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A break from social justice

Stanford, it’s been a long year.

Our campus has been torn apart in the last nine months by student activism that has brought the ugliness of the outside world onto Stanford’s pristine campus. And, after a spring quarter completely ruined by the death and subjugation of marginalized communities across the world, police brutality and systemic violence and the ceaseless exploitation of marginalized communities by those in power, it seems more obvious than ever that Stanford students need a break.

Hardly a day goes by without an unwanted reminder that the world is unjust, or seeing uncomfortable news stories that take effort to explain away. Black Lives Matter has made its way into classrooms, and the shadow of the Palestinian occupation looms over Hoover Tower. It’s the social justice warriors who have ruined it for everyone. Issues of injustice simply don’t belong on Stanford’s campus –- otherwise, the next generation of leaders might be influenced by unduly radical ideas, like “don’t shoot black people,” or “sexual assault is wrong.” Stanford students today seem more and more taken by dangerous ideals, and driven to march, rally and protest -– much to the chagrin of those rational others who see the real picture. Won’t these activists think about the future of others? What about the futures of us level-headed intellectuals if we miss a problem set due to distraction?

Luckily, there are important lessons to take away from the events that have transpired this year. Most important of these is this: The university is on our side. Students across campus have been inspired by the way the university has used its institutional power to oppose student activism, and sent the clear message that all issues –- whether Stanford is harboring war criminals, suppressing its queer and trans students or supporting a history of racism -– deserve equal-opportunity erasure. However, the sobering truth is that the real damage of activism has already been done: Students have been made uncomfortable. Where was Stanford when its students were forced to acknowledge police brutality? How about when Stanford students were bullied by trans people into using the “pronouns” (whatever those are) of their choice? How about when issues of divestment forced students to confront the idea that the Israeli state could, in fact, be fallible?

Luckily, Stanford students, this summer will be a much-needed time to recharge for most people as we head home. Nowhere else is it so easy to hear people with the same ideas as us and regain our faith in the ability of people with privilege to generate fantastical alternatives for reality.

Of course, this summer won’t be without its difficulties. We’ll have our hands full with our older relatives, trying to convince them that the racist, sexist, homophobic, islamophobic and transmisogynstic slurs they like to shout are inappropriate for the dinner table, and that the proper way to be prejudiced is far more subtle. We’ll most likely settle on teaching them how to misuse free speech, and save our lecture on how usually a brief acknowledgment of injustice that happened a few centuries ago exempts us from having to think critically about how people continue to be oppressed today for another time. Over Thanksgiving break, perhaps. Most importantly, this summer will be an opportunity for self-reflection as we share with our families stories about our good grades and thriving social lives, and the fact that we haven’t said the n-word more than two or three times all year.

Next year will be a fresh start. And, while it may be intimidating to think that in just three months we’ll be coming back to a new year of denying that privilege exists, smiling and nodding when marginalized students on campus speak about their pain, and uncritically supporting oppressive institutions, there is no better reason to enjoy our summers. Relax! It’ll be three glorious months before we have to hold our hands over our ears again.

Contact Lily Zheng at lilyz8 ‘at’ stanford.edu. 

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