AR app lets users see, hear Chanel Miller quotes Stanford rejected at site of her assault

Sept. 28, 2019, 12:12 a.m.

The augmented reality (AR) app “Dear Visitor” was debuted by Hope Schroeder ’19, Kyle Qian ’17 M.A. ’19 and Khoi Le ’20 on Friday, allowing users to view and listen to quotes from sexual assault survivor Chanel Miller and other activists at the site where she was assaulted in 2015. 

The project’s arrival comes amid renewed calls for Stanford to place a quote selected by Miller on a plaque at the site.

“With no physical demarcation, this site can be ignored and abused,” Schroeder told The Daily. “We’ve come here and seen beer cans, Juul pods; we’ve overheard stories about this space being abused by people peeling off a frat party or house party. And we strongly believe that wouldn’t be the case if a plaque was there.”

Miller removed herself from efforts to place a plaque in Jan. 2018, after Stanford rejected the quotes she had proposed for the plaque. Provost Persis Drell later revealed the rejected quotes in a “Notes from the Quad” blog post, citing concerns that they would be triggering to other survivors based on consultation “with sexual violence counselors and others who work with Stanford students who are survivors of sexual assault.” 

“Dear Visitor” includes quotes from former Associated Students of Stanford University (ASSU) President Shanta Katipamula ’19 M.S. ’20 and former Stanford in Government Chair Alexis Kallen ’18, among others. Some of the quotes are from anonymous sources, including one who recalled hearing students discuss sexual conquests in the garden. Quotes from Miller are taken from her recently televised interview with “60 Minutes.”

Also on “60 Minutes,” Miller read aloud one of the quotes Stanford had rejected: “You took away my worth, my privacy, my energy, my time, my safety, my intimacy, my confidence, my own voice, until today.”

Friday’s event took place at the site of the 2015 assault outside of 664 Lomita Dr., which housed the Kappa Alpha fraternity until it lost its housing privileges this year. In the wake of the assault, Stanford replaced dumpsters at the site with a fountain, garden and benches. 

Miller released a memoir about her life after the assault on Tuesday. A solidarity protest was held in White Plaza that day, with students signing a petition requesting that Stanford display a quote of Miller’s choosing on a plaque in the garden. Miller had been known publicly as “Emily Doe” until she revealed her identity earlier this month. 

After the AR experience, attendees were invited to write letters for future users of the app and visitors of the garden. Event attendee Jasmine Rodriguez ’22 said the experience was moving.

“I think one of the more powerful letters was a girl who had been working on sexual assault prevention and sexual assault awareness at Stanford for the entirety of her college career,” Rodriguez said. “Her letter was her just still expressing frustration that she had poured so much of her energy into something but she felt it was her and her small organization against the big University. It was upsetting to read.”

Angela He ’21, a programmer who helped develop the app’s early user interface, expressed pride and happiness in how it turned out.

“It’s been really awesome to see a space dedicated to Chanel finally come together in a way that has her words and not just the official Stanford establishment setup,” she said. “The part where we stood around and read Chanel Miller quotes is something really special, to listen and make her voice heard. I am glad to be a part of it.”

The early stages of “Dear Visitor” were funded by the Magic Grant from the Brown Institute for Media Innovation. The application is expected to be released on the App Store in the near future.

Friday’s event ran from 1 to 6 p.m., with a ticketed demo session until 4 p.m. and an open demo session afterward. At the start of the open session, event attendees gathered in a circle to read passages from Miller’s victim impact statement, including the quotes proposed by Miller and rejected by Stanford. 

Le pushed back on the University’s rationale for rejecting Miller’s proposed quotes. Further, he said, the absence of a plaque leads the garden’s visitors to miss its true purpose.

“Without a plaque the garden is really just cosmetic,” he told The Daily. “It’s a bandage over an ugly scar that Stanford doesn’t want people to see.” 

While the AR project was approved by both Miller and Stanford, Schroeder said, there is more to be done by the University.

“The administration saw this project and said they liked it,” Schroeder said. “But we don’t see this as a stand-in for the need for Stanford themselves to honor the promise they made to Chanel Miller by putting a physical plaque at that site.”

In addition to calling for a plaque with Miller’s choice of quote, student activists said they hope the University will take more general steps toward sexual assault prevention, such as putting more lights near high-traffic areas for students walking late at night.

Contact Leily Rezvani at lrezvani ‘at’ and Cooper Veit at cveit ‘at’

Leily Rezvani is the managing editor of podcasts and a desk editor of news. She is a sophomore majoring in Symbolic Systems in hopes of better understanding the intersection between technology and the humanities. Leily has interned for National Public Radio, Google Arts and Culture, the United Nations Association, and the U.S. Chamber of Commerce. Contact Leily at lrezvani ‘at’ Veit '22 is an opinions writer and amateur Steinbeck scholar from San Francisco. Talk to him about the work and life of John Steinbeck, and contact him at cveit 'at'

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