongly urges you to re-administer the Campus Climate Survey. Only 72 hours after the resolution was introduced, over 400 students signed a petition in support of a new survey. Simply put, the Stanford community recognizes that the last Campus Climate Survey was inadequate, and its ultimate conclusion that 1.9 percent of students at Stanford have experienced sexual assault was misleading.

The last survey was flawed, with a rather narrow definition of sexual assault that classified many instances of sexual assault as sexual misconduct. The survey’s definition of sexual assault excluded all forms of sexual battery, even sexual battery which would be considered a felony under California state law. Numerous media outlets including The San Jose Mercury News, The Stanford Daily, Buzzfeed and featured articles detailing this mistake.

Compared to our peer institutions’ reports on campus climate, Stanford’s report had far less information and far fewer data tables. In Yale’s report alone, there were 109 pages of data tables. Stanford’s entire report was only 36 pages long, and many of its pages in this report lacked any data. This missing information that other schools deemed necessary to include in their reports should be included in ours. With proper context, there is no downside to releasing these missing statistics and figures.

The new survey should use the Association of American Universities’ (AAU) Campus Climate Survey and its accompanying methodology. This survey is utilized by many of our peer institutions, including, but not limited to Brown, Dartmouth and Harvard. It is crucial that Stanford have results that are comparable to its peer schools, so that our community can best understand what policies work and do not work. If, for example, Harvard had a statistically significant lower rate of sexual assault or performed substantially better in other categories, Stanford could examine Harvard’s policies and determine the desirability of incorporating them into Stanford’s policies.

It is more difficult to address the sexual assault issue if Stanford administrators and the student body do not know the full truth about the situation at Stanford. Right now, Stanford is trying to tackle this issue with blinders on. While we may have taken steps in the right direction, our efforts would be more effective if we had an accurate and complete understanding of the situation. This is not an academic exercise where the sole purpose is to find the “truth.” A new survey will give the University a more expansive toolkit to reduce incidences of sexual assault and misconduct.

Some may argue that redoing the Campus Climate Survey will distract from larger issues and waste resources. On the contrary, this is a significant concern for the Stanford community, and resurveying the student population will not require a significant amount of time. Harvard was able to administer, analyze and present the findings of the AAU survey over summer vacation.  Likewise, Stanford can conduct a new survey in a similar amount of time.

We all agree that sexual assault is a serious problem. There is no reason why students, faculty and administrators can’t come together to fix it using the same level of excellence and determination that guides all of our endeavors. I would appreciate the opportunity to meet with you and other concerned parties and discuss this issue at your earliest convenience.

Best Regards,

Matthew Cohen

ASSU Senator


Contact Matthew Cohen at mcohen18 ‘at’

Matthew Cohen is an opinions fellow for The Stanford Daily. Originally from Orange County, Matthew is interested in politics and plans to declare a major in political science. In his leisure time, he enjoys playing piano, running, and watching Netflix. Contact him at mcohen18 'at'

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