Opinion | Stanford’s security measures are not enough

The University’s most recent email shows they still are missing the point about effective action against sexual violence

Opinion by Joyce Chen
Oct. 12, 2022, 12:43 a.m.

In response to community outrage and news coverage of the reported assault over the weekend, Stanford sent out another email entitled “Campus security.” Its contents were insufficient and left me with more questions than before. If Stanford truly cares about the safety of our community, the university owes us answers, now.

First, note that Stanford doesn’t promise to execute the basic security measures the email mentions (“outdoor lighting, keycard access to buildings, security staffing, our blue emergency tower system”). Instead, they pledge to do “additional work to assess where other enhancements in [their] infrastructure or security protocols would be useful.”

What does “additional work” actually mean? Treat our concerns seriously, Stanford. Tell us the concrete steps you are taking. Pledge measurable changes with delivery dates.

We are told that “a cross-functional group of university leaders takes the lead on this work.” Are survivors, activists and sexual violence experts included in this “cross-functional group”? What “functions” comprise this group? Again, what measurable work? Creating a committee is not action.

On “outdoor lighting”: why is it that I bike home through patches of near-total darkness? I can’t even see my bike lock when I’m parking at night. Why is it that Scary Path, an unlit route on campus notorious among female students, was only replaced after two years of constant student advocacy and external media coverage?

On “keycard access to buildings”: why do I not need my student ID to enter any of my classrooms or buildings this quarter, apart from my dorm?

On “blue emergency towers”: why can I recall seeing blue towers in at least two locations wrapped haphazardly with yellow tape?

Generations of activists at Stanford have already identified where the university “can make useful improvements.” We don’t just want “safety features” to be “continually reviewed.” We want visible change right now. 

Second, Stanford has “temporarily expand[ed] the presence of security staff on the Stanford campus.” This is one change I have actually witnessed over the past two days; however, I’m not convinced that it’s a positive one. The email itself alludes to the “concern” and “anxiety” this change may cause some students, due to the harmful ways in which security staffing and surveillance cameras have disproportionately harmed people of color.

Besides these concerns, I mostly welcome the physical security measures that Stanford plans to implement if the university will legitimately deliver. These measures will undoubtedly help some students feel safer on campus.

But Stanford’s claim that this security is “intended to help deter any criminal activity” completely mischaracterizes the nature of sexual violence on our campus. The entire email’s sole focus on physical security measures misses the point.

Here are the facts:

Eighty-one percent of rapes perpetrated against Stanford undergraduate women took place in a university dorm, fraternity house, sorority house or other residential housing.

Eighty-six percent of all Stanford men and 85% of all Stanford women reported that the nonconsensual sexual contact they experienced at Stanford was perpetrated by a Stanford student, alumni or other person associated with Stanford.

Eighty-one percent of Stanford men and women knew or recognized the person who had non-consensually sexually contacted them.

These numbers are not explicable by deficiencies in physical security. Therefore, they cannot be addressed by increasing physical security measures. Since the majority of these crimes happen indoors, out of patrolling police officers’ sight, a stronger police presence can’t meaningfully deter sexual violence.

The numbers also cannot be primarily explained by Stanford students being sexist, entitled, racist or a variety of other socioeconomic factors that contribute to sexual violence — for reference, we can compare the overall rate of nonconsensual sexual contact at peer institutions: 49.2% at Harvard and 44.1% at MIT, compared to Stanford’s 60.8%.

To be blunt, sexual abusers at Stanford have reason to think they can get away with it. To get to the root of this issue, Stanford must:

  1. Punish those it finds guilty of sexual assault — and I don’t mean a two-or-three-quarter suspension. Consulting with sexual violence experts would help Stanford implement punishments that are more effective against re-offense and less traumatizing for victims.
  2. Provide comprehensive services for victims. Fund the Confidential Support Team. Not break promises about providing comprehensive services for victims.
  3. Invest in evidence-based programs to help prevent sexual violence, including comprehensive consent education that is not just clicking through video trainings, which clearly serve more to limit the university’s liability than to actually educate students.

To all the students, workers, faculty, parents and alumni of Stanford: 

Please do not forget your shock. Please do not forget your anger that this is allowed to happen on our campus. Please do not forget all the survivors on our campus who suffer every day from Stanford’s negligence. Please do not forget the fear that we feel.

This is not the first time we have been betrayed by Stanford’s inaction. It will not be the last — unless we refuse to move on.

Unfortunately, data for transgender/genderqueer/gender nonconforming students was not included in the referenced sections of the AAU report.

Joyce Chen ‘25 is a managing editor for the Opinions section for Vol. 262. Contact her at opinions ‘at’ stanforddaily.com.

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