Q&A with Harry Elliott, editor-in-chief of the Stanford Review

May 5, 2016, 12:50 a.m.

The Stanford Review’s editor-in-chief Harry Elliott ’18 is no stranger to conflict. Under his leadership, the Review has butted heads with campus activists on all manner of issues, ranging from a serious proposal to revive a Western Civilization requirement at Stanford to a satirical article aimed at curriculum diversity advocates Who’s Teaching Us. The Daily sat down with Elliott to talk Review controversy, campus politics and his possibly contrarian tendencies.

The Stanford Daily (TSD): Why did you join the Review in the first place?

(JACOB NIERENBERG/The Stanford Daily).
(JACOB NIERENBERG/The Stanford Daily).

Harry Elliott (HE): That’s a toughie. I first saw the Review booth at Admit Weekend and thought it was quite interesting. I was involved in high school journalism – though it was more of commentary and not really in a journalistic way – and thought that was a more fun way to go. I also thought Stanford, as compared to the East Coast schools, was a place where you could speak your mind more, and I wanted to be part of something with impact.

TSD: How would you describe the Review’s impact?

HE: In a word, substantial. I don’t know if you’re looking for a value judgment, but, putting a positive spin on it, the impact is just so strong nowadays. The traffic we see is significant, the number of people who read each article is in 4 figures at this point, people care about and listen to what we say.

TSD: What would you say to criticisms that the Review deliberately provokes rather than sparks reasonable debate?

HE: I’m always suspicious of people whose main criticism of the Review is that we’re provocative. There are lots of things we can do to annoy lots of people, and I don’t think we traditionally do all of that. In other campuses the kinds of campus uproar that contrarian or conservative papers cause is very different. I’m proud to say the Review is one of the most constructive conservative papers on campus.

TSD: What about when it alienates a large swathe of groups on campus?

HE: I’m guessing you’re alluding to the April Fools’ article at this point. I think a lot of us believed that Who’s Teaching Us (WTU) is a group so divergent from the accepted median of where people and groups are allowed to stand, and the way they’re allowed to advocate for change, that the only way to convey the absurdity of it was essentially to satirize the way they operate.

I just think it is abhorrent to say, “We demand these 25 things or else we’ll start setting stuff on fire and getting angry.” I think demand culture is unacceptable when there are clear political steps they could have taken instead of being modern day anarchists.

Also, I think the reaction to the piece was somewhat overblown. In reality, [those who disagreed with the article] were a small cabal of a few dozen people. The article was received very well by a large number of Stanford students who thought it was quite funny. In the worst case scenario, if people were willing to be supportive of WTU, at least they could question the way [WTU] advocates change.

TSD: Could you elaborate on your beef with WTU’s method of advocacy?

HE: Here’s the crucial difference. Matthew Cohen in the ASSU Senate, whom I admire, put forward a Senate-run petition to hold a new Campus Climate Survey on sexual assault. When Stanford refused, the student body can take very clear action to say, “we democratically upheld the option and you’re failing to uphold the will of the student body.” But [with WTU], when the President and Provost don’t show up and send a letter that they see as placatory rather than meaningful, there’s not really much you can do.

TSD: What opinion or group on campus do you disagree with most strongly?

HE: I’ve already conveyed my principled objection to WTU methods. Actually, I’m much more neutral on some of the policies they talk about, but the way they advocate is not acceptable.  Otherwise I think there are no other groups on campus I think of as particularly objectively bad.

If there’s one kind of prevailing campus viewpoint that does annoy me, it’s the idea that either you win or you stay silent. One reason why they don’t speak out about viewpoints is that Stanford students think that the average Stanford student is far more liberal than the average Stanford student actually is. We found that in a survey we did last year, and I think lots of people just aren’t willing to talk about the large number of issues unless it’s [with people they know] they’ll agree with anyway.

TSD: Do the criticisms that the Review is full of privileged white men get to you?

HE: You know, I went to Eton… anarchists used to march around campus furiously, endlessly screaming at all of us and I was 13 years old at that time. Most of my educational life has involved people screaming at me one way or another.

The Review obviously has a history of opposing campus activism. It rose out of opposing campus activism to decolonize our education, ironically enough. There will always be a small cabal of people who see everything we do as hostile. There’s a reason why a couple dozen people who submitted acts of intolerance over our news article are the exact same people who comment on every Facebook post we’ve ever made and do their best to waste time rather than spend it productively.

Judging people on history is a ridiculous way to understand how people operate. I have no connection ideologically, personally, familially with the people who started the Review 20 years ago or the way it looked even three years ago.

TSD: How reflective would you say your articles are of your personal views?

HE: It depends. I agree with lots of things we stand for, I was a big instigator in the Western Civilization requirement. On removing Serra’s name, I was not 100 percent sure where I stand. One thing Stanford can’t seem to understand is that it’s possible to have an open mind and not argue for any particular thing, that people don’t seem to take any position in between.

I object when people have viewpoints and don’t rationally represent them – [the Undergraduate Senate resolution on removing Serra’s name] happened in seven days flat with very little consultation with the Catholic community, with lots of people who have lived in Serra. The Senate didn’t talk about how what made it so important to remove Serra, but not to remove some names that the Senate seemed uneager to remove, such as Tresidder or Jordan, who was prominent in the eugenecist movement.

TSD: How would you place the Review on the political spectrum? Is this consistent, or do you try to represent all views as far as possible?

HE: I’m centrist, obviously there are a few people who would identify with the Republican Party, and also large numbers who identify as Libertarian but who wouldn’t realistically vote Libertarian in an election.

I think the Review is probably center-right in Stanford, which is center-center. The Review is further to the left than some Americans, but Stanford forgets that when they leave the bubble they can’t expect everyone to hold the same political viewpoints universally. It’s absurd.

Some Stanford grads are shocked by the way people in mainstream society hold much more conservative viewpoints than they do, but that’s part of the campus bubble. And we’re happy to be somewhat to the right of campus media.


Contact Fangzhou Liu at fzliu96 ‘at’ stanford.edu.

Fangzhou Liu ’19 was Vol. 253 Executive Editor; before that, she co-led the news section. She grew up in Singapore and studies computer science and linguistics.

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