Letter from faculty and others regarding Robert Spencer

Nov. 14, 2017, 3:00 a.m.

To President Tessier-Lavigne and Provost Drell:

Stanford University identifies “certain types of free speech [that] are not permitted under University policy — for example, threats of harm that constitute a hate crime, instances of unlawful harassment or speech that disrupts classes or other university functions.” As four brave Stanford graduate students have pointed out in their recent letter in The Daily, Robert Spencer has chosen to engage in exactly those types of speech in advance of the event planned at Stanford. (The four students who wrote this letter are now receiving threatening emails for speaking out about these threats of harm.)

Currently, Spencer’s Jihad Watch website is harassing students, staff and faculty and exposing them to further harm at the hands of “alt-right” trolls. In addition to the student cited in the letter above, Spencer is using Jihad Watch to target Minha Khan, a Muslim student whose essay in the Stanford Review details the impact of this event on her as follows: “I was afraid. I didn’t know what this meant for me, a Pakistani Muslim girl who covers her head.”

On its new “Free Speech” website, Stanford proclaims that “the University stands in full support of its Muslim students, faculty and staff, who are integral to the Stanford community.” Yet Muslim students (and faculty and staff) are reporting the threat created by Spencer’s speech. Who gets to speak for the Muslim community on our campus? Is it Robert Spencer? Is it the Stanford administration? Or is it people like Minha Khan — people who are living with what Islamophobia does at Stanford — and who are clear what this means, as she states: “I do want everyone to know that this event has reminded me that no matter how hard I try, I can never fully belong to the Stanford community.”

This intimidation is not just an individual experience — the Markaz began its most recent newsletter by noting the substantial negative impact of Spencer’s event on the entire Muslim-affiliated community on our campus: “In light of an invitation of a self-proclaimed Islamophobe to campus, many of us are feeling overwhelmed.” The Muslim Law Students Association letter in The Stanford Daily identifies several examples of Spencer “spread[ing] of inflammatory and conspiratorial views of Islam” and “target[ing] Muslims.”

Like the President and the Provost, we “worry about the experiences of vulnerable or silenced populations within our community — those who seek an environment where their identities are welcomed, not challenged by hate or ignorance.” But we see the terms of that “worry” differently. We see this “worry” as entailing a concrete responsibility. Unless we act, we are complicit in perpetuating systems of harm. As we witness Robert Spencer and his Islamophobic incitements to violence target colleagues and students, we believe that we cannot merely be worried. We actually have to enact the values that we claim to uphold.

For us, this means taking seriously the lived experience of the people most impacted by racism, bigotry, hate speech and xenophobia. It also means taking seriously the real threat posed by Robert Spencer and Jihad Watch as he continues to harass our students and colleagues. We would like to point out that Jihad Watch has publicized and mocked an announcement intended for the Stanford community about an anti-Islamophobic event “uplifting communities attacked by Robert Spencer’s Islamophobia.” On Friday, Meyer Green was tagged with anti-Muslim hate speech. On Jihad Watch, Spencer writes, “I’ve just learned that while Stanford has barred non-students from the event, there is room for a small number of invited guests who are not students. If you’re in the area and would like to come, email me at [email protected].” Who will be drawn to campus by Spencer’s publicizing of this event? Who will find his rhetoric compelling enough to take action, knowing that Stanford has lent its credence to Spencer’s ideas? And who is likely to be most impacted by Stanford’s decision to prioritize the “free speech” of Robert Spencer — which rests on toxic histories of White supremacy — over the safety of our community?

We are not talking about a scholarly debate over affordable health care; we fully support the principle of academic freedom that allows us to disagree about issues. We are talking about the fact that Stanford is welcoming, funding and amplifying someone whose basic premise is not debatable, because it is fundamentally dehumanizing. Whenever the claim is made that an identity group is inherently less worthy of full personhood — whether that claim is made about people who are Muslim, Rohingya, Jewish, Black, trans or gender non-conforming, Bosnian, queer, immigrants, Mexican, etc. — it is always unacceptable. We call upon Stanford to recognize the harm that is being done and to take the ethical actions demanded by the Fundamental Standard and the University Code of Conduct.


Dr. Donna Hunter, Program in Writing and Rhetoric
Dr. Gabrielle Moyer, Program in Writing and Rhetoric
Dr. Selby Wynn Schwartz, Program in Writing and Rhetoric
Dr. Ruth Starkman, Program in Writing and Rhetoric
Dr. Maxe Crandall, Program in Feminist, Gender and Sexuality Studies
Fatima Ladha, Class of 2017
Robert Crews, Professor, Department of History
Chloé MacKinnon, Comparative Literature
Dr. Ann Watters, Program in Writing and Rhetoric
Dr. Doree Allen, Oral Communication Program
and other concerned faculty, staff and students who felt too vulnerable or too intimidated, or weren’t able to sign this letter in time for publication.


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