University condemns intolerant messages left on Día de los Muertos altar

Nov. 14, 2022, 9:21 p.m.

Two messages of intolerance were left on a Día de los Muertos altar in Norcliffe in early November, according to a University post on the Protected Identity Harm (PIH) Reporting website.

The first note, left on Nov. 2, read, “This is pure idolatry. Exodus 32: 4-6,” referencing a series of Bible verses about the worship of idols. The note was removed, and a second appeared on Nov. 4, reading, “Still idolatry ok.”

On Nov. 8, six days after the first incident and shortly after The Daily reached out to the office for comment, the University acknowledged receipt of a report of the incident on the PIH website’s dashboard, which tracks incidents that impact the Stanford community.

In its post, the University wrote, “This is especially harmful as it was done during Dia de los Muertos, a cultural-religious tradition for many Mexicans, Mexican-Americans, and other Latiné communities. Furthermore, any form of religious bias that shows intolerance to certain rituals and practices of others is unacceptable.”

“A resident noticed the first one and contacted residential student leaders, who then reported the situation to their resident director,” wrote Samuel Santos, associate vice provost of inclusion, community and integrative learning in an email to The Daily. “Additionally, the resident student leaders filed a Protected Identity Harm (PIH) report.”

Altars, or “ofrendas” as they are called in Spanish, are displays dedicated to lost loved ones often put up in the weeks leading up to the Mexican holiday of Día de los Muertos — the Day of the Dead — which is celebrated on Nov. 1 and 2. Ofrendas often contain photographs of the deceased and their favorite foods or objects.  

Courtney Rosales ’23, a Mexican American Norcliffe resident, had considered contributing to the ofrenda but decided against it, in part due to concerns about vandalism.

“I was aware of the ofrenda before [it was vandalized] and was really excited and comforted by the fact that it was in the dorm,” Rosales said. “I had this small but nagging fear, knowing that it was vulnerable in a place where there couldn’t necessarily be accountability.” 

“I think I can handle hatred and anger directed towards me, but toward lost loved ones is especially hard for me to bear,” Rosales added.

Rosales said she didn’t personally witness the note and found out about the incident through a message in the dorm’s GroupMe, which acknowledged that the ofrenda was vandalized, but did not provide specific details on what was said. 

“A lot of us have the same reaction of, ‘I’m very glad I didn’t see it,’” Rosales said. “It’s scary to know that there’s someone who thinks that among us.”

Norcliffe resident Arielle Pacheco ’25 expressed similar feelings of fear and sadness. “It’s really disheartening, being a Latina and knowing the importance of Día de los Muertos, celebrating it at home with my family, to know that someone not only in the Stanford community, but really close to where I am, had something so offensive to say that they would put it on an altar, a place of memory,” Pacheco said.

Santos said that Residential Education and El Centro Chicano y Latino are working to connect with impacted students and are available to speak with students seeking support.

“We wish to make this clear: we see this as a form of bias that is inconsistent with university values, and we reject any form of religious bias that shows intolerance for the practices of others,” Santos wrote.

Cameron Duran '24 writes for the Arts & Life section. Contact The Daily’s Arts & Life section at arts ‘at’

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