Letter to the Community: A fundamental double standard

May 24, 2021, 11:24 p.m.

As students, alumni, faculty and staff of Stanford University, we write to express our disappointment, outrage and concern regarding the recent attacks on Emily Wilder ‘20 and other students by the Stanford College Republicans (SCR), and to demand that the University issue a strong and unequivocal statement on community standards as well as initiate an investigation to determine whether SCR’s actions constitute a violation of the Fundamental Standard.

Beginning on May 17, and following Ms. Wilder’s April 10 announcement on Twitter that she had been hired by the Associated Press (AP) to cover local news in Arizona, SCR took to Twitter and Facebook to publish years-old screenshots of social media posts and Stanford Daily articles that Ms. Wilder published while an undergraduate at Stanford. These posts, which related to Ms. Wilder’s opinions on the Israeli occupation of Palestine, falsely accused her, a Jewish woman who attended an Orthodox Jewish high school for girls, of promoting “blood libel”, of “fomenting” anti-Semitic violence by “leftist-Islamist thugs,” and of “[defending] students who threatened violence against Jews.” In addition to describing Students for Justice in Palestine (SJP) as a “terrorist-affiliated” organization, SCR described Ms. Wilder as “unhinged,” as a “Marxist agitator” and as a “militant anti-Israel agitator.” Finally, the organization retweeted posts that described her as part of a cadre of “hate-filled terrorists” and as indicative of the AP’s “Hamas connection” and levied attacks against Stanford professors who defended her on Twitter. SCR presented this libelous and defamatory campaign against Ms. Wilder as an effort to “expose” the Associated Press and to “[hold] the media accountable” for what SCR deemed its “egregious anti-Israel bias,” thereby taking direct aim at Emily’s new job. As part of this presentation, SCR promoted the unsubstantiated conspiracy theory that the AP has collaborated with Hamas.

SCR’s social media posts were amplified and re-posted by prominent right-wing politicians and commentators. Before long, The Washington Free Beacon and The Federalist, both conservative publications, had posted articles about Ms. Wilder’s hiring by the AP, and she was besieged by vicious online harassment and bullying. The AP initially expressed support for her, offered to help her manage the harassment and bullying she was experiencing, and assured her that she would not be fired for her past campus activism. On May 19, however, the AP fired Emily for purported violations of the news agency’s social media policy between the time of her hiring and May 19, refused to tell her which posts had been in violation of this policy, and acknowledged that the news agency’s review of her social media accounts was precipitated by SCR’s campaign. Many prominent journalists, politicians, academics and activists on both sides of the political spectrum have since expressed support for Ms. Wilder, argued that none of her tweets in that three-week period merited dismissal, criticized the double standard to which media organizations are held regarding alleged conflicts of interest on the issue of Israel and Palestine and noted that Ms. Wilder would not have been contributing in any way to the AP’s coverage of the Israeli occupation of Palestine in her capacity as an Arizona-based news associate. SCR, meanwhile, has celebrated Ms. Wilder’s firing and publicly claimed credit for her dismissal from the AP.

The campaign targeting Emily leaves us, as members of the Stanford community, with the task of reckoning with how SCR’s actions reflect upon our university, our community, and our campus culture. It is transparent that SCR’s campaign was made in bad faith and was rooted in malicious intent: The aim of this campaign was not to engage in debate or to voice disagreement with something Ms. Wilder had written or said, but rather, to defame her and derail her career. These types of actions by SCR, which are designed to intimidate and suppress campus activists with whom SCR disagrees, are fundamentally antithetical to a campus culture grounded in the principles of academic freedom and freedom of speech. How are we to feel safe expressing a range of different opinions on controversial and polemical topics if we fear retaliation by our own peers? How are we to trust Stanford as a forum for public debate if our own university implicitly condones the activities of Voluntary Student Organizations (VSOs) that systematically target fellow students’ reputations and livelihoods on the basis of their political opinions? Ultimately, SCR’s actions foster a vicious, violent campus culture that is far from the welcoming, convivial, and collegial atmosphere to which we, the undersigned, aspire. 

On this subject, current Stanford student Maxwell Meyer asserts in a recent article in the Stanford Review, “Free exchange of ideas without reprisal? I call BS. SCR’s words in their ‘vision statement’ say one thing, but their actions when they encounter another student with strong disagreements say another,” noting that SCR’s attack on Ms. Wilder crosses a line and has compelled him, a fellow conservative and a supporter of Israel, to speak out against the organization. Thus we see that SCR’s smear campaigns misrepresent the views of conservative students at Stanford, and that the organization’s pattern of behavior also reflects poorly on the state of civil discourse at our university. In the end, SCR functions less as a representative student organization than as a feeder for the right-wing media.

The University’s failure to hold SCR accountable for past actions, furthermore, has created a culture of mistrust in Stanford’s commitment to uphold its own community standards and stated ideals of diversity and inclusion. Many students fundamentally do not trust the Organization Conduct Board (OCB) and other relevant authorities to uphold community values, given the historical impunity of SCR from disciplinary processes. The smear campaign against Ms. Wilder, after all, forms part of a larger and deeply disturbing pattern of behavior by SCR. While this may be one of the most high-profile instances of efforts by SCR to destroy particular students’ reputations and academic as well as professional pursuits, it is not the first. In fact, SCR has launched smear campaigns against individual students several times in the past year alone, exposing these students to vicious and dangerous online harassment and bullying. SCR’s campaigns disproportionately impact women and people of color, thereby exacerbating racial and gender inequities at Stanford. These campaigns have also increased in ferocity and sophistication, particularly in this academic year, and Stanford’s reticence in holding the group accountable has given SCR license to intensify its attacks.

We want to be clear: Though we, the undersigned, may hold differing opinions on a range of issues, including that of Israel and Palestine, we condemn SCR’s tactics and support Ms. Wilder as well as every other Stanford community member who has been victim to attacks by SCR. We oppose a campus culture in which students intentionally undermine each other’s careers, subject each other to violent harassment and intimidate each other over differences of political opinion. We have been gratified to witness the wave of support for Emily from Stanford students, alumni and faculty, including many who disagree with her stance on the Israeli occupation of Palestine and who have still spoken up about their respect for her and for her work. We urge the Stanford community to continue showing support for Ms. Wilder and the other community members who have been attacked by SCR in recent months and years. Though unacknowledged by the university at large, the group’s pattern of abuse has not gone unnoticed.

In light of SCR’s actions, we demand that Stanford:

  1. Immediately issue an unambiguous, strongly worded statement reiterating the community standards to which Stanford students are held and affirming the University’s commitment to enforcing these standards.
  1. Initiate an investigation of SCR’s attacks on Emily Wilder and other community members with respect to the Fundamental Standard. If SCR is found to have violated the Fundamental Standard, which we believe it has, we demand that SCR face disciplinary action and receive, at minimum, a strong warning explaining expectations for future activities sponsored by the organization and outlining the consequences for not meeting these expectations.

SCR’s behavior is unconscionable, shameful, and dangerous. The University is responsible for ensuring our safety and our academic freedom at Stanford, and we expect the University to fulfill this obligation to its community.

Link to the petition form here.

See the full list of signatories here.

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The Daily is committed to publishing a diversity of op-eds and letters to the editor. We’d love to hear your thoughts. Email letters to the editor to eic ‘at’ stanforddaily.com and op-ed submissions to opinions ‘at’ stanforddaily.com.

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