County dodges launching review of schools’ sexual violence policies, dozens of Stanford affiliates speak out

Sept. 22, 2020, 9:38 p.m.

Dozens of Stanford students, faculty and alumni called on Santa Clara County to conduct a review of educational institutions’ sexual violence policies at the county’s board of supervisors meeting on Tuesday night. The board voted instead to have county offices take the next two months to determine the scope of what such a review would look like, rather than begin the review.

The referral to the board, had it passed, would have recommended that county offices review K-12 and post-secondary institutions’ compliance with statutes relevant to sexual violence policies, like Title IX and the Clery Act, along with uniformity and enforcement. 

All speakers — about 45 in total — spoke in favor of the referral, over the course of one and a half hours of public comment. Activist and Stanford law professor Michele Dauber called the meeting “historic,” noting that she was not aware of a “survivor speak-out” at a governmental meeting like this before.

According to a letter from Senior Associate Vice Provost for Institutional Equity and Access Lauren Schoenthaler to the board of supervisors before the meeting, Stanford is “glad to work with the county” to provide information on its policies and processes. 

Stanford affiliates raised concerns that the University’s sexual violence policies discouraged reporting and were created without taking student input into account: “Stanford’s policies target survivors, rather than perpetrators,” multiple speakers said.

Multiple students reported that they had been assaulted or knew students who had been assaulted that chose not to report the assaults because they didn’t believe that their experiences would be adequately addressed.

“I can name more friends who are survivors than friends who are not,” said one Stanford student, referring to friends who have survived a combination of sexual harassment, assault and abuse. “I watched friends struggle with depression and anxiety as a result of their experiences, and many of them have not spoken up because of the deep lack of trust in the University.”

Speakers emphasized that they did not expect change at Stanford without an independent review. Dauber said any county audit should be “truly independent” and involve direct communication with students, not just administrators.

Schoenthaler wrote in her letter that the University takes seriously its responsibility to prevent, respond and investigate sexual violence.

“We are working to prevent sexual violence in our community, provide compassionate and professional support to survivors, administer fair and effective adjudication processes for everyone and that these processes are easily understandable and lead to timely resolution,” she wrote.

While all supervisors lauded survivors and other advocates for speaking out at the meeting, Supervisors Susan Ellenberg, Mike Wasserman and Joe Simitian M.A. ’00, who represents Stanford, argued against starting the review now, raising concerns that it needed to be further fleshed out before being implemented.

Supervisor Dave Cortese, who introduced the referral, said action could not wait: “After what we’ve heard, I can’t imagine delaying at all,” he said before the vote. “Every 60-day delay is potentially someone else that gets hurt.”

While Cortese and Supervisor Cindy Chavez were in favor of beginning the review, Ellenberg motioned instead to take two months to determine the scope of a potential review first. Ellenburg, Wasserman and Simitian voted in favor of Ellenberg’s motion, while Cortese and Chavez voted against it.

Dauber said the vote was a “shocking display of disregard” for survivors in the county, adding that the vote could discourage and demoralize survivors who had spoken up. 

“I am in awe of the bravery of Stanford and other students in speaking out,” she said. “Even though we lost, we told the truth. And all of you can be proud of that.”

Kate Selig served as the Vol. 260 editor in chief. Contact her at kselig 'at'

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