Sexual assault policy is an important issue on every campus, but at Stanford, it has been a particularly contentious topic since last year’s Stand with Leah movement. The Provost’s Task Force on Sexual Assault released a highly-anticipated report that recommends new policies for handling these cases, the most notable of which is expulsion for students found guilty of sexual assault. This proposal was the outcome of a debate that began long before the Class of 2018 arrived on campus and was exposed to the controversy. Therefore, we sent out a survey to investigate freshmen’s knowledge and attitudes toward this issue since they have less exposure to it than other classes.
Some of the questions we asked included the following:
- On a scale of 1 to 5, how knowledgeable are you on Stanford’s sexual assault policies?
- What is the standard of proof for cases handled through Stanford’s Alternate Review process?
- True or False: Stanford is able to determine the standard of proof in sexual assault cases processed through its Alternate Review Process.
- Who is allowed to appeal a finding from an ARP panel?
- Should Stanford automatically expel people found guilty of sexual assault in the current Alternate Review Process?
- Sexual assault policy reform has been controversial around the United States. Some argue that universities need to do more to protect victims; others attack schools for allegedly weakening due process protections for students accused of assault. These goals often, but not always, conflict. How important is due process to you relative to other considerations within the context of sexual assault reform? (Scale of 1 to 5)
Questions 2 and 3 explored the standard of proof for sexual assault cases on college campuses. Until 2011, Stanford was one of the few schools requiring the victim to prove beyond a reasonable doubt that an accused student was guilty. In April 2011, The Department of Education’s Office of Civil Rights revamped Title IX regulations for sexual assault and imposed a “preponderance of the evidence”, the lowest standard available, as the standard of proof. New students are often ignorant of this important information.:
Given freshmen’s knowledge — or lack thereof — on the issue, our survey revealed some interesting insights into the Class of 2018’s opinions on sexual assault policy. 49% of females and 24% of males (the remainder didn’t have an opinion) believe Stanford should automatically expel those found guilty of sexual assault. This staggering difference in opinion by gender deserves deeper discussion as Stanford engages all members of the community in setting policy.
Freshmen that selected the correct standard of proof were significantly less likely to support mandatory expulsion: of the students who correctly answered that “preponderance of the evidence (third highest)” is the standard of proof, only 14% favored automatic expulsion. Comparatively, of those students who mistakenly believed that the standard of proof was “beyond a reasonable doubt (highest)”, 56% opted for automatic expulsion. This relationship suggests those with more accurate knowledge of Stanford’s sexual assault policy are likely to be wary of automatically expelling students who are found guilty.
Most freshmen rated due process very highly in importance (on a 1-5 scale, 41% rated it 4 and 31% rated it 5), yet a large portion of those in support of strong due process also supported automatic expulsion (40% of of those who answered 5 for due process, 24% of those who answered 4 for due process). This relationship can be explained if we accept the assumption that students would not support a harsh punishment unless they believed the underlying process is fair. Many freshmen have not yet been exposed to the heated debate surrounding sexual assault policies, although that is likely to change as the Provost’s proposal generates more conversation.
When interpreting this survey, there are two important thing to note. First, the sample size was relatively small; eighty out of 1,678 freshmen replied to the survey. Second, the results may be tainted by selection bias: those who opted to respond already have some interest and knowledge about the issue. Nevertheless, as freshmen will be at Stanford for three more years, this survey is an important first step to ensuring that Stanford’s newest students can participate in a years-old debate.
Overall, the results from this survey indicate that freshmen have a wide-range of attitudes toward Stanford’s sexual assault policy. The Provost’s Task Force presents a unique and much-needed opportunity to educate the campus on sexual assault. There is nothing wrong with a school having a wide range of opinions on sexual assault policy, but it is time for these opinions to be grounded in fact.