FFS responds to administration’s letter, faculty hold ‘teach-ins’

Nov. 18, 2015, 11:36 p.m.
Students participate in a “teach-in,” led by Jeremy Sabol, a SLE section leader, in the Main Quad. (ADA THROCKMORTON / The Stanford Daily)

Fossil Free Stanford (FFS) sit-in participants responded Wednesday night to the University’s warning letter to protesters by affirming their resolve to remain outside President John Hennessy’s office. Throughout the day, many faculty members supported the sit-in participants by holding “teach-ins” and relocating regular classes to the area outside Building 10, where protesters are camped out.

Hennessy also has agreed to meet publicly with protesters on Friday. No specific time, however, has been set.

Fossil Free’s response letter

In a letter to Hennessy and the Board of Trustees, members of FFS mimicked the structure and language of the administration’s own warning letter to reject the University’s suggestion that they end their sit-in or relocate to White Plaza. The group stated that they will stay outside Building 10 “specifically to call for action from Hennessy and the Board of Trustees.”

Paralleling the University’s call to protesters to leave the Main Quad in order to comply with school policy, the letter from the sit-in participants states, “In order to comply with Stanford University’s mission and Fundamental Standard, you must immediately divest from the rest of the fossil fuel industry. The student body and Stanford community are instructing you to do so.”

After laying out the repercussions of Stanford’s refusal to divest from fossil fuels (“Can you accept the consequences of your own inaction?”) and refusing to move to White Plaza, the letter says, “This movement is not going away.”

The protesters presented a physical copy of the letter to Chris Griffith, associate vice provost and dean of students. Griffith and Nicole Taylor, associate vice provost for student affairs and dean of community engagement and diversity, delivered the university missive to sit-in participants on Tuesday afternoon.

Faculty teach-ins and classes demonstrate support

Since Tuesday, faculty have shown their solidarity with protesters through a near-continuous lineup of teach-ins and relocated classes held in the Main Quad.

“A lot of faculty are teaching and researching and thinking about different facets of this campaign and environmental justice,” said Daniel Murray Ph.D. ’15, Stanford’s director of community engaged learning. “Trying to bring other folks into this space and capitalize on those conversations is valuable for helping students think critically about what they’re doing here.”

Teach-ins — which range from “Politics and Justice in Carbon Accounting” to “Antigone and Social Dissent” — are open to the entire campus community and discuss social, political and environmental issues relevant to the Fossil Free movement. Relocated classes do not necessarily relate to the sit-in and divestment, but FFS student organizer Josh Lappen ’17 said that these classes combine with the teach-ins to help make the sit-in “an educational space.”

“The fact that we’ve chosen this [sit-in] tactic means that we have a lot of spare time,” said FFS media coordinator Michael Penuelas ’15 M.S.’16. “We wanted that time to be constructive toward the goal of educating people about fossil fuel companies… and their role in driving climate change.”

“Upholding the educational mission of the University, we wanted the sit-in to provide space for all kinds of discussions, including but not limited to fossil fuels,” Penuelas said.

As of Wednesday night, FFS’s website listed 10 teach-ins and 12 relocated classes that have already taken place; more are planned for Thursday and Friday. This list continues to grow as more faculty members hear about the outdoor classes and request to participate, said Lappen, who helped coordinate the educational activities.

Lappen pointed out that 379 Stanford faculty members have signed a letter urging the University to divest from fossil fuels. He noted high interest in teaching at the sit-in as further proof of strong faculty support for the movement.

The students in FFS reached out to trusted professors late last week asking if they would be willing to teach classes in the Quad. Penuelas said that the Earth Systems program was the most contacted and most responsive department, but that faculty members leading the classes represent a wide range of disciplines, from urban studies to classics to computer science.

Faculty members leading the teach-ins were eager to share areas of expertise that they thought would intersect with and provoke thought about the divestment movement.

Donna Hunter, a lecturer in the Program in Writing and Rhetoric (PWR), held a teach-in Tuesday evening called “Black Lives Matter and Student Activism.” She argued that, overall, University professors were more supportive of the Occupy movement than the Black Lives Matter movement because they could relate more to the former group. Hunter challenged FFS students — whom she pointed out are mostly white — to consider the role of racial politics in their own movement.

“I feel like even five years ago there wasn’t this kind of activism on Stanford campus,” she said. “I see students getting really motivated to take their education really seriously, but also what’s going on off campus.”

Murray led a teach-in called “Radical Democracy: Power to the People” at midday on Wednesday. He spoke about the limits of a democracy in which citizens choose representatives but rarely engage more deeply.

Students participating in the sit-in were grateful for faculty support.

“It feels similar in nature to having people come and drop off warm supplies, or having people drop off food,” said Gabriela Leslie ’14 M.S. ’17. “They’re coming in and dropping off their knowledge.”

However, Penuelas emphasized that the teach-ins are for everyone, saying that Fossil Free has sought to publicize the teach-ins with posters and a Facebook page. He estimated that about a third of the 30 attendees at professor of classics Rush Rehm’s teach-in “Antigone and Social Dissent” were not members of FFS.

“They’re just folks who came because they wanted to engage with the issues,” he said.

Similarly, urban studies lecturer Kevin Hsu ’10 — who moved his class “International Urbanization” to the Main Quad on Wednesday — emphasized that the sit-in classes should be inclusive of all students and views.

“Being here does not necessarily mean that you have to agree with what we’re doing,” he said. “We’re just saying that we think it’s a worthwhile conversation to have as members of the Stanford community and inhabitants of planet Earth… You are citizens of this community that we’re all part of — students, faculty, alumni and staff.”


Contact Hannah Knowles at hknowles ‘at’ stanford.edu.

Official Notice From Fossil Free Stanford

Official Notice from Stanford University

Hannah Knowles is senior staff writer from San Jose who served as Volume 253 Editor-in-Chief. Prior to that, she managed The Daily's news section.

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