From the community | Early Career Black Faculty Group’s letter of solidarity with Hakeem Jefferson

Nov. 17, 2021, 8:32 p.m.

 Dear President Tessier-Lavigne, Provost Drell, Dean Satz and the broader Stanford Community,  

In light of recent attacks on our colleague, Dr. Hakeem Jefferson, we, the Early Career Black Faculty Group at Stanford University, write this letter in solidarity with Dr. Jefferson, an assistant professor of political science at Stanford. We bring Dr. Jefferson’s recent attack to your immediate attention for two reasons. First, it provides the opportunity for Stanford to condemn the racist attacks that Dr. Jefferson has faced. We all contend with the reality that such forceful attacks against those whose identities and scholarship involve Black communities have, unfortunately, become common. Second, we write with urgency about the need for the University to develop a strategic response to an increase in attacks on Black faculty due to their scholarship. Dr. Jefferson’s situation exposes the gap between the University’s ideals and the lived realities of Black faculty members. However, this moment also provides an opportunity to close this gap by committing substantive material action toward the aspirations of the campus-wide IDEAL initiative so that all community members, including those who identify as Black, can thrive.  

Professor Jefferson, as a public intellectual, consistently challenges white supremacy and systemic racism. Recently, Professor Jefferson has come under attack for his powerful scholarship and commentary, including ads targeting him by a well-funded hate group (as classified by the Southern Poverty Law Center). The coordinated attacks against Dr. Jefferson, though they highlight his impact as a scholar and public intellectual, are unacceptable. As a Black untenured scholar, his career, well-being and family’s safety are all threatened by these attacks. Yet, his intellectually robust work is why Stanford hired him. To this end, we call on Stanford to do more than state its support for academic freedom, generally, as it did in its public statement issued on Nov. 9, 2021. Instead, we ask that the University acknowledges the importance of Professor Jefferson’s powerful scholarship on systemic racism and justice and specifically and forcefully condemn these recent attacks.  

Having observed the University’s response in the last several days, we are concerned that the University does not have a strategic, comprehensive plan to support Black faculty who face racist attacks in the public or private sphere. Further, we believe there is not a plan in place that reduces the likelihood of these attacks taking place in the future. This is worrying for several reasons, not least because specific aspects of this political climate heighten the precarity of the intellectual pursuits of many Black faculty at this institution. The ease with which hate groups  can find out our personal information, target our loved ones and fund coordinated attacks that misrepresent our academic agendas and ideas is incredibly concerning. We cannot stress enough the importance of being proactive — not merely reactive — in this regard. Our safety and livelihoods are at stake.  

In summation, we ask that: 

1. The University publicly condemns the racist, cowardly attacks Dr. Jefferson continues to endure for what they are: racist. To date, the University has not used this language in characterizing the attacks on Dr. Jefferson. Further, we call on the University to publicly affirm its commitment to protecting the scholarship and safety of Black faculty. Specifically, we ask that University leaders issue statements that acknowledge the painful reality of coordinated, racist attacks against their Black faculty, which attend to the unique aspects of present realities. We also call on the University to provide Black faculty with resources to protect their research, livelihood and health during such trying times.  

2. Stanford develops a comprehensive plan that recognizes and reduces the prevalence and impact of attacks on Black faculty members due to their academic scholarship. After doing so, we urge the University to share its plan with members of this group for input. We also encourage the University to share its plan with other faculty of color, other marginalized faculty, and groups that feel at risk given the nature of their academic scholarship, as we imagine we are not alone. We hope the University will take this step to reduce the likelihood of attacks on faculty in the  future.  

We urge Stanford to take these actions to show its support of Professor Jefferson, specifically, and to make the campus safer for all faculty, staff and students.  

In solidarity with Dr. Hakeem Jefferson, 

The Early Career Black Faculty Group at Stanford University 

Editor’s Note: The Daily is not including the group’s membership out of the group’s concerns that revealing the individuals’ identities could subject them to reprisal from the University and undue harassment. You can read more about The Daily’s opinions section policies here.

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