Letter from Provost on the AAU’s Campus Climate Survey on Sexual Assault and Misconduct

Dear Stanford community,

I am writing to you today about a critical issue that demands the highest attention from every member of the Stanford campus community.

Today (Oct. 15), the Association of American Universities (AAU) released the results of its 2019 Campus Climate Survey on Sexual Assault and Misconduct. Stanford was one of 33 universities that participated in this survey, which was administered to undergraduate and graduate students last spring at the recommendation of an advisory committee of students, faculty and staff. I am sincerely grateful to all those who participated – 62 percent of all students at Stanford, which gives us a high level of confidence in the results.

Stanford’s survey results, as well as the national aggregate report, can be found here. The survey was administered for AAU by the research firm Westat, and Westat produced the report of the Stanford survey results that you will see on that web page. We are providing a set of summary slides and some answers to additional questions, but the survey findings themselves and the core report of those findings are directly from Westat.

I am deeply troubled by many of the survey findings, as I’m sure you will be. We continue to see the prevalence of sexual assault and sexual harassment on our campus, and there is clear evidence that some groups of students are particularly affected at higher rates than others. In this letter I want to highlight some of these findings, then discuss some of our initial next steps. There also will be a campus meeting tomorrow where the results will be presented in person.

First, to underscore just how serious this problem is, I want to call your attention to some of the survey findings:

  • 38.5 percent of undergraduate women who have attended Stanford for four years or more report having experienced some form of nonconsensual sexual contact by physical force, the inability to consent, coercion or without voluntary agreement
  • Since entering Stanford, 23.8 percent of undergraduate women and 21.7 percent of all TGQN students (transgender women, transgender men, nonbinary/genderqueer, gender questioning or gender not listed), both undergraduate and graduate, have experienced nonconsensual sexual contact by physical force or inability to consent
  • About 50 percent of all nonconsensual sexual contact occurred in Stanford residence halls/dorms
  • About 80 percent of the perpetrators of nonconsensual sexual contact were other Stanford students
  • Nearly 50 percent of women and 40 percent of men who experienced nonconsensual sexual contact experienced adverse academic consequences as a result of the incident(s)
  • More than 20 percent of all Stanford students experienced harassing behaviors that interfered with their academic or professional performance or created a hostile social, academic or professional environment

Another distressing finding in the report is the lack of confidence students have in university resources to address incidents of sexual assault and misconduct. For instance, less than half of Stanford students (44 percent) and just 19 percent of TGQN, 29 percent of undergraduate women, and 43 percent of undergraduate men felt that campus officials were very or extremely likely to conduct a fair investigation.

Incidents of sexual violence and harassment have considerable and long-lasting effects on individuals who have experienced them. One incident is too many. In confronting sexual violence and harassment, we face a chronic public health issue that demands solutions from multiple sources – from the university itself; from each of us as members of this community; and from institutions and citizens more broadly in our society. Despite many efforts at Stanford over the years, it is evident that much more needs to be done.

What are our next steps?

  • Tomorrow, Wednesday, Oct. 16, there will be a community meeting in which staff from Institutional Research & Decision Support and Institutional Equity & Access will present the results of the survey. This meeting is open to all members of the university community and will be held from 4 to 5:15 p.m. in Building 420-040 on the Main Quad. I hope you will be able to attend.
  • One of our priorities is to conduct further analysis of the data. We will compare our results with those of other campuses to identify best practices, with the goal of improving processes and services and reducing the prevalence of sexual harassment and sexual violence. Additionally, to better understand the culture on our campus, we also intend to disaggregate the Stanford data in a variety of ways, such as by school and degree level, to the extent possible without compromising the privacy of survey respondents. We will share those results with the community when they become available, sometime during winter quarter.
  • The survey data show that more than half of our transgender and gender non-conforming students have experienced a sexual harassment incident that rose to the level of interfering with their academic or social life. We need to address this issue on a university-wide level. As a starting point, we have been working with students to develop a new transgender support website that will provide resources for our transgender and gender non-conforming community members, along with education for all faculty and staff. The website will be ready later this fall. More than a website, though, this is an effort toward developing a deeper understanding of gender identity, gender expression and how we can all engage in gender-inclusive practices.
  • In November, we are launching a program with the YWCA of Silicon Valley to have an on-site YWCA-SV community coordinator at The YWCA-SV will be a new on-site resource for those who prefer to access resources from outside the Stanford community on issues of sexual violence and harassment; additionally, this individual will provide services to the partners and families of Stanford students.
  • We are undertaking an external review, by national experts, of the offices within Institutional Equity & Access that provide support and response on matters of sexual violence and harassment. The reviewers will be asked to provide recommendations for improving the experiences of community members who have experienced or been accused of sexual violence or harassment.
  • Most importantly, we want to hear from our community and enact change based on what we are hearing. The website hosting the survey data has an anonymous feedback form. Additionally, on Wednesday, Oct. 30 from 4 to 5:30 p.m. in the Old Union Clubhouse Ballroom, there will be an opportunity to provide feedback to university staff from multiple offices.

The prevalence of sexual violence on our campus is a problem that cannot be solved by one person, one group or one office. We are committing the university to driving this effort, but real and lasting solutions will not come about unless we have the commitment of every single member of our community to participate in the culture change that is needed to end sexual violence on our campus and on college campuses nationwide. Thank you in advance for your help and participation.


Persis S. Drell