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Update on the contemplative garden

In March 2018, I provided our community with an explanation of the steps Stanford had taken regarding the contemplative garden with which many of you are familiar. This garden was installed on campus at the site of the 2015 sexual assault of the young woman who recently revealed her name as Chanel Miller. I am deeply sorry that Ms. Miller was sexually assaulted on our campus, and I recognize the profound pain she has experienced.

Much has happened over the last year and a half, and much has happened within the last few weeks.

First, there clearly has been renewed interest among students in having a plaque at the garden with Ms. Miller’s words. That interest was reflected in the resolution adopted by the ASSU and later endorsed by the Faculty Senate. I have listened carefully to the discussion around the resolution, and I also have listened to those who have reached out to me individually. The perspectives have been very useful and varied, and they have deepened my understanding that survivors of sexual violence process their experiences in very personal, nuanced, individualized ways.

Second, our recent AAU survey of students’ experiences with sexual assault and sexual harassment provided a stark reminder that sexual offenses are occurring all too frequently in our community, and that we still have far to go in building student confidence in our programs and resources. The survey results provide a clear message: We need to confront sexual violence openly and aggressively at Stanford. This, too, has influenced my reflections on the garden.

The original discussions around the proposed plaque for the garden left no one satisfied. The contemplative garden does need signage to explain what it is and what it signifies. We want visitors to the site to understand its purpose. We also want them to have the opportunity to engage with the space in whatever way feels right for them, and we want visitors to seek support if they need it.

We are now pursuing a plan to place two markers at the site. The first is a site marker to be placed at the entrance to the garden, explaining what the site is –  a contemplative space to honor and support survivors of sexual violence and remind us of our obligations to the safety and wellbeing of all in our community – and offering contact information for a confidential support resource for those visitors who wish to have it.

The second is a plaque to be placed in the garden with words originally proposed by Ms. Miller: “You took away my worth, my privacy, my energy, my time, my safety, my intimacy, my confidence, my own voice, until today.  –Chanel Miller”

We have reached out to Ms. Miller through her representative, seeking her permission to use the quote. I appreciate and value the perspectives of everyone who has contributed to this conversation. Thank you.

Persis Drell