Today Stanford released its annual Title IX/Sexual Harassment report, which outlines the ways in which the university responded to reported concerns of sexual harassment, sexual violence and gender discrimination on campus and in all programs and activities connected to Stanford. The report shows a decrease in reported incidents in 2019-20, due to the decreased campus population because of COVID-19.

The report comes as the university is also implementing major changes in its Title IX processes as a result of new federal regulations and recommendations from an outside review. The data in the report are for the period before any of those changes took effect.

Sweeping changes

A significant driver for the changes in Stanford’s Title IX policies was the need to comply with the U.S. Department of Education’s sweeping new regulations for colleges and universities, which were issued in May and went into effect Aug. 14.

Among the major changes required under the new Title IX regulations:

  • The regulations apply to faculty, staff, students and postdoctoral fellows;
  • The scope of complaints that colleges are required to investigate has narrowed under Title IX (although Stanford will continue to investigate matters beyond the limited scope of Title IX using an alternative process that was implemented at the same time as the new Title IX policies);
  • Respondents are presumed to be not responsible; and
  • Contested matters will be decided at a hearing, and, unless waived by each party, a party’s advisor can cross-examine the other party and any witnesses.

In addition to implementing the new federal regulations, the university commissioned earlier this year an external review of the campus offices involved in preventing and responding to sexual harassment and assault. The external reviewers from peer institutions issued a report outlining their recommendations.

Based on this feedback and similar recommendations from the directors of the units within Institutional Equity and Access at Stanford, the university merged the three offices that address sexual assault and sexual harassment education and response – Title IX Office, Sexual Harassment Policy Office (SHPO) and Sexual Assault and Relationship Abuse Education and Response Office (SARA) – into one office: SHARE Title IX Office.

The SHARE Title IX Office will oversee the updated policy defining and prohibiting sexual harassment, sexual assault, relationship violence and stalking. The office will also manage three new procedures to evaluate allegations: a Title IX procedure for all respondents when the conduct is subject to Title IX jurisdiction; a hearing procedure for faculty and student respondents; and an investigation procedure for staff, including academic staff, and postdoctoral scholar respondents when a student is the complainant.

“We are committed to effectively responding to allegations of sexual harassment, sexual violence, relationship violence and stalking,” said Lauren Schoenthaler, senior associate vice provost for institutional equity and access. “We employ a trauma-centered approach with the goal of preserving and supporting the agency of the complainant where possible, and where both parties are treated with respect and provided support.”

Because the new procedures apply to faculty, staff, students and postdoctoral fellows, university policies were updated to bring them into compliance with the new regulations.

In September, at its first meeting of the year, the Faculty Senate approved a proposal to modify procedures outlined in the “Statement on Faculty Discipline” in the Faculty Handbook.

Annual Title IX Report

The fourth annual Title IX/Sexual Harassment Report includes information about reports of prohibited sexual conduct involving students, faculty and staff during the period from Sept. 1, 2019, to Aug. 13, 2020.

“While we’ve made structural and policy changes this year, we know that we have much more work to do to create a campus culture free of prohibited sexual behavior. These annual reports show us that sexual violence, sexual harassment and gender discrimination are prevalent on our campus. We all must work together to address this critical issue,” said Provost Persis Drell, whose office oversees the Office of Institutional Equity and Access.

The 2019–20 Title IX/Sexual Harassment Report was prepared by the Office of Institutional Equity and Access. The data in the report was compiled from reports collected by Stanford’s Title IX Office, the Sexual Harassment Policy Office and Human Resources/Employee and Labor Relations during the 2019–20 academic year.

Community concerns with the new policies and procedures

Campus community members have expressed concerns about some of the new Title IX procedures.

One issue is that the university has limited scope of jurisdiction. For example, the new procedures apply if the respondent was a student, faculty member, staff member or postdoctoral scholar at the time of the policy violation and at the time of the report. However, if the respondent leaves the university community and the incident is reported after the respondent left, the procedures no longer apply. Under those circumstances, while an individual may no longer be subject to the hearing process, the university is able to conduct a review to determine whether there are environmental factors that need to be remedied in order to prevent further recurrences.

Another concern is whether these procedures would apply while most students are off campus this year. The new federal regulations do not require colleges and universities to apply their policies and procedures to off-campus activities and programs, such as study abroad programs.

Schoenthaler said, “In order to be responsive to this concern, Stanford broadened its jurisdictional scope for student-based conduct to all sexual harassment-related conduct where there is any reason to believe that the incident could contribute to a hostile educational environment or otherwise interfere with a student’s access to education.”

Students Julia Paris, Maia Brockbank and Krithika Iyer are the ASSU co-directors of sexual violence prevention. In a written statement, they expressed their concern and frustration with the new Title IX policies.

“The new policies are very difficult to understand, particularly for recently traumatized students without a legal background. When deciding whether or not to file a complaint, survivors may face extreme difficulty in even determining which of the three procedures applies to their case,” they wrote. “The applicability of the policies is determined by everything from the location, nature and timing of the incident, as well as the specific job category of the perpetrator. These distinctions are not intuitive; the same assault would fall under different procedures if it was committed by a full professor, compared to a lecturer. How are survivors supposed to understand these convoluted distinctions without support?”

Under Stanford’s new Title IX policy, students are provided access to an attorney at the investigation phase in order to assist them in understanding the procedures. All parties – faculty, staff and students – receive attorney assistance through the hearing process.

Jonathan Lipman, ’21, ASSU undergraduate senator and member of the ASSU advisory committee on sexual violence prevention and survivor support and the new SHARE advisory board, said, “I’m also concerned about the complexity of the new policies, which are housed in three, 50-page legalistic documents. To make the information more approachable I’ve led an ASSU group of talented student artists to create infographics that help demystify and explain the new processes and support options.” (View PDFs of infographics here and here.)

Schoenthaler hopes that the merging of SHPO, SARA and the Title IX Office into one office (SHARE) will help the Stanford community better to navigate the new Title IX procedure.

Still, many in the Stanford community see potential problems with the procedure.

“Overall, I think Stanford’s new policies written in response to the Trump administration’s Title IX changes are a mixed bag – some things have improved, like making the decision maker a neutral party. Other things are worse, specifically the live cross-examination requirement,” said Lipman.

As prescribed in the new federal regulations, the cross-examination is conducted by a party’s advisor in real time, and questions cannot be submitted in advance. However, the university was able to address some of the concerns around the cross-examination requirement, while still following the federal regulations, by incorporating the option for parties to waive live cross-examination and instead opt to provide written questions to the hearing officer, who would conduct the examination.

“We worked very hard to create strong policies that would ensure a fair, timely and effective Title IX process for all parties. We are deeply appreciative of the input of the community in drafting these policies, and in many cases, we were able to address the concerns we heard,” responded Schoenthaler. “For example, Stanford added in amnesty for COVID-19–related social distancing violations in response to student concerns.”

Provost Drell said, “There are many complexities in the Title IX process and often the outcomes are difficult or unsatisfying for some parties. The staff of the SHARE/Title IX Office is dedicated to implementing a fair and unbiased process while working toward creating a campus environment that is free of sexual violence, sexual harassment and discrimination of any kind – something the entire Stanford community should work toward.”