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Some Stanford graduates protest during Sunday’s commencement ceremony

Stanford commencement
Graduating student Andrea Lorei, who help organize campus demonstrations, holds a sign in protest before the 125th Stanford University commencement ceremony.
(Getty Images)

A handful of graduating Stanford seniors waved signs at Sunday’s commencement ceremony showing support for victims of sexual assault and urging the university to do more to protect potential victims.

“The goal is to amplify the voices of survivors on campus,” said Stanford graduating senior Brianne Huntsman, an organizer of the protest. “There is this idea that there is just, quote-unquote, one Stanford rapist, that Brock Turner is the Stanford rapist. And from our work on campus, we really know that this is not the case.”

Some called on the university to routinely make public the names of students whom campus officials find to be responsible for sexual assault and sexual misconduct through the student disciplinary process.

They say that the public discussion of Turner, the swimmer convicted of sexually assaulting a woman on campus, is rare. More common, they say, are situations in which an accused student is not publicly charged and convicted in criminal court but is still found to be responsible for sexual assault or sexual misconduct by the university’s student disciplinary system.

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“Despite the high barrier of proof used in these investigations, despite the university’s certain knowledge that these people are threats, Stanford keeps this knowledge a secret,” an online petition said.

Graduating senior Jonathan Fisk said he is concerned that the university doesn’t name those people. “I do not feel comfortable not knowing that. And as an RA, I don’t feel comfortable with my residents not knowing that, either.”

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In a statement, Stanford University officials said that any person “found to be a serious ongoing danger to the community is separated from the university,” as Turner was. Within 10 days of Turner’s criminal arrest for suspected rape, Turner agreed to withdraw from Stanford, and the university banned him from setting foot on campus.

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The university statement said that student disciplinary cases are handled confidentially. Officials welcomed proposals to encourage reporting of sexual offenses but questioned whether lifting confidentiality from the outcome of student disciplinary cases could affect students’ willingness to tip officials about prohibited sexual conduct and affect whether survivors face retaliation or intimidation.

Stanford officials also defended their commitment to combating sexual violence, saying all incoming undergraduates must receive training on sexual violence prevention.

According to the U.S. Department of Education, in 2014, Stanford had 26 cases of rape reported to either police or university employees. The university said that the number of cases can include anonymous reports in which there is not enough information to investigate, such as instances in which a report is made anonymously or students decline to cooperate with officials.

At the start of commencement, Stanford President John Hennessy called for a moment of silence to honor survivors of sexual violence, as well as the victims of the nightclub massacre in Orlando.

Students gathered on Friday to prepare for the protest, tweeting photos of signs they made that said, “Stanford protects rapists,” “Rape culture has deep roots,” “You’re not alone,” “Celebrating 125 years of rape culture,” and “Brock Turner is not an exception.” Turner’s sentence to what will probably amount to three months in county jail has provoked worldwide outrage; it is a fraction of the six-year term in state prison that prosecutors sought.

Supporters of the protest also said they wanted to express their anger toward Turner’s sentence.

“I’ve witnessed us as a society not properly raising men to treat women properly,” said senior Mattias Johansson. “This isn’t about drinking on campus. This isn’t about campus promiscuity… It’s about the atmosphere of mistreatment of women on our campus, and it’s a statement for me against this idea that rape isn’t a crime worth talking about.”

Stanford’s graduating student body president, John-Lancaster Finley, said it was important to “stand in solidarity with survivors of sexual violence at Stanford. We want people to know that this happens here.”

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Added outgoing student body vice president Brandon Hill: “We need a broader conversation about what does masculinity mean. What is toxic masculinity? What is informing rape culture and people to take part in rape? What is it that fathers are teaching their sons?”

Most graduating students did not participate in the protest, and a few were annoyed by its appearance at commencement.

Speaking to reporters penned in at Stanford Stadium, student Allie Koscove recounted how graduation meals have been filled with discussions of the Stanford rape case.

“This isn’t what I want to be defined as,” Koscove said. “I don’t think it’s what my fellow classmates want to be defined as.”

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