Faculty Senate approves resolution supporting Chanel Miller, discusses liberal arts education

Oct. 25, 2019, 1:04 a.m.

“I am still in shock. I didn’t expect this to go through,” said former ASSU President and protest organizer Shanta Katipamula ’19 M.S. ’20, just minutes after the Faculty Senate unanimously voted in favor of an ASSU resolution supporting Chanel Miller’s right to choose the quote for a commemorative plaque at the site of her sexual assault.

“It’s pretty incredible to see the Faculty Senate not only support our resolution, but to do so unanimously, it’s a pretty incredible feeling right now to know that we’re one step further in this battle,” she added.

The Senate’s decision followed impassioned speeches in support of the resolution by ASSU President Erica Scott ’20 and comparative literature professor David Palumbo-Liu, as well as a measured defense of the University’s decision from Provost Persis Drell. The heated — and at times emotional — two-hour long Senate session also saw debate over two Long-Range Planning proposals set to redesign the future of the major and the first-year experience. Faculty sparred over the specifics of reviving Stanford’s commitment to a liberal arts education, offering perspectives that often differed based on backgrounds in either the humanities or STEM fields. 

Senate approves resolution in support of Chanel Miller

Protestors packed a Jordan Hall auditorium as the Faculty Senate began its second session of the academic year, pressuring professors to vote in favor of an ASSU resolution defending Miller’s chosen quote for a plaque commemorating her sexual assault in 2015. 

According to Miller’s memoir “Know My Name,” the University initially agreed to allow Miller to choose any quote from her widely-read victim statement to put on the plaque. Yet both of Miller’s proposed quotes were rejected on the grounds that they would not aid with the healing process of sexual assault survivors. In a public blog post, Provost Drell said the decision was made after consultation with sexual violence counselors. 

Since then, both legislative bodies of the ASSU — the Graduate Student Council and the Undergraduate Senate — have unanimously passed resolutions opposing the University’s decision, and a student petition supporting Miller’s right to choose her quote has garnered over 2,000 signatures.

ASSU President Scott opened proceedings with a speech supporting the second quote Miller proposed for the plaque: “You took away my worth, my privacy, my energy, my time, my intimacy, my confidence, my own voice, until today.” 

“This quote is not graphic, it does not mention rape, or assault, or sex in any way,” she said. “It expresses the universal sense of silencing experienced by so many survivors of sexual violence. But it importantly declares the end of that period, with the words ‘until today.’”

Palumbo-Liu followed Scott in giving a speech in support of the resolution. 

In a Daily op-ed published earlier this month, Palumbo-Liu argued that one of the University’s proposed quotes —  “I’m okay, everything’s okay, I’m right here” — was inaccurately extrapolated from a specific conversation Miller had with her sister.

Drell then proceeded to defend the University’s earlier decision to reject the quotes proposed by Miller for the plaque. As the Provost began her speech, protesters raised signs such as “2200+ People Stand with Chanel, Do you?” and “Persis you can fix this.” 

Echoing her earlier blog post on this topic, Drell said the University’s decision was made in close consultation with Stanford sexual assault counselors, who believed Miller’s proposed quotes could be triggering to sexual assault survivors. 

“Many of us, in this room, have experienced the trauma caused by sexual violence and sexual harassment,” she said. “Everyone deals with that trauma in their own way. And the healing process is very individual. However, personal experience does not qualify us to fully understand the healing process of others.”

“We understand that experts can disagree on what is triggering,” she added. “But we felt we should accept the professional judgment of those who work with individuals in our community who have survived sexual violence.” 

Faculty seemed largely receptive to the ASSU resolution. Professor David Spiegel cited his own experience as a trauma expert in defending Miller’s second quote for putting her traumatic experience into perspective. Professor Andrea Goldsmith told the Senate that she believed Miller’s quote was powerful and that her voice should be heard.

As the discussion wound down, the Faculty Senate unanimously voted in favor of the ASSU resolution, defying the Provost and drawing applause from student activists across the room. As the meeting adjourned, students celebrated with one another, many surprised by the resounding support the Senate showed towards the resolution. 

Senate discusses proposed redesign of majors and first-year experience

Earlier in the meeting, the Faculty Senate also discussed the future of the major and first-year experience proposals. These proposals were originally developed as a part of the Long-Range Planning process and will be turned into formal legislation in the coming months for the Senate to debate and vote upon. 

A presentation led by Professors Dan Edelstein, Lanier Anderson, Thomas Kenny and Sarah Church over these proposals, created by the First-Year and Majors Design Groups, opened a broader discussion over how to best achieve a liberal arts experience at Stanford. 

Resting their proposed redesign of the undergraduate curriculum on the common perception that liberal education is going through a crisis due to Stanford’s pre-professional culture, the professors outlined the changes they envisioned for restoring the University’s commitment to accessible intellectual exploration. These include a universal unit cap for all majors to promote added course exploration, a required three-quarter liberal arts core for all first-year students and a mandated senior capstone experience.

Faculty debated the proposals for the first time following the presentation. While all recognized the importance of a liberal arts education to students, STEM professors in particular expressed their reservations about the proposed changes.

Citing existing Thinking Matters courses teaching science topics, biology professor Sharon Long expressed concern that the proposed core was simply a way to “mandate more humanities classes” at the expense of existing frosh science classes. 

Engineering professor Parviz Moin pushed back on the proposed regulation to cap all majors at 95 units, arguing that departmental faculty should be able to control the number of required courses for completion of specific majors.

“[Engineering] is a pre-professional degree and there is a certain expectation for what practitioners know and don’t know,” he said, referring to external certification programs like ABET

Other faculty expressed concerns surrounding the difficulties of actually implementing the proposed changes within the next few years, commenting on the added burdens it would place on both faculty and students alike.

“This notion of orchestrating or designing a program which requires to force both students and faculty into a class seems like a recipe for disaster,” said electrical engineering professor Mark Horowitz, pushing back against a proposed first-year, fall-quarter class for all frosh.

“I think you can get much better engagement between both the students and the faculty if we give them some freedom,” he added. 

Professor and former provost John Etchemendy criticized the first-year core for its emphasis on teaching the importance of a liberal arts education, rather than actually providing a liberal arts education itself.

Citing his own experience teaching Education as Self-Fashioning courses, however, Edelstein defended the proposed Stanford model, arguing that students often need to be explicitly encouraged to pursue their own intellectual interests.

“I’ve had so many students sit in ESF, which is really introducing them to liberal education, have a eureka moment, where they say, ‘You can do that in college? You can actually talk about ideas and take these kinds of classes and read Du Bois and read Rousseau?’” he said. “Many students don’t feel they have the permission anymore.” 

Contact Berber Jin at fjin16 ‘at’ stanford.edu

Berber Jin is a senior history major and desk editor for the university beat at the Daily. He enjoys covering university China policy and technology ethics, and is currently writing an honors thesis on the Caribbean anti-colonialist George Padmore. He is originally from New York, NY.

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