Stanford’s new Assistant Dean of Sexual Assault and Relationship Abuse, Angela Exson, fills a fresh role created by the University in the past year to better address issues of sexual assault.
“I have been working in the anti-violence movement for over a decade,” Exson said in a letter to the Review. “I was personally and professionally driven to assist those who are impacted by these issues.”
She first heard about the creation of a new office at Stanford focused on Sexual Assault issues during winter of last year, and it quickly caught her eye.
“In light of my extensive experience in advocacy, counseling, training, and policy reform – I felt confident that this was an excellent opportunity and that I could be a great asset to this institution,” she stated.
According to Exson, other people gave her “overwhelming validation” and she found the selection process enjoyable. She was impressed and enlightened by Stanford’s unique culture and previous efforts in addressing sexual harassment and relationship abuse.
One of Exson’s initial goals is to raise awareness of the Sexual Assault and Relationship Abuse (SARA) office and its role in campus response. She also wants to continue to “address the current policies and protocols and conduct outreach and education on campus and in the community.” She said that the office would engage in “ongoing” evaluations and monitoring to ensure its effectiveness.
“The key to our success will be in our ability to foster a safe learning and living environment by providing a consistent, comprehensive, and well-coordinated response to these cases,” she said.
Exson is entering her role after the release of new federal guidelines from the Assistant Secretary for Civil Rights. They urge universities to lower their burden of proof, which would proof allow the accused to be convicted with less evidence or surety than previously required.
Prior to this letter, Stanford had already lowered the burden of proof from “beyond a reasonable doubt” to a “preponderance of evidence” for sexual assault cases. Exson thinks these guidelines represent “an important shift in our understanding of sexual violence.”
But she enters her position at a time when the definition of preponderance of evidence is still being determined. “The goal is to implement changes in a manner that is sensitive, equitable, and just – supporting the needs and respecting the rights of students, while promoting community safety,” she wrote. SARA will be working with the Judicial affairs office in fully implementing Stanford’s new guidelines for determining the guilt of the accused.
“Although there may be some resistance and concerns, I think that it may be a nudge in the right direction to steer us all towards thinking more creatively and engaging in dialogue,” she stated. “Reviews and amendments of the procedures will continue to function in the interests of promoting a fair and responsible approach in the adjudication of these cases,” Exson said.
“I have witnessed how difficult and intimidating the processes that follow disclosures of sexual and relationship violence can be,” she continued, “I hope that this office and our collaborators will be useful to alleviate some of the challenges and facilitate a response that is more empowering and affirming.”
Exson believes it is important for the office to communicate an image and message that focuses on “equality, mutual respect, and positive intent.”
“We are here to provide a safe place where the Stanford community can seek resources and support and become involved in efforts to make a difference on this campus and beyond,” she concluded.