Anonymous emails spark controversy in ASSU elections

April 13, 2012, 3:04 a.m.

Campus has erupted over the past 36 hours in a firestorm of commentary on the actions and subsequent criticisms-turned-attacks on ASSU Vice President and Executive candidate Stewart MacGregor-Dennis ‘13.

Following news Wednesday that MacGregor-Dennis spent over $2,000 on various online services, including scraping student email addresses from MyGroups and hiring a social media manager to earn him Facebook likes and Twitter followers, criticism of MacGregor-Dennis began to circulate on Facebook and over email. Students reacted in protest Thursday when the criticisms shifted to attacks against MacGregor-Dennis.

The most controversial writing regarding MacGregor-Dennis came in the form of an anonymous, widely circulated email sent late Wednesday night from a person identifying as Senator Palpatine, the name of the “Star Wars” antagonist that has been used in recent ASSU elections as a non-partisan, write-in candidate for the Undergraduate Senate.

The long, scathing email began by criticizing MacGregor-Dennis, quoting articles and opinion pieces from The Daily and Stanford Review. As the email progressed, it descended into a vitriolic attack on the personal character and mental health of MacGregor-Dennis, calling him mentally unstable and unfit to run for ASSU Executive by quoting, without attribution, an anonymous comment on The Daily website.

Another widely distributed email sent Thursday morning from an anonymous account ([email protected]) claimed to know Palpatine’s identity through means requiring access to Stanford computing reserved for student resident computer consultants (RCCs). The Daily could not confirm this claim.

According to an RCC, an administrator sent an email to the campus RCC list asking Justice to step forward, and administrators later reported to RCCs that Justice has come forward.

Campus administrators expressed disappointment regarding the email attacks, which likely violate the Fundamental Standard.

“I’m writing to the student community regarding the recent distribution of unsolicited bulk emails and campus blogs regarding current ASSU election candidates,” said Nanci Howe, director of Student Activities and Leadership, in an email to The Daily. “Hurtful claims that may not be true diminish all of us and suppress open, respectful and honest dialogue. As a responsible and caring community, we embrace vigorous debate while respecting our individual members. The recent communications are contrary to these values.”

Howe confirmed that the University has opened an investigation of the anonymous emails.

Criticism of MacGregor-Dennis took several forms in addition to the campus-wide emails.

MemeChu, the Stanford meme group on Facebook, posted an infographic mocking MacGregor-Dennis’ Facebook cover photo and his social media following, as well as applying a “scumbag Steve” hat to the candidate. The post garnered almost 200 likes.

Ralph Nguyen ’12, one of the founders of MemeChu, did not respond for comment.

“Static,” a blog started last fall quarter that describes itself as a site for Stanford activists to meet and talk, posted a poem titled “The White Man’s Dirty Work” decrying MacGregor-Dennis’ outsourcing of work to people of color, especially women in developing countries. The final line of the poem, which was co-written by Holly Fetter ’13 and Aracely Mondragon ’13, reads “Your slave I will no longer be.”

It remains to be seen what effect the shift in campus atmosphere will have on election results. Polls close Friday at 11:59 p.m. and election results will be announced at 5 p.m. on Saturday. Voters may edit their ballots until polls close.

“They have negatively impacted the election,” said Elections Commissioner Adam Adler ’12 of the anonymous emails. “I’ve received emails from people who are basically turned off from voting because of those things.”

Adler said he believes the “integrity of the election” has not been compromised, but the student body may look less favorably on the election process due to the Palpatine email.

“People don’t like it,” he said, referring to the situation as a whole and the use of the Senator Palpatine gimmick for partisan purposes.

Robbie Zimbroff ’12 and William Wagstaff ’12, MacGregor-Dennis’ main competitors for ASSU Executive, released a video commenting upon the attacks.

“A lot of what we’ve been seeing, to us, goes beyond this scope of this election,” said Zimbroff in a video posted on Facebook early Thursday morning. “For the next few days, and for the rest of the race, we just ask people to be respectful, and to treat people like [they] want to be treated.”

MacGregor-Dennis declined to comment for this article.

Brendan is a senior staff writer at The Stanford Daily. Previously he was the executive editor, the deputy editor, a news desk editor and a writer for the news section. He's a history major originally from New Orleans.

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