Letter to the Stanford community from Provost John Etchemendy
To the Stanford community:
Welcome back to Stanford. I hope everyone has had a wonderful break and is energized for the winter quarter.
I do not want to let too much time pass before addressing a few issues that have been on the minds of students and others in our community in recent weeks, largely around Title IX and related issues. This note offers a brief update to the community.
First, I want to restate Stanford’s commitment to a safe campus environment and to fair treatment of all of our students. Title IX is about providing equal access to education, free of discrimination or harassment. This imperative is deeply embedded in Stanford’s values, and would be our goal even without legal prescriptions from outside. We are always striving to provide the best possible learning and working environment in which all members of our community may succeed and thrive.
To support that environment, the university has processes for evaluating when our community’s standards are not being upheld and what sanctions may be needed. These matters are not uncontroversial, and at Stanford, we have found they often play out in public.
In some cases, the university is taken to task for being overly lenient; in other cases, for being too harsh. The university itself is often legally constrained from discussing the full details of a given case, which we know can be frustrating for those trying to understand the facts and formulate their own views. It is equally frustrating to us, since we believe that more transparency would help the community understand decisions that may seem puzzling with only partial information and rumors to go on. But privacy laws limit what can be shared.
Let me try to provide a little more clarity and amplification on some recent issues.
The university has heard a great deal of concern from both students and alumni about the suspension of the Band, announced in early December. Although this decision came through the Organization Conduct Board process, not the Title IX Office, the original issues that led to the Band’s travel and alcohol ban included Title IX harassment concerns as well as violations of the university’s hazing and alcohol policies.
I have received hundreds of heartfelt messages following the announcement of the Band’s suspension. It is rarely pleasant to be the target of an email campaign, but this instance was an exception. The love expressed for Stanford, for the Band, and for what it represents spoke directly to my own love for this community. I responded to those who emailed me, in a letter that has been posted on Facebook. In it I sought to convey what I would like all of the campus community to know: that the Band has a special place in Stanford’s culture; that we recognize how important student leadership of the Band is to many people; but that the issues that led to the current suspension nonetheless need attention.
Two important facts are not widely understood. The first is that the original policy violations were serious and the investigation was initiated following complaints from students who felt they had been severely impacted by the Band’s actions. It was not initiated by university administrators upset by the Band’s public behavior. The second is that the original 2015 travel and alcohol ban was the result of events that had happened as recently as a few weeks before the investigation was launched, and the 2016 suspension was due to continued violations that occurred after the 2015 travel and alcohol ban was imposed. In other words, the sanctions are not, as they have been portrayed, for events that transpired many years before any of the current membership joined the Band.
Before winter break I had a productive meeting with the Band’s leadership, and I am awaiting the Band’s appeal of the decision. They are committed to making changes and I am confident we can find a path forward that addresses the underlying organizational issues while preserving the Band’s distinctive, irreverent character.
There also have been a number of news stories in recent weeks about sexual assault at Stanford. There are four things I would like to convey about this subject:
First, I encourage anyone seeking support and consultation to reach out to the university. Our Confidential Support Team is an excellent place for compassionate, trauma-informed counseling. These counselors can advise students on their options and will support them whether or not they choose to file a formal Title IX complaint. A number of other campus resources are also available for anyone seeking support or information.
Second, we are a learning institution, and are always working to improve what we do. Since 2010 Stanford has been a leader in adopting new policies and procedures to prevent sexual violence, to support victims of sexual assault, and to provide fair Title IX adjudication processes that are sensitive to the rights of both complainants and respondents.
We are still learning and still working to improve. Most immediately, we have a new, pilot Student Title IX Process under way for adjudicating these cases. This pilot process adjudicated 16 Title IX complaints in 2016, 13 of which resulted in outcomes favorable to the students who initiated the complaint.
This process is being evaluated by an advisory committee of faculty and students chaired by Professor Pamela Karlan of Stanford Law School. The committee is seeking feedback from members of the university community, and I encourage you to provide it using the form on the Not Alone website.
Third, any account of these issues at Stanford is shaped by individual experiences and perspectives. I am personally anguished when I hear of students who were not satisfied by the support they received from the university, as are all the many staff who have devoted their lives to providing this support. As we work to continually strengthen our practices, we also seek to build understanding of what is truly a complex and difficult subject. Those who read a New York Times story over the winter break about our practices, for instance, would benefit from reading the university’s response, which is available on the Stanford website.
Finally, until there are no sexual assaults on campus, there will always be room to improve. I will be stepping down as provost at the end of this month. But incoming Provost Persis Drell will continue to meet with the advisory committee mentioned above to get ongoing assessments of where Stanford stands on these issues and where further improvements can be made.
With the input and commitment of the entire campus community, I am certain that we will continue to make progress in ensuring a safe learning environment, providing fair processes for all, and reinforcing our bonds of concern and responsibility for one another as members of this special community.