Faculty Senate endorses resolution on sexual offenses

The Faculty Senate approved a resolution saying that a recent campus climate survey provides valuable information on sexual offenses at Stanford, and that additional data analysis and a review of sexual assault definitions are needed.

The Faculty Senate on Thursday endorsed a resolution saying it deeply empathizes with, and shares student concerns about, unwanted sexual conduct on campus.

At its April 28 meeting, the senate approved the six-part resolution, which recommended that the university release new and more detailed information from the 2015 Stanford Campus Climate Survey, and review the nomenclature used to describe the survey’s data, specifically the categorization of “sexual assault” and “sexual misconduct.”

Susan McConnell at Faculty Senate meeting

Susan McConnell, professor of biology, participated in the Faculty Senate discussion of a resolution in support of assessment and education on sexual assault and misconduct at Stanford. (Image credit: Kate Chesley)

“The Stanford Campus Climate Survey of 2015 provides valuable information on the occurrence of sexual and relationship violence at Stanford, and reveals a deeply disturbing occurrence of prohibited sexual conduct,” the resolution said. “The principal purposes of a climate survey are to assess the incidence of prohibited sexual conduct; to understand the circumstances under which nonconsensual sexual acts occur; and to identify strategies for prevention, response efforts and education.”

When Stanford released the results of the survey last October, President John Hennessy and Provost John Etchemendy called the findings “striking and troubling,” and said: “Clearly, behavior is still occurring here that is deeply and fundamentally inconsistent with our community values.”

At yesterday’s senate meeting, Hennessy said that remains his view.

“Nearly 40 percent of our undergraduate women experience a nonconsensual sexual violation – nearly 40 percent,” Hennessy said. “That is disgraceful. We have a serious problem. We have documented it, and we must aggressively address it through education, prevention, support and adjudication. We need to get on with changing our culture and educating our community.”

The senate endorsed the resolution on a unanimous voice vote that was followed by applause. The full text of the “Resolution in Support of Assessment and Education on Sexual Assault and Misconduct at Stanford” will be available in the minutes of the meeting, which will be published on the Faculty Senate website.

Provost John Etchemendy said he supports the resolution and thanked the senate for its thoughtful and inspiring deliberations on the topic. He said implementing the resolution will make Stanford a better institution.

The resolution expresses strong support for repeating the campus climate survey at least every three years to gain the benefits of longitudinal analysis, something the president and provost have committed to, and to assess the effectiveness of campus programs designed to prevent prohibited conduct and create a safe campus environment.

The resolution also recommends that Stanford consider expanding mandatory educational programs regarding sexual assault and sexual misconduct to include graduate students, postdoctoral scholars and staff.

The senate’s Steering Committee submitted the resolution to the senate with its unanimous endorsement after lengthy discussions and deliberations about two resolutions passed earlier this year by the Associated Students of Stanford University (ASSU) – “A Resolution in Support of a New Campus Climate Survey” and “A Resolution in Support of Proposed Ideas to Augment Sexual and Relationship Violence Efforts at Stanford” – and after reviewing the methodology and findings of the 2015 Stanford Campus Climate Survey.

Students had proposed and resoundingly approved an ASSU referendum calling for Stanford to use the AAU (Association of American Universities) Campus Survey on Sexual Assault and Sexual Misconduct. However, Susan McConnell, a professor of biology at Stanford, described the AAU survey as “a mess,” saying its questions were poorly worded, confusing and complicated.

“We are now hearing from our peer institutions that they regret using that AAU survey,” she said.

McConnell, who took both surveys, said Stanford’s is much simpler, more straightforward, asks about all kinds of nonconsensual incidents, and asks follow-up questions about the specific circumstances under which each incident occurred.

“For those … who have been victims of relationship violence, or sexual assault, or any other prohibited or illegal or traumatic interaction with someone in our community whom we should trust, I think we want a survey that enables us to record these events as completely and as accurately as possible. And I think that the Stanford survey is far superior to the AAU survey.”

John-Lancaster Finley, the outgoing ASSU president, thanked the Faculty Senate.

“This resolution once again says to me that the faculty are listening to what students bring up,” he said. “They’re also listening in detail – not just asking, ‘Do we say yes or no to what they brought up?’ but bringing up the right path forward, in my opinion.”

Finley said one of the main problems with the survey was that students perceived they were being told that what they had experienced was not serious or was just misconduct, because it did not meet the definition of sexual assault.

“This resolution really captures that and responds to that concern,” he said.

Jennifer Widom, a professor of computer science and of electrical engineering, said she was sympathetic to students who felt “belittled” when their experiences were labeled “sexual misconduct” rather than “sexual assault” in the Stanford Campus Climate Survey.

“We all agreed that ‘sexual assault’ was used a little narrowly, following the law, and that was probably at the heart of what has gotten people upset,” she said. “So let’s focus on exactly what the problem is and really narrow in on that and solve that. The resolution does exactly that.”

Stanford, which is committed to a campus environment that is free of sexual violence, offers a variety of sexual assault support and resources that are listed on its Not Alone website.

The Confidential Support Team, established in 2015, offers students a safe, confidential place to get help if they have been impacted by sexual assault and relationship violence, including domestic abuse, intimate partner abuse, stalking, and sexual or gender-based harassment. Helen Wilson, director of the team, recently discussed its services in Stanford Report.

At Stanford, the Office of Sexual Assault & Relationship Abuse Education & Response (SARA) promotes healthy, empowered and consensual relationships at Stanford.

Stanford has been working to enhance its support, education and training programs related to sexual assault. In spring 2015, the Provost’s Task Force on Sexual Assault Policies and Practices recommended a series of measures to improve campus support, prevention and education efforts. In January, the university announced a pilot adjudication process for sexual assault cases.

Other business

At the start of the Faculty Senate meeting on Thursday, Hans Weiler, academic secretary to the university, announced that Debra Satz, a professor of philosophy, had been elected chair of the 2016-17 Faculty Senate.

Also, David Abernethy, a professor emeritus of political science, presented the 2015-16 report of the Stanford Emeriti Council, and Sarah Church, chair of the Committee on Undergraduate Standards and Policies, discussed the committee’s work during the last and current academic years.

The full minutes of the April 28 senate meeting will be available soon on the Faculty Senate website. The minutes will include the question-and-answer session that followed the presentation.