Petition to include Chanel Miller’s memoir in Three Books program gains traction

Oct. 7, 2019, 11:31 p.m.

A petition to instate Chanel Miller’s memoir “Know My Name” as one of next year’s Three Books has accumulated 776 signatures from the Stanford community, as of Monday evening. Spearheaded by comparative literature professor David Palumbo-Liu, the campaign hopes to honor Miller’s voice and identity, while also bringing awareness of her story to incoming freshmen and the broader Stanford community.

Formerly known to the world as “Emily Doe,” Chanel Miller identified herself as the victim of rape by former Stanford swimmer and convicted felon Brock Turner in early September, stepping out of anonymity to tell her story with her own name and face. Her memoir, “Know My Name,” has climbed to the top of Amazon charts and garnered positive, enthusiastic reviews since its release on Sept. 24.

The petition itself praises the book as “an eloquent, compelling, and urgent book dealing with issues of sexual violence, the judicial system, racism, sexism, and institutional response, all through the lens of a young person suddenly being forced into the position of having to live through intense exposure to all those things.” If chosen for inclusion in the Three Books program, “Know My Name” would join two other books in being part of the required reading for next year’s incoming freshman class. 

The petition rose as a response to Stanford administration’s rejection of two quotes proposed for a memorial plaque marking the site of the sexual assault. In a “Notes from the Quad” blog post, Provost Persis Drell cited concerns that Miller’s proposed quotations, both of which came directly from her victim statement during Turner’s sentencing, would be “triggering” to other survivors based on consultation “with sexual violence counselors and others who work with Stanford students who are survivors of sexual assault.” 

The University’s rejection of Miller’s proposed quotes caused backlash from students, who stood by Miller as she disassociated from the plaque memorial entirely. In a message posted online, the Provost wrote that she and others felt that the quotes “would not be supportive in a healing space for survivors” and that sexual violence counselors had warned that the second quote could have a negative effect on survivors. 

According to Stanford law professor and activist Michelle Dauber, the idea for the petition arose during a discussion among her, Palumbo-Liu and other faculty members. They noted that the Three Books program has, in the past, contained books that may be as, if not more, “triggering” than Miller’s words. In an op-ed published in the Daily, Palumbo-Liu described one of this year’s reads, Tommy Orange’s “There There,” as a “controversial and graphic book” due to segments containing genocide, beheading, rape and drawing and quartering.

He also cited past books such as “The Spirit Catches You and You Fall Down” by Anne Fadiman, which he says many Hmong students on campus found “very triggering and offensive in the way it was talking about how Hmong refugees process trauma.”

“Stanford didn’t pay any attention to [their reactions].” Thus, he argues, the “idea of a beneficent organization looking out for its students doesn’t play as well as it’s supposed to.”

By incorporating “Know My Name” into the freshman experience and subsequent campus discussion, the petitioners hope to reverse what Dauber calls a “censorship” of Miller’s voice, which Dauber believes is “inconsistent with the values of a great university.” 

The petition has spread widely across campus, with most of its signatories being undergraduates. 

“I think it’s important that freshmen come in with an understanding of Chanel Miller’s story, especially because of how relevant it is to Stanford,” said Rayan Krishnan ’23, who signed the petition. 

Former Associated Students of Stanford University president and Title IX activist Shanta Katipamula B.S. ’19 M.S. ’20 was a freshman when Miller’s impact statement initially went viral on Buzzfeed. She believes that “Know My Name” would be a “fantastic book to be a part of the program, since it would send the message that Stanford is serious about sexual violence.” 

Katipamula added that the incorporation of the book into the required summer reading would establish a “day zero reality” about the standards that students are expected to uphold, but voiced doubt that Miller’s memoir would actually be implemented into the Three Books program. 

Though she says she has seen incremental progress when it comes to consent and sexual assault throughout her time on campus, especially as the #MeToo movement has changed community understanding, Katipamula described Stanford’s response to Miller’s plaque as “ridiculous.” 

“Stanford should empower survivors, and not silence them,” Katipamula said.

A student-led augmented reality project is currently showing a virtual rendering of Miller’s chosen passage, “You took away my worth, my privacy, my energy, my time, my safety, my intimacy, my confidence, my own voice, until today,” at the site of her 2015 assault.

However, Palumbo-Liu does not believe that it is a substitute for the plaque, and hopes to show, through the petition, that instead of finding them “triggering,” the Stanford community believes that Miller’s words are “thought-provoking, cautionary and inspiring.” 

Khoi Le ’20, one of the leaders of the augmented reality project that honors Miller’s words at her memorial, said of the Three Books petition, “It’s important that the next generation of Stanford students, for whom the Brock Turner incident happened in the beginning of high school, doesn’t forget about Chanel Miller and her message for the community.” 

Contact Max Hampel at mhampel ‘at’ and Marianne Lu at mlu23 ‘at’

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