Content warning: anti-Black hate crimes
In a livestream conversation with President Marc Tessier-Lavigne aired in early June, Provost Persis Drell acknowledged “the hard work” necessary for “advancing justice” at Stanford. But when asked in the Q&A to respond to the experience of a Black community member, who has “never felt welcome or safe on campus,” Drell defaulted to “no easy answer.”
The University’s general tenor regarding anti-Black racism in the wake of the Minneapolis uprising has not evolved since June.
In a June 30 message addressed to the Stanford community, President Tessier-Lavigne reiterated Provost Drell’s call to action, urging us to come together to confront anti-Black racism under the banner of “Advancing Racial Justice,” all the while suggesting that the end of anti-Black racism on our campus will come about from a change in our “culture.”
But to anyone who has read the op-eds published in The Daily or signed the petitions that have circulated since the beginning of June — in support of the departmentalization of African and African American Studies (AAAS) and the funding of the King Center — President Tessier-Lavigne’s words, just like Provost Drell’s, come across as a pure deflection of responsibility.
In this statement, the only widely-circulated and published message from Stanford’s top office on the topic of racial equity this calendar year, President Tessier-Lavigne proposes a series of University-wide listening sessions that will be sponsored and facilitated by the offices of the provost and the dean of the school of humanities and sciences. Under this self-study initiative, Black students, postdocs, staff and faculty would voluntarily come forward to both share their experiences and suggest recommendations on how each unit could implement changes going forward. Racial justice, as he explains it, will come about from “hearing the diverse stories of our community members.”
But the argument is built on false pretense. Professor Allyson Hobbs said it first: The 47 AAAS majors and their advocates don’t need yet another self-study. Data on anti-Black racism at Stanford already exists. To add to the teaching and advising crisis in AAAS and decades-old underfunding of the King Institute, Stanford has seen, in the last calendar year alone, a noose hanging outside a student dorm, the repeated use of the n-word in class by our very own faculty members across both the Law School and humanities and sciences and racist Zoom bombings.
These hate crimes, in addition to countless others that were either not reported or failed to garner media coverage, and the University’s consistent failure to adequately respond to them, amount to what Black students at Stanford are calling “a pattern of anti-Black violence permeating within this university.” I invite both Provost Drell and President Tessier-Lavigne to venture for five minutes onto #BlackInTheIvory or #StanfordIsAntiBlack, and dedicate an extra 10 to reading two recent articles on racial profiling at Stanford and policing on campus, to get an idea of the scope of the problem at hand.
More troubling still, President Tessier-Lavigne’s call for institutional self-study is a plan devised to further exhaust Black activists who have waited far too long for a robust institutional commitment to confronting anti-Black racism at Stanford. When Black community members are called upon to share their trauma, this kind of racial climate survey becomes yet another uncompensated service requirement. Stanford’s data shows that together, Black undergrads, grads, faculty, postdocs and staff make up less than 4% of our campus community. How can Black community members feel safe when solicited to divulge trauma for an institution that has only ever betrayed them?
We don’t need a self-study to know that anti-Black racism must be addressed at the highest level of the University. What needs to be done is not as vague and intangible as President Tessier-Lavigne, or Vice Provost Brubaker-Cole for that matter, have made it out to be.
Over the past six weeks, numerous petitions and Daily op-eds have outlined exactly what needs to happen to confront anti-Black racism at Stanford.
In early June, a coalition of Black student organizations brought together by the Black Law Students Association delivered a petition to President Tessier-Lavigne that called on the University to both disarm campus police and reduce their presence on campus. As it stands, the petition has been endorsed by 140 campus organizations and 2,000 individuals.
In mid-June, the Black students and postdocs of the School of Medicine, with support from 25 Black student organizations, detailed 16 action items designed to achieve racial equity at Stanford. These stress the need for immediate action by the University, and transparency in implementation and outcomes.
Since early July, the aforementioned petition created by the Black Graduate Student Association (BGSA) and the Black Student Union for the departmentalization of AAAS at Stanford has garnered over 5,000 signatures. Recently, the editorial board at The Daily joined their voices to this cause.
It’s now mid-August and under President Tessier-Lavigne’s leadership, Stanford has failed to appropriately address each and every one of these demands.
But the duplicity has not gone without notice. Last month the BGSA called President Tessier-Lavigne’s proposal toward “Advancing Racial Justice” “inadequate.” Campus groups have also called attention to the ways in which contract negotiations with the Stanford University Department of Public Safety expose the vacuity of the University’s commitment to counteracting systemic racism. With regard to President Tessier-Lavigne’s failure to take immediate action to reduce police presence on campus, he and Provost Drell been called to #StepUpOrStepDown.
Cue initiatives like a Solidarity Fund, touted as institutional support for community driven “educational and healing efforts,” designed to placate students, stymie negotiation and exhaust campus activists, proof that the University does not intend on engaging the proposals petitioned by Black student groups since early June.
So here’s the bottom line for President Tessier-Lavigne, Provost Drell, Vice Provost Brubaker-Cole and their respective offices: Stop soliciting labor from our Black colleagues. Start listening instead to what they have already told you. Put your money where your mouths are and do something to curb anti-Black racism at Stanford.
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