"A sinking pit in my stomach."
That's how students at Stanford University describe their feelings about the sentencing of Brock Turner, a star athlete at the school who was found guilty of sexual assault after having been caught with the unconscious victim behind a dumpster. Despite the severity of his actions, Judge Aaron Persky sentenced Turner to just six months in county jail, claiming "a prison sentence would have a severe impact on him. I think he will not be a danger to others."
Outrage over both Turner's crime, and his comparatively lax punishment, has sparked nationwide condemnation, further raising questions of race and privilege in the American legal system. But for members of the Stanford community, who spoke to Fusion about their reactions to the case, the outrage feels personal.
"The case, when I first heard about it, is just extremely heartbreaking," Megan Calfas, 20, told Fusion. "It makes me lose a lot of faith in our justice system.
"If it was someone who wasn't an all-American swimmer, or even a Stanford student, or who was a white male they probably wouldn't be given the same sentence time for the exact same crime," she added. "And that's just unjust."
Many students interviewed by Fusion expressed profound empathy for the woman Turner assaulted.
"I think one of the parts that really just, I found the most disturbing, was when she woke up and and was being touched again without her consent by these medical people who were trying to help her," said Cristopher Vazquez, 27, recalling a moment described by the unnamed woman in a letter she released detailing her experience. "It just rehearses the same violence that she experienced that night."
"It's just disgusting that she had to stand this strong and had to fight for her own life in this way," explained Maria Doerr, 20. "To fight for her own dignity."
Tatiana Balabanis, 20, echoed the sentiment. "The bravery and like, the strength that it took for her to come out and like, make this statement is beyond admirable. For her, proximity to Turner's crime seems to underscore an important lesson."
"It can happen anywhere," she explained. "It can happen at Stanford, it can happen at any university, at any place, and I think it's important that people are talking about this issue."
Reporting contributed by Lakshmi Sarah