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Amid protests of anti-Black racism, physically distant students organize virtually

Student groups respond to killing of George Floyd with online organizing and programming

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Students placed more than 1,000 calls to Minnesota public officials as part of activist groups’ push to demand prison abolition, defunding of police departments and an end to police violence amid ongoing brutality and anti-Black racism highlighted by the recent deaths of George Floyd and others.

While students, now scattered across the nation, take to the streets to protest anti-Black racism, student groups lacking an on-campus presence have moved organizing and programming efforts to the virtual realm. 

Floyd died on Monday after police officer Derek Chauvin of Minneapolis, Minnesota, pressed his knee on Floyd’s neck for almost nine minutes during an arrest, as Floyd was pinned down by two other officers and a third stood nearby. After Chauvin was taken into custody and charged with third-degree murder on Friday, Stanford Students for Workers’ Rights (SWR) launched a phone-banking program joining other efforts to pressure Minnesota House representatives and Minneapolis City Council members to arrest and charge the three other officers involved. On Wednesday, the three officers were charged with aiding and abetting Chauvin, whose charge was raised to second-degree murder that same day.

With those two initial demands satisfied, phone-bankers continue to ask that officials “cut the Minnesota Police Department’s budget, re-routing the funding to health care and other social services with a particular focus on assisting Black communities,” according to SWR’s call script. 

SWR’s prior activism has centered on the working conditions and compensation of Stanford’s service workers, such as pressuring the University to provide pay continuation to its subcontracted workers laid off due to COVID-19. 

SWR hopes its phone banking program will “mobilize members of the campus community who were already engaged in our campaigns for contracted staff to reflect more broadly on the various peoples most harmed by racial capitalism,” wrote SWR member Ethan Chua ’20 in a statement to The Daily.

Chua wrote that the group hopes to focus its phone banking efforts “more locally” on San Francisco and San Jose in the future, as well as to integrate its racial justice initiatives into its on-campus organizing.

“SWR hopes to radically re-envision Stanford through its movement work,” Chua wrote. “A big part of that work is foregrounding the centrality of Black, indigenous and migrant labor to Stanford as an institution, past and present.”

“Abolitionist practice is a continuous source of inspiration for us at SWR,” Chua continued. “Stanford, as it currently exists, is structurally incapable of honoring Black lives. SWR hopes to play a small part in the work to change that.”

Discussions of prison abolition recurred in this week’s virtual programming.

The Markaz announced that its “chai chat” would focus on the role of faith in reform toward abolition, with the event hosted in partnership with the pretrial justice organization Believers Bail Out.

The discussion, called “On the Road to Prison Abolition: Challenging the Bail System with Faith,” was planned before the killing of George Floyd and initially limited to Stanford affiliates. Its organizers announced on Monday that it would be open to the public “in light of recent events,” according to an email publicizing the change.

Markaz student leader Arman Kassam ’22, who has written for The Daily, said that making the event more broadly accessible reflected a desire to “support student activists and other interested community members in coming up with concrete ways that they can disestablish the police state, particularly through the framework of prison abolition.”

On Sunday, the teaching team for PSYCH 103: “Intergroup Communication” facilitated a solidarity teach-in and Q&A session for non-Black students. A publicity email described the meeting as an opportunity for non-Black students to learn “theory, skills and actions” crucial for “solidarity with frontline communities.” 

Eli Neal ’20, a PSYCH 103 teaching assistant involved in organizing the workshop, described the dual purposes of the event as “equipping non-Black students with resources to better understand and encourage people to work for abolition and the Movement for Black Lives,” as well as “being accountable to the needs of our Black student community in this moment and moving forward.”

The first half of the teach-in covered “white supremacy and abusive cycles of anti-Black violence, the stages of empire and genocide, our authoritarian political moment and abolition,” Neal said. In the latter half of the event, students learned and discussed strategies to implement the lessons in their own lives. 

The praxis-focused part of the event was designed in response to input from attendees of a Black student check-in meeting led by Mea Anderson ’21 and Celine Foster ’21, Neal said. This portion of the event, which dealt with the practical applications of theories of allyship, covered “moving from inactive to active allyship, multipartiality, bystander intervention, continuous unlearning, supporting frontlines, respecting Black mental health, emergency preparedness, wealth redistribution and community care.”

Anderson, Foster and Reagan Dunham ’20, leaders in the Xi Beta Chapter of the Alpha Kappa Alpha Sorority, Inc., spearheaded an inter-sorority campaign called “Justice 4 Black Lives,” which raised more than $24,000 in three days.

“Members of the Xi Beta Chapter are dedicated to providing necessary service to the Stanford Black community and the Black community nationwide,” they wrote in a statement to The Daily.

“After spending days mourning the murders of Ahmaud Arbery, Breonna Taylor, Tony McDade and George Floyd, we decided to use our platform as Stanford students to mobilize our community in support for Black lives and racial justice,” they added.

In partnership with more than 60 teammates from all four of Stanford’s Greek councils, members of the Xi Beta chapter then raised $20,600, with matching, for 12 bail funds across the nation. In the second phase of the campaign, which began on Thursday, the team collects and matches funds for the Bay Area Community Law Foundation, The Bail Project, People’s Breakfast Oakland and the Ella Baker Center for Human Rights. 

The team hopes to leverage the financial resources of students in Greek life and their networks to support causes central to the mission of the Xi Beta chapter.

“We are working on mobilizing more Greek organizations to reach out to their own communities as well as their alumni and parent networks,” they wrote. 

To partner with the campaign, Greek organizations are required to implement educational programming focused on racial justice. For example, “Alpha Phi led a two-hour teach-in, Kappa [Kappa Gamma] and [Kappa Alpha] Theta are having a book club for the book “Just Mercy” by Marcus Stevenson, and more plans are to come,” the leaders of Justice 4 Black Lives wrote.

“It is our job to help [the women of Xi Beta] through this process and minimize the load that our Black sisters must bear while supporting their communities at this time,” wrote representatives of Stanford’s Kappa Alpha Theta and Delta Delta Delta chapters in a statement to The Daily. “We invite other non-Black, class-privileged people — Greek or not — to get involved with fundraising for Alpha Kappa Alpha Sorority, Inc., Xi Beta Chapter’s efforts.” 

Separately from the Justice 4 Black Lives campaign, the Xi Beta chapter joined forces with Clara Spars ’21, who has written for The Daily and owns KITA Products, to sell “Silence Is Violence” stickers through Instagram, with proceeds benefiting We Love Lake Street. Sticker sales have netted more than $14,350 for the organization, Spars said.

As students collectively organize for policy and structural change across the nation, one student group has focused its energy on Stanford-specific demands in response to current events.

Who’s Teaching Us (WTU), a student organization dedicated to the advancement of ethnic studies and faculty and leadership diversity at Stanford, organized an email campaign to encourage professors to provide academic accommodations to students impacted by recent Black deaths.

WTU’s current organizing is an outgrowth of Black student labor invested in the organization’s mission for decades, according to WTU member Eva Reyes ’20. 

“The fight for Ethnic Studies at Stanford, and across the nation, has been led by Black students,” Reyes wrote in a statement to The Daily. 

Reyes points to the 1968 “Taking the Mic” protest, staged by members of Stanford’s Black Student Union, as catalyzing the campus movement to “boost Black student admissions, curriculum, hiring and broader representation at Stanford.” 

In response to the Black Student Union’s demands, the University administration pledged to double “the number of minority-group students enrolled at Stanford” and the “proportion of minority-group employment,” The Daily reported in 1968.

That “more than 50 years later we are still fighting for administrators and professors to support Black students is reprehensible,” Reyes wrote.

“Asking students, especially Black students, to continue as if it is simply ‘business as usual’ while many of them are in the streets, protesting for their lives, is tone-deaf, unjust and anti-Black,” she added.

In addition to publicizing email templates for asking faculty and administrators to support academic accommodations, WTU has compiled a spreadsheet tracking each respondent’s response to student outreach, level of support for WTU’s proposals and accommodations for their students.

Reyes said that WTU ultimately hopes that faculty and staff will enact accommodations throughout the final exam period and that department heads and deans will step in to mandate accommodations if necessary. 

“Words are doing nothing for the students who are grieving, on the streets, or experiencing police brutality right now and are still somehow expected to complete schoolwork,” reads a public WTU statement incorporated into a Daily opinions piece. “If Stanford claims to truly be a university that seeks change and progress, it is the time to prove it.”

Contacted for comment, the University referred The Daily to Provost Persis Drell’s comments at Monday’s town hall, where she said that the University is “encouraging its instructors to be as flexible as possible and extend empathy and understanding to students who are finding this moment difficult,” as well as to the University’s recent letter offering support to graduate students.

“The challenge each of you faces to carry on with your courses, research, and teaching responsibilities during this emotional and frightening time, in the midst of a pandemic, is daunting,” wrote Vice Provost for Graduate Education Stacey Bent and the chair of the Committee on Graduate Studies, Gary Shaw. They also thanked graduate students for “the care you are providing to others” through teaching assistantships, lab leadership and community center involvement.

Contact Jackie O’Neil at jroneil ‘at’ stanford.edu.

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Jackie O'Neil '21 is The Daily's Vol. 258 executive editor and the former managing editor of The Grind for Vols. 255 and 256. She's a Richmond, Virginia native studying political science and psychology. Contact her at jroneil 'at' stanford.edu.