Stanford, stop telling us we belong here

Opinion by Malavika Kannan
Nov. 11, 2019, 8:52 p.m.

It’s only week eight of autumn quarter of freshman year, but I’m already standing arm-in-arm with my friends in protest outside Memorial Auditorium. Because by affording noted bigot Ben Shapiro a platform at our school, Stanford University is already proving what we knew deep-down: that on this campus, we have to stand up for each other. Stanford certainly won’t stand up for us. 

To my right, my friend is chanting with the crowd. On one hand, Vaden Health Center is offering him his first-ever access to gender counseling, which will aid in his adjustment as a transgender student. But on the other hand, Stanford College Republicans are currently sitting in the auditorium before us, cheering on a man who claimed transgender people suffer from mental illness — and the University has done nothing to stop it. For the past month, my friend was forced to stare down Shapiro posters hung in our residential hall: a visual reminder that even at home, Stanford prioritizes platforms for bigots over his personal safety. It wasn’t like he could remove them, either: Vice Provost Susie Brubaker-Cole sent out a campus-wide email discouraging students from tearing down flyers.

I’m not a STEM major, but even I can tell this math doesn’t add up.

Shapiro has used his enormous public power to shower lies and hatred upon communities with decidedly less of it — people of color, LGBTQ+ folk, and the Muslim, Palestinian and African-American communities, among others. Many of my friends belong to these communities, and although Stanford continually insists otherwise — in the form of New Student Orientation diversity events, Frosh101 modules and lofty emailed rhetoric from members of the administration — we can’t help but suspect that Stanford is not built for us. Freshmen from marginalized communities already suspected that Stanford was lying when it told us that we belong here. We just didn’t expect the University to confirm our suspicions so quickly. 

By permitting Shapiro to speak his mind, stir controversy on campus and fuel mental anguish among students, Stanford isn’t actually honoring a commitment to free speech. (If that was the case, the University would stop gaslighting Chanel Miller and put up her chosen quote.) Instead, Stanford showed us that earning money, approval and validation from powerful conservative institutions is more important than protecting the diverse body of students that make our school great. Stanford is not taking a principled stand for equal discourse: it is making a cowardly decision to sacrifice students’ well-being because it’s afraid of angering right-wing forces, whose donations and legacy children they cannot live without. And somehow, Stanford still has the audacity to tell me I belong here. 

This isn’t Stanford’s first offense this year, not by a long shot. Stanford’s administration has demonstrated consistently that when forced to choose between lip service and true justice for marginalized students, it will choose to let us down. Provost Persis Drell’s refusal to honor Stanford’s commitment to Chanel Miller with the plaque of her choosing — despite the almost universal consensus among faculty and students that survivors’ voices matter — is an example of the University refusing to stand up for its students. 

It is jarring, to say the least, to receive an anguished email from administrators bemoaning the divisiveness and hurt on this campus, and offeringing feeble “Education Against Racial Hate” programming — only to receive a second email in which they admonish the student body for removing Shapiro’s flyers. When you belong to a community whose identity is under attack every day, the promise of a Hackathon Against Hate is not just insulting — it’s invalidating. Stanford knows that a hackathon cannot undo the mental trauma imposed by Shapiro’s bigotry, and the University doesn’t care. It feels like Stanford’s true intentions were never to protect us, only to silence us. And we will not be silenced. 

I’m no longer reassuring my friends of color that we belong here. I’m no longer accepting the mentality that drives my friends to request their FERPA admissions files as proof that they were not “diversity picks,” that they do indeed have a place here. Instead, I’m accepting the fact that Stanford does not have a place for us — it never did. It’s up to us to make that place for ourselves, even if that means criticizing and protesting everything this institution stands for. And it’s Stanford that does not deserve to have us here, not the other way around.

Contact Malavika Kannan at mkannan ‘at’

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