Our Collective Responsibility
by The Editorial Board
This message is a reply to the email sent to Stanford undergraduates by the administration this afternoon.
Dear Stanford Student,
When students engaged in sit-ins and protests at Emory University over the chalking of “Trump 2016” on campus plazas and streets, seeking expulsions for those who had written the presidential candidate’s name, the university’s president responded by chalking the message “Emory Stands for Free Expression” on the sidewalk. Sadly, our administrators took a different view on the value of open dialogue.
This week, an ASSU Senator — a steward of our values — said it was not anti-Semitic to claim Jewish people control the government. Even after ending his re-election bid, he never made a meaningful attempt to retract his statement or apologize. Those comments were not satirical. They were hateful both in intent — to question whether Jewish people should control positions of power — and impact.
Time to address the elephant in our inboxes. We are disappointed that, in the middle of student elections, Stanford’s administration has chosen both to politicize themselves and to ignore by far the clearest abuse of free speech this campus has seen all year. An April Fools’ Day joke commanded 300 words of commentary from Stanford. Anti-Semitic comments from a sitting student Senator? Two words, and in passing.
Our administrators claim that students must be “accountable to [those] impacted by what [they] say, regardless of the initial intent”. If this were true, nobody would dare engage in discussions of controversial topics at all.
Of course, there are limits to speech. Words that directly incite violence should be condemned and prohibited. But offense is subjective. At Brandeis, the Asian American community created a gallery of microaggressions such as “Aren’t you supposed to be good at math?”, only for another group to deem the gallery itself offensive and demand it be taken down. Punishing people for statements that cross a line known only to the person hearing them leads to fearful silence, and a campus unwilling to push boundaries or ask questions that matter.
Neither the Review nor the administration has called on Stanford to prohibit speech like Senator Knight’s. However, condemning speech and attacking its merits is itself an exercise in free speech. And leveraging administrative power and procedures to threaten and stifle words because you do not like them, or because they intrude on campus “empathy”, is arbitrary and wrong.
Our satire was not intended to hurt. It played on Who’s Teaching Us’s list of 25 demands, the popularity of Donald Trump, the policies of Stanford’s administration, and the long tradition of making jokes on April Fool’s Day, much as countless news outlets throughout the world have done.
You might have found our satire funny, offensive, or anything in between. People have every right to respond, and they did, with everything from congratulations to racist epithets. We will always listen to what the Stanford community has to say, and take our responsibilities seriously. But the back-and-forth that makes campus discourse possible only occurs when people are willing to ask hard questions in the first place, and when Stanford stands up against censorship.
The Review was the first publication to expose the inadequate mental health services on campus, the changes to Full Moon on the Quad, the banning of hard alcohol in dorms, SAL’s open-access rules for student groups, the censuring of Band and Greek life, and the decline of Stanford’s humanities core, among many other issues. We ask these questions because, unlike many others, we are unafraid to speak out and stand out.
Stanford has a collective responsibility to uphold free speech, and fight its erosion. With mere hours remaining until elections end, we urge you to vote for Senators and petitions that uphold the American spirit of open discourse. We will continue to do so ourselves.
The Editorial Board
The Stanford Review