NewsCampus Life

Student political organizations remain conflicted as Pence’s visit nears

Feb. 15, 2022, 10:47 p.m.

As Stanford readies for the Thursday visit from former U.S. Vice President Mike Pence at an event hosted by the Stanford College Republicans (SCR), student groups remain divided over the intentions behind the event. Some view Pence’s visit as representing the importance of upholding freedom of speech on college campuses, while others are questioning Pence’s political history and his visit’s potential to inflict harm.

Pence will speak at 7 p.m. in the Dinkelspiel Auditorium for an SCR event titled “How to Save America From the Woke Left.” The speech will be SCR’s first campus-wide event since Ben Shapiro’s November 2019 visit. The event is already sold out on Eventbrite.

Leading up to Thursday, SCR has promoted the event through physical flyers and social media posts.

“The response of the campus left has been weaker and weaker with each lecture event that we’ve brought to campus,” SCR spokesperson Stephen Sills ’22 wrote in a statement to The Daily. Sills referenced the Ben Shapiro event, where SCR had to replace their White Plaza banner multiple times after it was torn down. 

According to Sills, this time it is different. On the evening of Feb. 8, protestors in White Plaza did not interfere with SCR’s banner but rather hung their own banner under SCR’s. Both posters have since been taken down — it is unclear who removed them.

“I think this interaction alone demonstrates that conservative values and freedom of speech are winning on Stanford’s campus,” Sills wrote, referencing the two banners hanging next to each other. “The decrease in opposition to our events is due to the concerted efforts on our part over the past half-decade to make conservative ideas and freedom of speech more acceptable on Stanford’s campus.”

Sills is not alone in believing conservative values have a place on Stanford’s campus. But some students are questioning whether present-day conservatives are still offering arguments based in fact and reason.

“Conservative values should play a role in any kind of civil discourse, but we’ve seen this platform devolve as prominent conservative figures run on misinformation,” said Ben Limric ’24. “The only thing new Pence has to offer is his recent attempt to call out President Trump for trying to overturn the election, saying ‘the presidency belongs to the people.’ This seems like a hollow point in my view as his party continues to pass more restrictive voter laws across the country.”

Despite SCR’s impression that campus opposition to Pence is weaker compared to past speakers, the group faced resistance in securing funding for Pence’s visit from the Undergraduate Senate, with five senators voting in favor of a financial grant and eight senators abstaining. This vote initially resulted in a temporary denial of funding. However, SCR appealed to the Associated Students of Stanford University (ASSU) Constitutional Council, which ruled that the eight abstentions did not count as votes, and thus equated to funding approval.

Ahead of Pence’s speech, Stanford Democrats co-president Gabriella Garcia ’24 wrote in a statement to The Daily that they “unequivocally condemn Pence and his continuous active contribution to and complicity in the weakening of our democracy.” 

“Pence has proven his only true commitments are to crushing efforts for economic democracy and to tearing up the key planks of our nation’s social safety net,” Garcia wrote. “Quite simply, Vice President Pence’s long career spent in the service of privatization, bigotry and assorted ultra-conservative causes far outweighs his brief moment of political courage on January 6th.”

Garcia cited Pence’s congressional vote to cut funding for Planned Parenthood, which led to the closing of the only HIV testing center in Scott County, Indiana. Garcia also highlighted Pence’s history of fighting for the privatization of Social Security and Medicare as well as his multiple votes against unions and collective bargaining. While giving credit to Pence on not overturning the election, Garcia noted that in the months leading to the 2020 election, Pence supported the notion that the election would be rife with voter fraud; during the 2020 vice presidential debate, Pence claimed that Democrats would “create a massive opportunity for voter fraud” with “universal mail-in voting.”

Some students voiced concern regarding the ASSU’s decision to fund Pence’s speech at Stanford, especially considering Pence’s history of LGBTQ+ discrimination.

“Providing funding for Mike Pence to speak on campus also means promoting racist, homophobic, xenophobic ideas across our student body and attracting non-Stanford-affiliated right wing Pence supporters onto campus,” said Andrew Hong ’25 — an advocate for LGBTQ+ youth and youth of color. “This puts marginalized students in a potentially dangerous position on campus.”

Hong remarked that the decision to allocate University funds to Pence rather than support services to students, staff and faculty is especially “hurtful to our LGBTQ+, BIPOC students and faculty.”

“It’s important to note that Mike Pence is not just a former Vice President, but someone who has constantly — and successfully — advocated for discrimination against queer people, the racist War on Drugs, anti-choice laws and ran on a ticket aligned with white supremacist groups,” Hong said.

In a statement of solidarity, Garcia wrote that members of the LGBTQ+ community and people of color “are justifiably incensed that an anti-gay and xenophobic politician will be speaking.” 

“Free and open political discourse is essential to a democracy, and we respect Pence’s right to speak on campus,” Garcia said, affirming the Stanford Democrats’ commitment to free speech. “That stated, we feel that allocating funds to prejudiced speakers is a dereliction of duty from leadership.”

As the University prepares for Pence’s visit, Stanford spokesperson E.J. Miranda wrote in a statement that “campus will remain fully accessible” and “all appropriate safety measures” will take place.

Jed Ngalande ‘23 is a Staff Writer for Vol. 259 Academic News.

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