Title IX advocates raise concerns about new alcohol policy

Sept. 22, 2021, 12:11 a.m.

Stanford is facing continued criticism from survivor advocates over its revised alcohol and drug policy, which they worry will chill sexual assault reporting and harm survivors. 

Advocates protested the policy at Sunday’s sophomore convocation, urging administrators to ensure that those who report sexual assaults that occurred in situations involving underage drinking would not face disciplinary action. Resident Assistants (RAs) also went on strike in early September and included a revision of the new alcohol and drug policy in their demands. 

The new policy, which requires the reporting of underage drinking, is a major shift from Stanford’s unofficial “open door” policy, which essentially shielded underage students from being reported for alcohol consumption if they left their doors open when drinking and informed their RAs beforehand. 

The policy currently states that victims and witnesses will not face disciplinary action if they report a sexual violence incident involving underage drinking. While this section was not included in the initial policy, the University made the addition following communication with advocates. 

“The prevention of sexual violence is of utmost importance to the University, and nothing in the alcohol and other drugs policy is intended to chill victims’ willingness to seek help or report such matters,” University spokesperson Pat Harris wrote in a statement to The Daily.

Still, advocates said that the change is insufficient to protect survivors.

Co-Directors of the Associated Students of Stanford University (ASSU) Committee for Sexual Violence Kirsten Mettler ‘23, Sofia Scarlat ‘24 and Ari Gabriel ‘23 are calling for additional revisions to the new policy. Mettler and Gabriel are also members of The Daily’s staff.

The co-directors are urging the administration to include a footnote stating that if a sexual assault victim reports an assault, any ongoing alcohol violation processes related to them will be halted and any negative consequences from completed processes be rescinded. According to the co-directors, this addition would affirm that “the University’s priority is the survivor’s safety, not shaming and punishing them for their substance use.”

Stanford law professor Michele Dauber also expressed support for the footnote, writing in a statement to The Daily that the addition would protect survivors who may have experienced consequences for alcohol or drug usage prior to reporting their assault. 

“Since we know that many if not most victims do not immediately report sexual assault, a victim might have already experienced consequences under the alcohol policy prior to reporting the assault,” Dauber wrote. “I felt such consequences should be retroactively removed from any student record.”

Mettler, Scarlat and Gabriel told The Daily that Vice Provost for Institutional Equity Access and Community Patrick Dunkley agreed to add the footnote in a Zoom meeting on Sept. 14. However, the University has not yet added the footnote and did not immediately respond to The Daily’s request for comment regarding when the footnote will be added.

Dauber also expressed additional concerns over the way in which the new policy was created. 

“​​In my view, many, if not most, of Stanford’s policies are a confusing hash of poorly drafted, vague, sloppy internally contradictory provisions and this is just one more example — in this case one that will harm survivors, ” Dauber wrote. 

Dauber previously raised concerns about Section E(3) of the new policy, which focuses on the “Good Samaritans” clause and is partly intended to encourage community members to support their peers by seeking out medical treatment and support on their behalf. Section E(3) initially stated that “The Good Samaritan provisions of this policy do not preclude disciplinary action regarding other violations of University standards” — including sexual misconduct or abuse — “but may be considered a mitigating factor in any disciplinary action.” 

In an email exchange with Dunkley, Dauber wrote that in the initial policy, “a rapist or abuser could receive mitigation of consequences if they sought medical attention for their victim’s intoxication,” and requested that the language be removed. The policy was subsequently updated to reflect this concern. It now states that “no such mitigation will be available in cases involving sexual violence.”

While advocates’ efforts to include the footnote related to sexual violence are underway, Mettler, Scarlat and Gabriel said that in general, the new policy wrongly punishes and shames substance abuse. 

“We urge the university to reconsider this policy in its entirety and to listen to input of survivors, RAs and mental health professionals in these discussions,” they said.

Victoria Hsieh '24 is a Desk Editor for the Business and Technology Desk looking to major in Computer Science and minor in Political Science. She is from Seattle and thereby a caffeine and hiking fanatic. Contact The Daily’s News section at news ‘at’ stanforddaily.com.Kathryn Zheng ’24 is from New Jersey. She is majoring in Economics and currently writes for Arts and Life as a columnist under the Culture desk.

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