Q&A: Ph.D. student Emma Tsurkov raises awareness about campus domestic violence

Jan. 10, 2018, 12:55 a.m.

Emma Tsurkov J.S.M. ’15 is a Ph.D. student in the sociology department whose research interests encompass family, gender, race and ethnicity as well as social equality and stratification. For the past year, she has been working to raise awareness of campus domestic violence affecting the partners or spouses of graduate students who are not Stanford students and do not receive the same University benefits and services as a result. Her goal is to formulate and implement a coherent and unified campus policy that makes medical and counseling services more accessible to these individuals.

The Daily sat down with Tsurkov to learn more about her initiative and some of the challenges she’s faced along the way.

Q&A: Ph.D. student Emma Tsurkov raises awareness about campus domestic violence
(Courtesy of Emma Tsurkov).

The Stanford Daily (TSD): Can you talk about the motivation behind this project?

Emma Tsurkov (ET): It was mostly anecdotal evidence. I know someone on campus who experienced domestic violence in graduate housing, and they asked me for help in finding resources at Stanford. I tried to find them online and couldn’t find anything, and then I joined the provost advisory board for the Sexual Assault and Relationship Abuse (SARA) Office and realized there are basically two problems with the current state of services for domestic violence. First, there is very little transparency and information about what services do exist. Second, the extent of the services provided depends on the victim’s affiliation to Stanford. Victims who are students get some services; they are not perfect, and access could be improved, but there are medical and counseling services for these individuals. However, partners of students, who are often victims of domestic violence, don’t get most of those services from Stanford.

There are also dual barriers to access in many cases. The graduate community living in Escondido Village is very much international. The students know some amount of English because they have to pass the TOEFL (Test of English as a Foreign Language)  to be admitted to Stanford, but their partners often don’t.

TSD: What does your project specifically entail?

ET: Currently, there is no real united policy for domestic violence on campus. So first, I want to expand the services provided, so that victims can receive help regardless of their Stanford affiliation. Then, once we create a coherent structured policy for the administration of these services, the next step is to translate it into the languages most commonly used in the international community at Stanford.

TSD: Where are you in this process?

ET: I’ve been trying to get this to happen for almost a year now, and it’s been really hard, because Stanford administrators have claimed that the services provided to students don’t need to be provided to partners of students. However, I’ve had a series of three or four meetings through the SARA advisory board with members of different offices on campus, including the Graduate Life Office, Vaden, the Bechtel International Center and the police department, [to] try and come up with a policy together. That still hasn’t happened, and we’re still in the process of working something out.

The goal initially was to have a functioning website by this fall to consolidate all the information about current services for students – it wouldn’t apply to non-students, but at least it would inform students of the services provided for them. That’s still in the works, and it’s unclear to me when it will actually happen. I haven’t made much progress on expanding these services to non-students because there’s an idea that non-students should get these services from somewhere else in the county or somewhere else that is not Stanford. However, Stanford still has a legal and a moral obligation to help, and the University could easily provide medical and counseling services to those individuals.

TSD: What are some obstacles you’ve faced?

ET: One of the main obstacles is financial. I was told that the Provost had to make the judgment on whether to spend undergraduate tuition dollars on services for victims of domestic violence. I’m not sure that this funding has to come specifically from undergraduate tuition dollars, but I don’t know why that’s a bad use of any type of dollars, tuition or otherwise. I think providing services to members of the community who are experiencing domestic violence is of high importance. Furthermore, the offices that provide these services are not objecting to serving other members to the community, as long as they receive funding. I think the problem right now is just the willingness of the administration to fund services [for] non-students.

Another component I think is important is immigration. Many victims have derivative statuses and are less likely to report domestic violence because they might think it will lead to the end of their legal presence in the country.

TSD: How do you anticipate getting over these obstacles?

ET: I’m meeting with the Provost in a week. I also started a petition with students on campus calling for the administration to provide services for victims of domestic violence. Regarding the immigration concern, I want to include access to immigration services in this united policy against domestic violence. I think about how the Law School started a clinic that provided immigration services to members of the Stanford community after the travel ban was imposed, and I want to expand those services to include the victims of domestic violence on campus. Again I’ll emphasize that these are partners who came with a student, and the only reason they are present here is Stanford. Many of them have never lived anywhere else in the country. They’re only here because of their partner, and they’re very isolated within that community because they don’t have any networks, they often are not fluent English speakers, they don’t have a driver’s license and they often don’t have their own bank account. It is heartbreaking to think that there is so much human suffering right here on campus, and that these individuals cannot get any services from the institution which brought them here.

TSD: What are your plans for the future?

ET: I see this as a specific, pragmatic issue that needs to be solved. If I meet with the Provost next week and she agrees to fund these services, I would find it very satisfying and would not feel the need to do anything else other than making these services accessible to the people who need them. If that doesn’t happen, I’ll look to a more community-involved route and try to inform more people of this issue. I think we need to get more of a community discussion going on the current state of affairs, especially on what we think is lacking, and how it needs to change.


Contact Veronica Kim at vkim70 ‘at’ stanford.edu.

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