Stanford University Provost Persis Drell is defending the university's handling of a campus garden that was created to mark the site where former student Brock Turner sexually assaulted a young woman, with words from the survivor on a plaque that never ended up being installed.
Seeking to "correct any misimpressions that have arisen" about the process, Drell offered the university's perspective in a Wednesday post on a university blog, "Notes from the Quad."
The anonymous woman, referred to by the pseudonym Emily Doe, withdrew from talks after two separate quotes she submitted for the plaque were rejected by the university because, officials said, they could be "triggering" for survivors of sexual violence. The quotes were from her victim impact statement, which sparked global activism and legislation after she read it in court at Turner's sentencing in Palo Alto in 2016.
Her withdrawal was widely reported in local and national media, and a Stanford student advocacy group circulated a petition calling on the university to publicly apologize to Doe and immediately install the plaque with the quote she originally chose.
"Any narrative that gives the impression that Stanford does not care about sexual violence, or that we do not wish to support survivors, hinders our ability as a community to move forward to address this issue," Drell wrote. "I personally am committed to working to ensure this doesn't happen -- hence this post."
Drell said that Stanford agreed in 2016 to create a "peaceful space for our community near the site where the sexual assault occurred" and "hoped that the garden would be a restorative place of comfort, healing, and purposeful reflection."
The university installed benches, landscaping and a fountain last fall in the area behind the Kappa Alpha fraternity house.
A representative for Doe first proposed the following quote for the plaque, according to Drell:
"You made me a victim. In newspapers my name was "unconscious intoxicated woman," ten syllables, and nothing more than that. For a while, I believed that that was all I was. I had to force myself to relearn my real name, my identity. To relearn that this is not all that I am. That I am not just a drunk victim at a frat party found behind a dumpster, while you are the All American swimmer at a top university, innocent until proven guilty, with so much at stake. I am a human being who has been irreversibly hurt, my life was put on hold for over a year, waiting to figure out if I was worth something."
Drell said despite the excerpt's "powerful nature," she and others at Stanford felt that it wouldn't be "supportive in a healing space for survivors."
Doe's representative then proposed a second quote: "You took away my worth, my privacy, my energy, my time, my safety, my intimacy, my confidence, my own voice, until today."
Drell said she and others, including sexual violence counselors, also felt this excerpt could be harmful for survivors of sexual assault. Stanford law professor Michele Dauber, who has served as Doe's representative, disagreed, writing in an email Thursday that "what is 'triggering' is that the attack took place at all, not the victim's powerful words about it."
The university next proposed three alternative quotes, which Doe rejected:
"You are beautiful, you are to be valued, respected, undeniably, every minute of every day, you are powerful and nobody can take that away from you."
I "On nights when you feel alone, I am with you. When people doubt you or dismiss you, I am with you. I fought every day for you. So never stop fighting, I believe you."
"I'm right here, I'm okay, everything's okay, I'm right here." (This is what Doe recounted telling her sister when she picked Doe up from the hospital after the assault.)
Doe's representative then asked that the garden "make no reference" to Doe, Drell said.
Stating her commitment to preventing sexual violence on campus, Drell ended her post by "acknowledging that the sexual assault of Emily Doe at Stanford has changed our community forever."
Dauber called on Drell to apologize to Doe.
"Stanford is a great university and students are expected to engage challenging texts about upsetting events in our classes," she said. "Censorship is not the answer to difficult ideas and every student and faculty member should be worried about this kind of infringement on literary expression."