Moving forward

Nov. 15, 2016, 12:26 a.m.

When I received my fellowship for graduate study at Stanford, I signed a pledge to help my country in “times of national emergency.” I didn’t take it seriously at the time. But the fellowship was founded by an immigrant threatened by an oppressive government, and his words seem eerily prescient now.

The future is extremely uncertain, because pretty much every prediction about Trump has been wrong, so people comfort me by saying he might only be moderately bad. But the flipside of large uncertainty is that he might be extremely bad.

So, while I am only one person, I make the only pledge I can: If you are a member of the many groups Trump has threatened and degraded, if you are frightened and uncertain, I will fight for you until I can’t keep my eyes open and my code no longer runs. I will fight for you with op-eds and papers and theorems and speeches and interviews and donations and everyday conversations. Come to me if you see trends that frighten you or problems you think I might be able to help you study. And to Mr. Trump and his supporters — if you try to tear down science in service of bigotry, by repeating your claims that stop-and-frisk worked incredibly well or immigrants frequently commit crimes or voter fraud is a big problem or systemic bias and joking about assault aren’t — if the insistence on evidence is liberal elitism, then I am proud of it. We did not put a person on the moon by lying about how long our rocket was.

To the Stanford students I’ve been lucky enough to meet — the world needs you now more than ever. If you’ve got quantitative training, whether you’re a computer scientist or a physicist or an economist, mount up. I can’t tell you how often I’ve wished for competent data people to help me with the oodles of messy data you have to go through to root out discrimination and inequality.

If you’re studying law, mount up. We need public defenders for those unjustly convicted, immigration lawyers for those unjustly deported, advocates for journalists accused of libel.

If you’re thinking about taking a job which is high-paying but not that meaningful because you don’t know what else to do, mount up. You really think optimizing click-through rates or expected return is the most important thing you can do with your life right now? What about optimizing graduation rates or false conviction rates?

If you’ve got disposable income from that internship or tech bonus, mount up. Don’t talk to me about how you’re scared about the future when you make three times as much money as I do and don’t donate any of it. Here’s one reasonable-looking list of charities, and I’d love to hear from GiveWell or other charity assessment organizations about how to most effectively combat the threats posed by a Trump presidency. And if you aren’t sure what to do, invite the people you care about over and make an action plan.

One last thing. The election was a catastrophe, but I do not think the results should substantially change what we believed about the American people on November 7. Trump lost the popular vote by roughly the amount we expected him to. I continue to believe, as a Jewish woman who fought bigotry once wrote, that most people are really good at heart.

—Emma Pierson ’13, Ph.D. student in computer science

Contact Emma Pierson at emmap1 ‘at’ 

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