I stand with Chanel Miller: A survivor’s take on Stanford’s failure to support victims of sexual assault

Opinion by Sabrina Medler
Sept. 23, 2019, 10:06 p.m.

Exactly three years ago I started at Stanford. Still on that NSO high of fountain hopping and Band Run, I was beaming with Stanford pride, much like many of the dorm-t-shirt-lanyard-wearing freshmen I’ve seen the last few days. But despite the for-the-most-part successful attempts of the administration to make me feel welcome and included as a freshman, there was still something gnawing at the back of my mind that didn’t quite fit with this cookie-cutter image of Stanford: How would I thrive at a university that treated “Emily Doe” so poorly?

The news of Brock Turner’s sexual assault of “Emily Doe,” who has now publicly come forward as Chanel Miller, garnered national attention June 3, 2016 when Miller’s victim statement was published. I was picking out my frosh dorm room comforter when I saw the headline: “Stanford swimmer sentenced to six months jail for sexual assault. Read the victim’s letter to her attacker.” 

I’d been sexually assaulted not long before this news broke. I was confused and ashamed and I didn’t know how to articulate these really intense emotions. And so, without the tools or language to express my trauma, my solution was to push all of these feelings down and get excited about college — but it’s kind of tricky to do that when your university is at the center of a nationwide debate about sexual assault. An issue that I wanted to completely forget about seemed to come up every time I mentioned where I was going to college around my hometown. “Hopefully Brock Turner won’t be in your dorm,” I remember one of my high school classmates joking. After being reminded of sexual violence left and right, I begrudgingly decided to start addressing my own trauma that had been bubbling for months by finally reading Miller’s statement

But when I read Chanel Miller’s words, I was strangely at peace. Her words were the first that I felt like I identified with. It was as though she articulated everything that I hadn’t figured out how to process. I came to realize what had happened to me in a way that I didn’t understand before, and I, like many others, felt a connection to her story. In the months leading up to Stanford I felt more empowered, but less and less excited about coming to an institution that had so greatly failed a girl not so different from myself. “Emily Doe” was anonymous at the time, but I saw myself in her. 

NSO helped give me that hefty dose of school spirit, but when the balloons came down and the rally costumes came off, I couldn’t help but notice the University’s hypocrisy. Ever since, I’ve only come to learn more about Stanford’s disappointing treatment of sexual assault survivors. For starters, the University refuses to admit the issue of sexual assault on campus — past Stanford press releases have promoted a dangerously low incidence (2 percent of the student body) of sexual assault. Even more, once students are assaulted, their pathways to justice are undermined by a complicated and rarely consequential Title IX process. 

In addition, Stanford has refused to do justice to Chanel Miller’s case during my time here. The site of Miller’s assault was re-landscaped into a contemplative garden in 2018. Stanford promised her it would install a plaque at the site with a quote of her choosing from her victim impact statement. However, the University rejected the chosen quotes and proposed alternative quotes that provoked controversy, including “I’m okay, everything’s okay.” As a survivor who has visited Miller’s garden many times during my low points at Stanford, these words are an insult. 

While Stanford University has taken many positive steps to address sexual assault on our campus, it has too often failed to follow through in its promises to support survivors of sexual assault. It is time for the university to uphold its commitment to both Chanel Miller and the Stanford community in the fight against sexual violence. We must ensure that no survivor is silenced on our campus.

Chanel Miller and I have never met, but her story has run parallel with mine in many ways in the last three years. When I was a confused freshman, she comforted me. When I was an angry sophomore navigating the University’s flaws, she motivated me. When I was a healing junior still attending to my scars, she offered clarity. And now that I’m starting my senior year at the same time as she releases her book, she inspires me. 

When Chanel Miller announced her identity last month I was brought to tears — not tears of sadness like three years ago when I read her victim statement. No, these were tears of gratitude. I owe so much of my strength to hers, and to the strength of all survivors. And so, as she finally gets to take back her story today, I will begin to take back mine. 

To support Miller and survivors, you can buy her book “Know My Name” now, and sign this petition asking that Stanford: 

  1. Publicly acknowledge and apologize for not upholding their agreement to use a quote chosen by Chanel Miller. 
  2. Immediately install the memorial plaque with the quote originally chosen by the survivor.

In addition, you can attend an augmented reality experience at the site of Miller’s assault on Friday, Sept. 27 from 1-4 p.m. that puts Chanel Miller’s words on a plaque in the garden, centering her voice in the space as was originally intended.

Words matter greatly, and it’s time we listen to survivors’.

Contact Sabrina Medler at smedler ‘at’ stanford.edu.

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