Provost Etchemendy addresses questions about sexual assault

John Etchemendy
Provost John Etchemendy

In recent weeks, a number of questions have been raised about Stanford’s implementation of the recommendations of the Provost’s Task Force on Sexual Assault Policies and Practices, the results of the campus-wide climate survey, and the handling of sexual assault cases. Provost John Etchemendy addresses these questions for the Stanford community.

Sexual assault continues to be a subject of attention and discussion in the Stanford community. What do you make of the discussion?

I would be distressed if it did not continue to be a subject of attention in the community. As President Hennessy and I said in our letter releasing the results of the campus climate survey, these are vital issues that require the sustained attention and engagement of all members of our campus community. The climate survey revealed that Stanford students experience sexual assault and sexual misconduct far too frequently on our campus, and this is simply unacceptable. If we do not focus as a community on this problem, we will not be able to change the attitudes and atmosphere that permit this to occur.

One claim out there is that Stanford has intentionally downplayed what the recent campus climate survey found about the prevalence of sexual assault at Stanford. How do you respond?

This is simply not true. As we said in our cover letter, the results of the survey were “deeply concerning,” including the “unacceptable” findings that 5 percent of undergraduate women had experienced sexual assault and another 33 percent had experienced other forms of sexual misconduct, such as nonconsensual touching. This behavior, as we said, is deeply and fundamentally inconsistent with our community values. If readers are concerned that Stanford is trying to downplay the situation on campus, I strongly recommend they read the entire 35-page report on the findings in the Stanford Campus Climate Survey. It paints a sobering picture, not a rosy one.

It is unfortunate that critics of the survey have focused on a single number that we reported – the rate of sexual assault in the entire population surveyed – as if we did not also report the rate in the relevant subgroups. To quote from our letter: “About 2 percent of Stanford students surveyed, and just under 5 percent of undergraduate women surveyed, reported experiencing an incident of sexual assault as defined by Stanford policy during their time at Stanford.” The overall rate is also important, to emphasize that sexual assault is experienced by all segments of our student population. It was not meant to downplay the rate among undergraduate women but rather to ensure that all segments of our community, particularly students with alternative gender identities, had their experiences represented.

Read the entire Stanford Report article.