Widgets Magazine

Recent student initiatives aim to improve sexual assault prevention

Over the past few years, a diverse array of student organizations has sought to combat sexual assault on campus. Those organizations’ initiatives have included workshops, conferences, student groups and collaboration with the administration — all of which tackle different aspects of the issue, including efforts in education and prevention, data transparency and University accountability and adjudication.


Education and prevention

The Undergraduate Senate and Graduate Student Council (GSC) have spearheaded efforts to expand sexual assault educational measures over the past year, including extending mandatory online education to graduate students. Last year, former GSC Financial Officer Sam Bydlon Ph.D. ’17 and 2015-16 GSC co-chair Gabriel Rodriguez ’14 Ph.D. ’16 co-authored a proposal to fortify sexual assault prevention by mandating online training for graduate students and in-person training sessions for undergraduates, among other measures.

The Senate and GSC voted unanimously in favor of the plan, which was later used to formulate a similar proposal passed by the Faculty Senate.

“We really wanted to get students having to interact,” Bydlon said. “At least, that’s what the professionals think is one of the best ways to augment prevention education at Stanford.”

Reaching beyond the scope of University requirements, student organizations have also created their own platforms for sexual assault awareness and education. The Violence Intervention & Prevention (VIP) initiative, piloted in 2015, trains fraternity and sorority chapter representatives over the course of two quarters. Some Greek organizations, including Chi Omega, partnered with the One Love Foundation to present the Escalation Workshop, which used films and directed discussions to raise awareness of relationship abuse.

In addition to minimizing risk through education, prevention efforts have targeted vulnerable areas of Stanford campus. Specifically, students expressed concern about the colloquially named “Scary Path,” an unofficial, unlit dirt path extending from lake houses such as Kappa Alpha to Lomita Row. After over a year of concerted effort, the Knoll Path working groupa collection of students, faculty and policeapproved plans for an alternate path that will be constructed this spring.


Data transparency

One of the most contentious aspects of Stanford’s approach to sexual assault cases last year was data collection and transparency. Law professor Michele Dauber has long been an advocate for sexual assault reform measures at Stanford, particularly regarding data analysis.

The single most important thing that any college or university can do is to have a higher degree of data transparency and availability,” Dauber said.

She proposed a single, uniform climate survey and requirements for schools to disclose aggregate data as fundamental ways to improve transparency.

The Association of Students for Sexual Assault Prevention (ASAP), founded by students who participated in Dauber’s 2015 Sophomore College course on sexual assault, has frequently called attention to a lack of data transparency. Last year, ASAP criticized the Campus Climate Survey, which collected data about the prevalence of sexual assault at Stanford, for the survey’s methods of quantifying sexual assault in terms of question phrasing and data representation.

“I think the reason why ASAP is so valuable for the Stanford community is that we go beyond that initial educational step,” said ASAP co-founder Stephanie Pham ’18. “We talk about the information that Stanford doesn’t want to discuss.”  

ASAP believes that the techniques used to analyze the data, in addition to the questions themselves, were employed to portray Stanford in a positive light.

One of the commonly cited issues with the climate survey was that it was not nationally adopted, and therefore not directly comparable with other universities. ASAP suggested that other optionssuch as the survey conducted by the Association of American Universities (AAU), which many of Stanford’s peer schools usecould be used in the future to evaluate the sexual assault situation at Stanford in a national context.

Some, however, do not agree with ASAP’s criticisms. Bydlon said he weighed arguments from both Dauber and the administration and concluded that the Campus Climate Survey provided sufficiently clear questions and reliably publicized data.

The GSC and Senate have also tackled the obstacle of data transparency, with a focus on Stanford’s definition of sexual assault.

Bydlon’s proposal from last year recommended broadening Stanford’s definitions of sexual assault, misconduct and relationship violenceterms which had been more narrowly defined in the past at Stanford than at other universities. Bydlon emphasized that expanding definitions not only aids data collection, but fundamentally benefits survivors.

According to Bydlon, although Stanford takes cases of sexual misconduct seriously, “for many people, [misconduct] doesn’t convey seriousness.”

Bydlon helped create a joint sub-committee between the GSC and Undergraduate Senate, which this year is working on implementing Callisto, an online system intended to facilitate sexual assault reporting.


University accountability and adjudication

Matthew Baiza ’18, another co-founder of ASAP, characterized ASAP’s actions last year as primarily reactions to campus controversy. For instance, ASAP created a petition for Stanford to implement measures to support the survivor in the Brock Turner rape case, garnering over 160,000 signatures last year.  

Pham and Baiza emphasized the importance of holding the University accountable for its actions. Pham said that the administration has made progress, as evidenced by the increased number assault reports, reflecting a greater trust between survivors and the administration’s handling of cases. She also applauded the administration’s support for educational efforts.

However, Pham was concerned that some University measures may indicate a focus on image rather than concrete change. She cited the hard alcohol ban enacted at the beginning of the 2016-17 academic year as an example.

“It seemed like a way for Stanford to protect its image,” Pham said. “It seemed like it was just to show that Stanford was doing something to combat sexual assault. Was it an effective way? Absolutely not. It probably will make it worse by driving drinking behind closed doors.”

While some groups have criticized administrative measures for being opaque, Claudia McKenzie ’18, Stanford Women’s Coalition president and a student representative on the Sexual Assault Advisory Committee, pointed out that the Committee actively solicits student contributions. The collection of students, faculty members and staff hosts town hall meetings and seeks online input to help formulate its recommendations for the University.


Integrating approaches

The diversity of student approaches to combating sexual assault has raised concerns about campus incoherence. According to Baiza, student groups’ leaders often know each other, but they do not necessarily collaborate on unified efforts.

The FEARLESS Conference, a collection of workshops and speaker events, attempts to address this decentralization. FEARLESS was first organized at Stanford last year as a way to highlight survivor voices and bring together diverse perspectives on sexual assault initiatives.

“We’re trying to strike a balance between making sure that advanced activists can get something from the conference, but also that it can be a starting point for people who don’t have that much background,” said Madeleine Lippey ’18, founder of FEARLESS at Stanford.

Lippey explained that the first conference last year largely featured students in Greek life and did not draw from a particularly diverse segment of the student population. Partly in response to this limitation, FEARLESS plans to host an activities fair to facilitate cross-campus collaboration this year instead of a conference.

Other integration efforts included a workshop hosted last year by the Women’s Coalition, the Office of Sexual Assault & Relationship Abuse Education & Response (SARA) and the Senate to foster dialogue between different student initiatives. Participants included representatives from SARA, the Stanford Sexual Health Peer Resource Center (SHPRC) and the VIP program, among other organizations.

Despite efforts to collaborate, cohesion among groups remains a challenge. Pham and Lippey cited concerns that divergent efforts have weakened student potential to enact tangible change.

Pham explained that this diversity in efforts stems from the nature of sexual assault itself.

“It hits you in a very emotional way, and it’s very difficult to translate emotion and personal emotion into something structured and cohesive and perfectly aligned,” she said.

Pham also said that the lack of unity allows the movement to permeate more communities within the University, even if it may seem divisive on the surface.

“That’s why the movement has become so powerful,” Pham said. “Everyone has interpreted it in their own unique way, and afforded their own unique experiences and their own opinions.”


Contact Claudia Heymach at cheymach ‘at’ stanford.edu and Adithi Iyer at adithii ‘at’ stanford.edu.


  • Joe Citizen

    FIrst off, I can tell them how to greatly reduce sexual assault on campus, it’s not secret, and never has been – women, don’t get drunk around men who are strangers – and don’t even get drunk around one man you feel is not a stranger, if he’s shown an interest, even a very passive interest in you.
    Next, dont’ get into excessive drinking for the first few dates – and if the man gets too buzzed, leave, go home – until you know him well you don’t know how he acts when drunk. Sometimes you have a Jekyll and Hyde personality.

    Now, about the so-called “Brock Turner SURVIVOR” – there is really no solid reason to think she did not consent to sex, pass out before the sex was done, and then Turner rubbed against her to satisfy himself – not exactly admirable behavior but get a grip – it was not a rape, and probably nothing except the rubbing was not totally voluntarily on Emily Doe’s part – maybe even that – we don’t know if he started that before she passed out – IF she passed out at all – it’s always possible she faked that.

    She had very strong reasons to lie about having amnesia – a boyfriend at a very prestigious grad school who might have disapproved of her going to frat parties with people five years young and picking up random freshmen – read the entire case file, ntot the lies in the press, and see that this scenario, while certainly not proven, is totally plausible, TOTALLY PLAUSIBLE – which means conviction beyond a reasonable doubt was wrong, but the liberal Palo Alto jury did as they were told by a dishonest prosecutor.

  • undisclosed

    Joe–The charges that Brock Turner raped the girl were dropped, but the charges that he sexually assaulted her were (rightfully) not. Even by your own definition – Brock “rubbing” against a non consenting person – Turner committed sexual assault, so I’m not sure how this “totally plausible” explanation should get him off the hook. For the record, I have read the entire case file. As to the passing out, she was monitored in the hospital where she woke up hours later (as if the staff wouldn’t notice she got up sooner?) and her BAC was a .22 or above, plus a paramedic said she wasn’t responsive to shaking/shouting. Unless everyone – the paramedics, the sheriff, the hospital staff, the two men who intervened, etc. – was fooled by her ‘faking’ despite the fact many of these individuals are trailed to specifically spot such behavior it seems incredibly unlikely (beyond a reasonable doubt) that she wasn’t passed out.

    Now, to the rest of your comments – when individuals like you give garbage advice like “dress more conservatively” or “drink less,” do you really think about what you’re saying? What you’re really saying is, “You should drink less so some OTHER woman gets raped” (unless you believe a desirable end-goal is one in which 0 women drink, and that this somehow brings the rape rate to 0) which carries the implication that “it’s her fault for being raped, why didn’t she drink less?”

    I find it funny that so many people who are anti-punishing rapists and individuals who have committed sexual assault believe that punishment deters crime. You cannot hold both of these beliefs without impressive mental gymnastics (because if you believe punishment reduces crime, why not punish rapists etc. so that they’re deterred?), or else you would reach the conclusion that punishing rapists = good.

  • Joe Citizen

    Well, you are attributing beliefs and statements to me that I did not make.
    “Dress more conservatively” – NO, I did not say that. I am sure there are plenty of women who want to be a bit exhibitionistic who go around dressed, truly, (I am old enough to remember) like street whores – they get a thrill out of it – , but, totally sober, aware of their surroundings, are not in much danger.
    What I said was don’t get drunk around men who are strangers, or even not strangers if there is any chance they are hoping for something. Totally different. If you can’t see the difference you are kind of hopeless. The tease that dresses like a whore would certainly put herself in higher danger in a bad environment, of if intoxicated, or alone. But not at some Ivy League party or mixer, where the ratio of being noticed by desirable males vs. risk of attack or approach by undesirable males is probably higher than anywhere else. Best possible place to flaunt, for a woman of around college age. Very good chance that is why Emily Doe went that party.
    I also did not say that punishment deters crime. However, I do believe punishment deters crime – GENERALLY – – I even believe punishment deters sex crimes – SOMETIMES – but sex is a biological imperative – as a man, your purpose, since the beginning of sexual reproduction, in other words before your ancestors were human, before they were even mammals, has been to stick your penis in some female and ejaculate – that’s what you exist for – I am not saying humans have to be pure animals, but they ARE animals and this should not be denied, as it is, by feminists – or at least nearly all feminists –

  • Joe Citizen

    So, sex crimes – which mostly come down to some man who is either twisted about the purpose of sex, (maybe he’s a flasher for example – no conception is going to take place from flashing) or kind of sociopathic about fulfilling that purpose, (he’s a rapist who wants to put the sperm where it can get to the egg, just does not care how he does it) still come down to men trying to do what all of human evolution says they ought to do. ALL OF HUMAN EVOLUTION, AND BEFORE THAT ALL MAMMALIAN EVOLUTION AND BEFORE THAT ALL REPTILIAN EVOLUTION.

    So, sex crimes can be subject to extreme compulsion – other crimes may or may not be. When they are not, they are much more controlled by the threat of punishment. You can control some crimes, really some people, just by the threat, even a small threat, of a fairly small punishment – depending on the individual – but every normal man wants very much to put his penis in a vagina and ejaculate – that is far harder to control. And it’s the entire basis for all human life. Always has been.
    Now, about Emiy Doe passing out – I think she probably did – what I don’t know is, WHEN she did – no one knows that for sure – the idea, in fact explicitly stated by many commenters in various media, has been she passed out and Turner dragged her by a dumpster – by the way, that’s a deceptive statement, there was a dumpster behind one of those screen walls – but Turner’s own claim, that she fell down and then he started making out with her, voluntarily, is more plausible in my view – but really, no one knows.

    I expressed doubt about her passing out at all, but instead faking it, not because it’s the more probable than her passing out – but because the failure to even consider alternate plausible explanations troubles me.
    The fact that her consent, given while drunk or not, is not considered by many troubles me much more – the assumption is made, as I said above, again and again, that she was passed out, and Turner found her that way and began to rape her – but there is no evidence for that at all – NONE – IF, IF she had been tested and shown to have some truly extreme life threatening amount of booze in her system, then an assumption she was already passed out would make more sense- if she drank a huge cup of pure liquor, an amount that was truly toxic, she’d have only had a few minutes on her feet, the time Turner claims they were making out, before passing out – but she had an amount at which many people just keep staggering around for hours – so, passing out is possible, but not really proven – as you know if you read the police and medical reports.
    The fact is, Emily Doe had not had much more to drink than Brock Turner – about 1/4 to 1/3 higher BAC – again you know this if you read the reports – but HE did not pass out, did he? In fact, he had energy to run away, and get across the field before being tackled by the Swede. And he stayed awake, and, per the cops anyway, coherent, answering questions rationally and logically – But Emily Doe passes out, and stays out, despite efforts to revive her – some skepticism is certainly warranted – I’d pass out, if I was sitting on my couch, nothing to exciting going on, at her BAC level – but probably not in a field, or with someone masturbating me, or with the cops trying to rouse me, or being transported to the hospital, examined for rape, etcetera – NOW, if I took other drugs – then maybe.