Why Stanford’s move from Callisto needs to be addressed

Opinion by Ellie Utter
April 19, 2020, 10:58 p.m.

Content warning: sexual assault

A few days ago, I opened up my inbox and casually scrolled through the inundation of messages relating to support in the time of COVID-19. I soon was gripped with the announcement that the Callisto contract was set to expire without any plans for replacement or renewal. I wasn’t sure I read it right; I read it a few more times over. I went through feelings of disbelief, fear and sadness. After pressing University leadership for more information, I am left with anger. This is not the first time I have felt let down by the lack of transparency and communication from those making decisions for our student body, but this is a time where the clear and correct response is easily within our grasp, and something I implore the administration prioritizes.

Since my first year at Stanford, I have sought out roles that allowed me to support and care for other students. I started off as a Bridge counselor, serving as a residential staff member for two years. 

In one of my first shifts at the Bridge, I had my first counsel. The person was calling about their experience with sexual assault. I wrapped the phone cord tightly around my pinky and listened intently.

My sophomore year, my friend sat across a long wooden table in the kitchen from me and shared her experience with sexual assault. I swirled the tea bag around the mug, holding back my own tears, angry at myself for not keeping it together for her.

Junior year, I heard the words land time and time again. The people were different, the experiences were different, the feelings were different, but fear and uncertainty about how to move forward remained a constant.

I can’t remember when exactly I was first introduced to Callisto, but I do remember the first time that I sat on my small white couch, rubbing circles in my friend’s back as they filled out an entry. I held my breath, as if somewhere deep inside I hoped that submitting the record would release all of the pressure. I was naive to think that. Yet, Callisto still held power. Callisto is a platform designed to detect repeat perpetrators by empowering students to create a record of their experiences while still protecting their identities. If multiple anonymous individuals create records of experiences involving the same perpetrator, Callisto notifies them. Through this process, students have agency in how and when they want to report, if they so choose. In allowing individuals to securely report incidences and perpetrators on campus, there was a sense of connection in the community, as if all of us were able to carry a small part of that weight together. 

I remember when I filled out the record for myself. My hands shook, I couldn’t see through the guilt and the feeling that it was my own fault, that it wasn’t worth reporting. But upon submitting, I felt even more engaged and capable, as though a safety net were there to protect me or anyone else who needed it.

As a student staff member, I advocated for this resource time and time again. It was the community on campus being able to protect and stand up for one another.

Seeing the email about the end of Callisto made my mind race. I thought about all of the people who painstakingly recorded details of an experience they wanted to forget and I thought about the perpetrators who could now get away with their actions.

In the following hours, messages trickled in from friends and past residents, asking what the announcement meant and what happens next. I was at a loss for words. I was scared and angry for my community. The Associated Students of Stanford University (ASSU) soon sent an update to its initial message, noting how it found out the Callisto contract is in an undecided flux.

I reached out and was met with the most remarkable and empowering ASSU Sexual Violence Prevention Team, which provided more context for the situation. I can’t thank the team enough, as its members were the ones who saw the change in the contract and saw the urgency in allowing the rest of the student body to know. To know there are students as passionate and ready to advocate and communicate to the rest of us is something we should all be grateful for.

I am asking the University administration to take a moment to consider the toll this took on members of the student body. Yes, Callisto is the one that ended the contract with Stanford. But, this was not the potential loss of a resource for just any department — this was the loss of a tool that allowed the student body to take necessary strides in stopping sexual violence. This was a platform that amplified and protected student voices, one that was deeply tied with individual lives and difficult stories. For the administration to not communicate this potential cancellation, for it to expect this wouldn’t be a disruption, is a disturbing and apathetic oversight.

In writing this, I simply ask for transparency. If Stanford is able to renew the contract with Callisto, students deserve to be in the know in a timely manner. If Stanford has no choice but to move away from Callisto, students deserve to be informed of what will take its place. Callisto allowed for students to report on their own terms and flagged repeat perpetrators in a way that protected those who were reporting, something that is not offered by other services on campus. If our resources are being removed, let us be part of the conversation. 

After people bravely share their experiences of sexual violence, it never gets easier to hear or to respond, it just creates a greater weight in my heart for how there is a major blindspot in our University’s vision. What makes it easier is feeling the scaffolding of resources like Callisto, to give students the tools and agency to make a change on this campus.

No, Callisto wasn’t a perfect resource and wasn’t for everyone. But this isn’t a perfect world. In times of so much uncertainty and fear as a campus, we deserve a level of transparency in the decisions that affect us most. 

Contact Ellie Utter at uttere ‘at’ stanford.edu.

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