PALO ALTO, Calif. (KGO) --Stanford students are pushing for a major change before they leave campus. Stanford commencement exercises are set for Sunday morning, but students held a rally Thursday afternoon to urge tougher penalties to protect others who are sexually assaulted.
Just two months ago, President Barack Obama and a White House task force called for colleges to do more about campus sexual assault. But students claim Stanford University wasn't tough enough on a senior accused of rape. They rallied outside a meeting of the faculty senate.
The university's sexual assault policy was not on the agenda, so students say this was a symbolic way of putting pressure on the faculty senate to change a policy created four years ago.
Stanford senior Leah Sharon Francis wants her name to be used, even though she says she is a victim of a sexual assault. (Normally ABC7 News protects the identities of sexual assault victims.) She says the assault occurred on New Year's Day while home in Juneau, Alaska. She filed a police report and the district attorney in Juneau says the case remains under investigation.
Expulsion is not sanctioned under Stanford policy. So the panel of three students and two faculty members decided to withhold the other student's diploma for two years and to postpone his enrollment in graduate school until 2016.
Francis says that sends the wrong message.
"They're essentially claiming that my past sexual relationship with my assailant is a mitigating factor," Francis said. "Their actions imply that the man who raped me is a danger only to me and not to the rest of the student body."
Stanford turned down an interview request but explained that the no-expulsion policy was intended to empower victims to step forward. Stanford says it's in compliance with Title IX federal law on sexual assaults that occur on or off-campus.
However, students at the rally believe Stanford must join several other universities in making the punishment fit the crime.
"I will become extremely disillusioned if they don't (change the policy)," Francis' friend Evan Clark said.
"Students have come out here because they support it, because they care about it, and it's so important that faculty hear what students are telling them," senior Lindsay Funk said.
San Jose criminal attorney Steve Clark is a former prosecutor. He is concerned that Stanford's policy puts other students at risk.
"Sexual assault is a very serious felony, and to allow this person to return to a college campus, in addition to sending a terrible message to the community also puts other students at risk potentially," he said.
"I love to see all the support, but we need Stanford to actually change their policies," Francis said.