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Marginalized communities face widespread discrimination at Stanford, DEI survey finds

May 30, 2022, 11:33 p.m.

After more than a year, Stanford released the qualitative results of its first campus-wide Diversity, Equity and Inclusion (DEI) survey on Thursday. The qualitative results revealed widespread discriminatory and harassing behaviors on campus affecting communities of color as well as non-binary and transgender individuals on campus. 

The survey, which was conducted in May 2021, asked questions about inclusion and belonging on campus and collected data about community members’ race, ethnicity and other identities. Around 15,000 students, postdoctoral scholars, faculty and staff members completed the survey, and about 7,000 provided qualitative responses, according to the report. The qualitative results mirror the quantitative data published in November, which also revealed widespread discrimination against minority groups.

“Hearing the voices of our community is both powerful and distressing,” Provost Persis Drell told the Stanford Report on Thursday. The provost commissioned the survey as part of the school’s ongoing Inclusion, Diversity, Equity and Access in a Learning Environment (IDEAL) initiative.

In total, 50% of Black respondents, 46% of American Indian or Alaska Native respondents and 42% of Native Hawaiian or Pacific Islander respondents reported finding one or more communities, groups or spaces on campus where they feel marginalized or excluded. 

“I have never felt as socially isolated, otherized or set apart because of my race as I have at Stanford,” one Black staff member wrote. “Here at Stanford, I feel as if my racial identity walks into the room before me and everything else is judged through that lens.”

A Hispanic graduate student wrote in the survey that despite their academic achievements, they question whether they made the right choice by coming to Stanford. They described Stanford as an “incredibly lonely place” and wrote that they are “happy to be leaving soon.”

Around 63% of Black respondents reported experiencing at least one microaggression, followed by 45% of American Indian or Alaska Native and 43% of Native Hawaiian or Pacific Islander community members, according to the survey results. 

“I am frequently harassed by police on campus,” a Black graduate student wrote in the survey. “People in lab buildings stop and question me at night, assuming I don’t belong.” 

The Black graduate student’s experience is reflective of a broader sense of differential treatment by campus police and security toward marginalized communities, according to the report. 

The DEI survey also found that women, transgender, non-binary and gender questioning individuals have experienced the highest levels of harassing behaviors. More than one in five women respondents and 46% of transgender respondents reported experiencing at least one harassing behavior in the last two years by someone associated with Stanford.

“If you are a man that brings money to the University, you can do whatever you want,” a woman faculty member responded in the survey. “I had such a man push his leg against mine under the table at one of my faculty interview dinners. I just let him do it, what could I do?”

An undergraduate student who identifies as first generation and low-income wrote about the demeaning experience she faces in Greek life: “Fraternity men recognize me as in a sorority and call me a cheap slut and offer to pay me to sleep with them.”

Despite the discriminatory and harassing behaviors directed toward marginalized communities, very few ultimately made a formal report to the University about these experiences, according to the report. 

Many respondents cited a fear of retaliation and a lack of accountability in Stanford’s disciplinary processes. In particular, respondents wrote that complaints are often not met with a meaningful response and action is only taken by University officials when under extreme pressure. 

“It’s also hard to hold my supervisor accountable if the response the faculty director gave me when I raised concerns is — ‘get thicker skin’ and ‘don’t be so sensitive,’” a woman staff member wrote. 

Respondents recommended a range of actions that the University should take to improve the campus environment, including increasing diversity across all populations, improving reporting and accountability and improving support for people from marginalized identities.

“We hope these accounts will serve as learning opportunities of what harmful behaviors look like, and the impact they have on members of our community so they can be avoided in the future,” said Vice Provost for Institutional Equity, Access and Community Patrick Dunkley in the Stanford Report article. “This information will also prove to be extremely valuable as we plot our course toward improvement.”

Cameron Ehsan is a junior at Stanford studying neurobiology. He served as a news editor and newsroom development director for Vol. 261 and was the Vol. 260 winter managing editor.

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