The results were grim; about 5 percent of undergraduate women reported an incident of sexual assault and 14 percent of all students, including 33 percent of female students, reported sexual misconduct of some sort, defined by Stanford as “acts of sexual touching without consent and some acts of clothing removal without consent.” Unacceptable.
These statistics are disheartening, but the discussions they started present opportunities for our community. Opportunities to foster a culture of consent, a culture that recognizes that consensual sex is sex. Opportunities to educate ourselves and each other on the importance of mutual respect and human decency. Opportunities to promote fairness toward the accused.
The discouragement of victim-blaming mindsets. The belief that individuals accused of sexual misconduct and assault deserve hearings that use evidence instead of emotions to adjudicate cases. The establishment of a campus culture that does not cast out members until all facts are known. The recognition that our institutions must balance other considerations of justice alongside a desire to help alleged victims.
Last year, Stanford took a meaningful step toward injecting fairness into sexual assault proceedings. The Provost’s Task Force on Sexual Assault Policies and Practices worked hard to create a proposal that addressed all parts of the issue, balancing the sometimes conflicting but equally important considerations of protecting victims and instituting due process. For example, the Task Force recommended that “the reviewing panel must be unanimous…where the sanction is expulsion.” The Task Force’s plan is a good one and, if Stanford’s administration implements it correctly, the University will strike a good balance that makes Stanford safe and fair for its students.
However, it will take more than the Task Force’s policy change to address Stanford’s sexual assault problem and promote fairness – it will take a change in the hearts and minds of our student body. We must protect victims, but not allow our emotional outrage to cloud our consideration of other important values like due process. We live in a society that embraces many values, and a campus cultural rush to protect alleged victims will trample on other values if we are not careful.
The Provost’s Task Force is a decent balancing act and our campus culture must reflect these values. A policy’s effectiveness on a campus starts with its students. We are in a unique position as one of the world’s most renowned universities: if our culture aligns with our policy and we make meaningful changes to both, we can set a national precedent for campus sexual assault policy.