August 7, 2018

A Title IX case in the news

I’ve spoken and written many times about our continuing efforts at Stanford to strengthen our work in preventing and responding to sexual assault, along with our efforts to share much more information about the cases heard in our adjudication process and their outcomes. That work is important and is continuing.

Some of these issues also were addressed in a story in the San Francisco Chronicle last weekend. The story looked at a particular case that was heard in our Title IX process two years ago.

I want to acknowledge the deep personal impact experienced by the student who was the subject of the story. Our goal is that no student will ever have to experience sexual assault at Stanford, and we are always working to learn and improve in order to advance that goal. I’d also like to provide a clear summary of the case, in the hopes that it is helpful to others in understanding our policies and processes.

The case at issue involved two undergraduates. We know that for a variety of reasons, some students report unwanted sexual conduct some time after it occurs; in this case, the university received the complaint on the weekend of the complainant’s graduation in 2016, two years after the incident. The case was brought into the university’s Title IX process, which involves a number of steps including an investigation and a panel hearing.

Panels made up of faculty, staff and graduate students hear these cases and decide the outcomes. The panel in this case found the responding student responsible for sexual assault under university policy, using the “preponderance of the evidence,” or more likely than not, standard that we use based on guidance the federal government issued in 2011.

The hearing panel considered expulsion and the other possible sanctions for the responding student. Making its own judgment based on the circumstances of the case, the panel imposed a two-quarter suspension from the university.

Later, a complaint about how Stanford handled this case was filed with the Office for Civil Rights (OCR) of the U.S. Department of Education. OCR reviewed the allegations, including the level of sanction imposed on the responding student. OCR declined to open an investigation and determined that Stanford had complied with Title IX in handling the case.

One other issue raised in the story had to do with sexual assault data at Stanford. The story said that in a particular three-year period, the university received 84 reports of rape but issued no student expulsions for sexual assault. It’s important to know what the first number means – it is an aggregate number of unverified reports that university officials received, and in turn reported to the federal government under the Clery Act. These may include anonymous reports, reports from non-students, and reports from students who later decline to cooperate with any investigation. They also may include reports from Stanford’s hospitals, SLAC and our 900-home faculty residential neighborhood. While many of these reports do involve students, in many instances the university ultimately is unable to proceed with an investigation that would lead to a sanction because we are not able to obtain sufficient information about the incident, or about the identity of the responding party, to proceed.

We are now publicly reporting annual data on our Title IX process. I encourage you to review our latest report for an understanding of the outcomes we have seen relative to the number of cases that we have been able to investigate. We’re also continuing to work, through our support mechanisms like the Confidential Support Team, to strongly encourage victims of sexual violence to fully report their experiences to the university so they can be investigated.

Having the best possible approaches to preventing and responding to sexual assault is critical for Stanford, and it is a personal priority for me. We are always seeking to improve, and we must always be willing to revisit what we could have done better in any given situation. I continue to welcome your input on further steps we can take to strengthen our processes, to hold perpetrators of sexual violence accountable, and to create the environment of safety and mutual respect that we all want for our campus community.