Lessons from Brock Turner: UC Berkeley, do not repeat Stanford’s mistakes

Illustration of 5 women silhouetted against the UC Berkeley and Stanford campuses
Genesis Cruz/Staff

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Content warning: sexual violence and sexual harassment.

As a Stanford University student, the similarities between Nicholas Zhao — a rising UC Berkeley junior accused of sexual assault — and Brock Turner hit close to home. Our community continues to feel the sorrow and anger caused by Turner’s assault. Even years later, his crime reverberates waves of mourning and resentment. So, I am here to stand with the UC Berkeley community.

In the beginning of May, Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos released new regulations for Title IX, announcing new protections for those accused of campus sexual harassment. Due to these new Title IX policies, survivors will face endless hurdles in their fight for justice.

These rules allow universities to hold cross-examinations in their proceedings and narrow the definition of sexual harassment. Already, the Department of Justice predicts that this will lead to a 32% decrease in investigated reports by victims of sexual violence. Just when we thought progress was being made, DeVos’ new policies felt like a stab in the back.

Chanel Miller’s journey was a struggle. For so long, the Stanford faculty downplayed the situation in order to protect our university’s sterling image. After many petitions and student protests, however, inevitable and crucial change came to fruition.

Stanford soon implemented institutional awareness policies, eventually contributing to creating our memorial garden and plaque. These steps helped Miller control her own narrative — something our society stripped from her as a sexual assault survivor. Now, Miller’s words serve as a constant lesson for our university.

Despite the changes, however, injustices continued. Instead of addressing sexual assault as a systemic issue rooted in misogyny and violence, Stanford announced a ban on hard alcohol from undergraduate parties as a solution.

This framing perpetuates the false notion that sexual assault is caused by alcohol and drugs. In her victim impact statement, Miller wrote, “Alcohol is not an excuse. Is it a factor? Yes. But alcohol was not the one who stripped me, fingered me, had my head dragging against the ground, with me almost fully naked.” The bottom line is that sex without consent is rape. Stanford should not be ignoring that fact.

In fact, nearly one in five women (and one in 71 men) in the United States will become victims of rape in their lifetime. Out of the female victims of rape, 79.6% experienced their first rape before the age of 25. These sexual assaults often occur during college.

Every day, victims of sexual assault struggle with their narratives. Victims are pushed down, silenced and accused of ruining the lives of these “bright” and “intelligent” men. We entrench the problematic behaviors of college men into a chasm of “boys will be boys.” Most media outlets still refer to Turner as an “Olympic-hopeful swimmer” and “Stanford student.”

But when will we stop these rapists from hurting more womxn? As a society, when will we stop silencing the voices of these victims? When will the phrase “enough is enough” be taken seriously?

During cases of rape, this facade falsely portrays the perpetrator’s excellence. We dismiss sexual assault on college campuses because society links intelligence with virtue. We forget that the most extreme cases of violence are often strategized by cunning minds. A person’s academic brilliance does not make them an ethical human being. This dismissal of sexual violence will allow these men to acquire high positions of power later in life.

Another example can be found in the high level of sexual harassment in the workforce and of sex trafficking in the Bay Area, especially in Silicon Valley. The downplay of sexual abuse inside and outside of the workplace and the silent deceit of these perverted acts are rooted in misogyny and early involvement in sexual violence.

Moreover, we cannot forget that while Black and Brown individuals from low-income communities are spending years in jail for nonviolent crimes, Turner only spent three months behind bars for raping a woman. Racial and class privilege should not prevent a person from receiving a punishment for their crimes. If our institutions do not take accountability for cases of rape and we stand by with our hands in our pockets, we become complicit players in a system of sexual abuse and violence.

While 80% of rapes are reported by white women, women of color are more likely to experience sexual violence than white women are. In addition, survivors of color face many cultural and societal barriers that prevent them from seeking justice. Thus, we must recognize that the fight against sexual violence is connected to the struggle of BIPOC communities. This is an intersectional issue.

Zhao has been reported as a serial rapist. He has been accused of sexually assaulting (raping, groping and abusing) more than 20 womxn, and thus the UC Berkeley community has been deeply impacted by his alleged crimes.

I urge the UC Berkeley community not to make the same mistakes Stanford University did. Stand up for the victims of this case. Protect them. Listen to their mourning and pain. As college communities, it is our obligation to support those who need help and to dismantle our institutions’ history of injustices.

We must also recognize that many victims of rape have chosen to remain silent. The cross-examination process harms survivors, and the rhetoric that generalizes false accusations prevents so many women from speaking out. During this case, college campuses should invest in more mental health resources that deal with this specific form of trauma.

As a long-term goal, college campuses should also invest in exceptional training and education for its workers and students. This includes dorm staff members, on-campus social workers, clinical counselors and local grassroots groups against violence.

Now is not the time to sugarcoat the harsh realities of on-campus assault. From the moment a student steps foot on campus, they must be made aware of its severity and impact. From the media to lived experiences, sexual assault is ingrained in college culture. It is time to disrupt that notion. Rape is a crime regardless of the rapist’s education and status.

During this process, I will stand with the UC Berkeley community and support the brave testimonies of these womxn. Their tragic experiences are not statistics. Rather, they are the survivors of their own legacy.


Sign the petition for the immediate expulsion of and legal action against Nicholas Zhao

National Sexual Assault Hotline: 800-656-4673

Chanel Miller’s victim impact letter

PATH to Care: Schedule an appointment by calling 510-642-1988. For after hours support, call the 24/7 Care Line (Urgent Support): 510-643-2005

OPHD: File a report by calling 510-643-7985 or emailing [email protected]

Lora Supandi is an undergraduate student at Stanford University.