Angry about her school's system for dealing with sexual assault, Stanford University senior Leah Francis sent a call-to-action email to her fellow students. It went viral, and several hundred students rallied on campus on Thursday, demanding that the university toughen its treatment of sexual assailants.
Long considered one of the leading institutions of higher learning in the world, Stanford now finds itself embroiled in an issue that has been receiving increased scrutiny in recent months, not least of all from the Obama administration.
"The school has to face the truth and fix these broken policies," Francis told International Business Times. "I came to the conclusion that the university cares more about its brand or the image," Francis said, explaining why she went public with such a sensitive issue. "I wanted to make sure I wasn’t part of the problem."
Her mass email was titled "Message from '14 Rape Survivor." In it, Francis describes a sexual assault and her experiences dealing with Stanford’s Alternate Review Process (ARP). She urged fellow students to attend a Rally for Reforming Sexual Violence Resources and Policy at Stanford.
According to her email and a press release by student organizers, Francis alleged that she was raped by another student last winter. She notified the school and engaged the ARP, Stanford’s office for handling allegations of sexual misconduct. It's an experience that “really ruins your life,” Francis told the campus paper, Stanford Daily. “[The process is] extremely detrimental to the ability of the survivor to keep on surviving.”
"I wanted to show people what it is like to go through the ARP process," she told IBTimes. "I really don't want anyone to go through what I went through."
According to a document released by campus newspaper, the Stanford Daily, the ARP found Francis’ alleged assailant responsible for sexual assault, sexual misconduct and for "violating the Fundamental Standard," which states that students “may be subject to discipline” for acts that include sexual assault. His name has been redacted from the documents and has not been made public.
Francis said her accused rapist’s punishment — a one-year suspension, 40 hours of community service, and participation in a sexual-assault awareness program — is not enough.
According to her email, the man involved in the incident "can choose to walk away from Stanford with no significant undergraduate consequences for forcibly sexually assaulting me."
"I think that Stanford is behind the times when it comes to sanctions against people who commit sexual violence," Francis said. She wants to see mandatory expulsion for any student found responsible of sexual assault.
Francis said Stanford has yet to contact her since the rally that was held on Thursday.
The administration released a statement concerning the changes that students at the rally were demanding. "Expulsion currently is one of a range of potential outcomes of the disciplinary process for cases of sexual assault at Stanford, and we are discussing the option of imposing it as the presumptive outcome when there is a finding of forcible sexual assault," the statement said.
Officials at Stanford University told the International Business Times that they are unable to comment further.
"Students are ready to tell the university what they think, and demand change," Francis said. "I don't know how much resistance we will get from the school. I don't know how they'll fight us. But we have to keep trying."
— The Stanford Daily (@Stanford_Daily) June 5, 2014
I #StandWithLeah because sexual violence should never be tolerated and victims should always be protected
— Dawson Walker (@_dawsonwalker) June 5, 2014
— Jemima Oso (@holdthesyrup) June 5, 2014
#StandWithLeah b/c our Sexual Assault & Relationship Abuse education office only has two adults and three students on staff
— Annie (@peace_windmill) June 6, 2014
— Jacqueline Emerson (@jackie_emerson) June 5, 2014