Four minority issues more important than ASSU elections

Opinion by Nick Ahamed
April 14, 2014, 11:53 p.m.

Saturday saw the conclusion of this year’s ASSU general spring election. Nearly every group had their Special Fees request approved (Stanford Quidditch and Stanford African Students Association were the only two that didn’t). Students overwhelmingly supported University divestment from fossil fuels, with about three-fourths voting yes.

SAFE Reform did not earn the two-thirds share of the vote needed for a constitutional amendment. However, despite a huge effort by the Students of Color Coalition, more students voted in favor of SAFE Reform than voted against. As a student of color myself, I was sad to see the campus unnecessarily divided along racial and ethnic lines.

SAFE Reform is undoubtedly something that should be discussed on campus. But there are more important issues facing our state and nation that students of color should be channeling their energy into solving.

1. Immigration
There are an estimated 12 million people living in this country without documents, some of them Stanford students. Research indicates that undocumented workers earn significantly less than individuals who immigrated legally. Moreover, minors who were brought to this country illegally face unnecessarily high obstacles in life, employment and society relative to their peers. The welcome of The New Colossus is extended to only a certain subset of immigrants.

It’s clear that solutions like the continued deportation, let alone the “self-deportation” proposed by Mitt Romney, of undocumented families are not practical. At the same time, Republicans consistently block a pathway to citizenship. Hispanics can be extremely influential in elections. However, it will take more than pressure from Hispanic voters to change enough votes in Congress. While there are immigration activists at Stanford, immigration isn’t an issue discussed by the campus at large. It should be.

2. Education
As I have written before, the American education system drastically disfavors minority students. African Americans score 100 points lower on each section of the SAT relative to their white peers. One-third of Hispanics perform below their grade level, and only 16 percent hold college degrees, according to the American Federation of Teachers. Education is critical to a person’s future career and earnings, so even though the problems start early, they are long lasting.

Some people have presented clear fixes that need to be adopted. For example, how schools are funded should be changed. School funding is generally drawn from local property taxes, a system legalized by the U.S. Supreme Court in the 1973 San Antonio I.S.D. v. Rodriguez case, and consequently, a report by the Center for American Progress highlights how public school financing is inversely associated with the wealth of the school district. Stanford Professor Rob Reich adds to this by demonstrating how ‘charity’ can actually make things worse. Unfortunately, poor schools tend to have majority-minority student bodies and generally smaller tax bases. Because these schools cannot afford the best teachers – who come from schools like ours – minority students often receive a worse education than their more well-heeled peers. Many students volunteer in East Palo Alto to improve the situation, but few remain active post-graduation.

3. The Legal System
There is clear evidence that there is institutional discrimination in the legal system. As a Muslim myself, I’ve felt the harsh reality of racial profiling. This is not unique among Muslims, however. New York City’s Stop and Frisk policy overwhelmingly targets African-Americans and Latinos. Moreover, there are clear legal issues as well. Mandatory minimum sentencing, as discussed by Aimee Trujillo, often penalizes minority defendants more than white offenders.

This is one area in which Stanford students may have a stronger impact than others. Organizations like the ACLU and NAACP need the brightest legal minds to help in the fight for civil rights. Since these issues are institutionally entrenched, it will take more than grassroots organizing and on the ground action to legislate solutions. Given the positions of power Stanford students are likely to inhabit, awareness of and dedication to these issues is critical.

4. Voting Rights
An issue that is both historically and currently significant, voter suppression is especially targeted towards minorities. Not only have Republicans been pushing restrictive voter identification laws, but the Supreme Court also struck down Section 4(b) of the Voting Rights Act last June, which was specifically designed to protect minority voters by giving the Attorney General and the District Court of Washington, D.C. the ability to veto voting laws in communities with a historical record of racial discrimination. In Texas, for example, a voter ID law would make it more difficult for Hispanics to vote, since they are between 46.5 percent and 120 percent more likely to lack the necessary identification. Indeed, multiple prominent Republican figures have admitted that their proposed voter ID laws are primarily aimed at improving the GOP’s chances in elections.

Voting rights are important not only for democratic purposes – we should value the constitutional promise of one person, one vote – but also for more pragmatic ones. If minorities are suppressed at the polls, it will become more difficult to elect officials who will represent their positions on important issues, including many of the issues articulated here. While there is a legal course to be taken, encouraging minority involvement in state politics may prove a more effective method for protecting civil rights.


My hope is that we remember that life at Stanford is far more pleasant than it is for too many Americans. If we do, perhaps we can change the discussion about SAFE Reform from counter-productive to constructive. This will allow us not only to get back to work on the issues that really matter for minorities, but hopefully to also enable more students to do the same.

Contact Nick Ahamed at [email protected].


Nick Ahamed is the Desk Editor of The Stanford Daily Editorial Board. He was Managing Editor of Opinions for Volume 246 and previously served as a political columnist. He is a senior from Minneapolis, Minn. majoring in Political Science. Contact him at nahamed 'at'

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