In June of 2015, an unidentified woman began Stanford University’s internal investigation process after alleging she’d been raped by a football player at a fraternity house party. Though a majority of the disciplinary board twice ruled that the player committed sexual assault, he’s still on the team and she’s had to leave campus.
The New York Times reports that at the time, Stanford’s in-house review panel comprised five people, and for a ruling to be definitive, the vote had to be 4-1, which is an uncommonly high requirement. In the woman’s case, the panel voted 3-2 during both her hearings. Protests over Stanford’s overall handling of Title IX cases did lead to a new format for the system, but many are unhappy with the changes; beginning in February of 2016, panels are now only comprised of three people, and a vote must be unanimous:
“In deciding we wanted well-trained, long-term panelists, it made sense to go to a three-person panel,” said Pamela S. Karlan, a Stanford Law professor who now chairs a sexual assault advisory committee, “and having three people decide something by a preponderance of the evidence seemed to us the appropriate way of deciding whether a life-altering sanction should be imposed on somebody for his or her behavior.”
The woman has temporarily left Stanford, and is unsure if she will return. She told the Times that she never expected her alleged attacker to be expelled, but had hoped for a no-contact order to “make being on campus more bearable,” she said. “He was a valued football player, but I had earned my right to be here, too.”
She also believes her trial was riddled with inconsistencies, and felt she received little to no support from the administration, despite her questions about the process. The football player’s teammates, for instance, were allowed to speak as character witnesses despite not having been present during the incident:
“I was told to stick to the facts on my statement, and I did,” she said. “He was allowed to speculate on why I ‘targeted’ him. His teammates, who were not even involved in that night, basically said he was a great guy and was being punished for consensual sex.”
Under Stanford’s new system, the decision to punish someone with expulsion must also be unanimous, yet Stanford officials are generally reluctant to dispense that punishment. John W. Etchemendy, the university’s outgoing provost, told the Times, “Imagine a senior, who has paid four years of Stanford tuition.”
“Being expelled is really a life-changing punishment,” he said. “I think we as an institution have a duty to take that very seriously.”
Since February, three cases have been tried by the new panel, and none has resulted in an expulsion. Stanford says they are willing to accommodate victims with special housing arrangements and escorts even if they lose their cases; however, they are unable to impose any sanctions on alleged attackers, even if the majority of the panel believed them to be guilty.