Who’s Teaching Us (WTU) held a march dubbed “Pack the NACC” on Friday to show support for their recent list of demands. WTU had included among their demands that Stanford’s administration attend the event, and much of the protest centered on the University’s response. Over 200 individuals attended the event, and about 400 more watched via livestream, according to Jonathan Fisk ’16, media representative for WTU.
The event began in White Plaza at 2:30 p.m. The first person to take the stage was Lena Blackmon ’19, who read aloud her poem “To the Little Black Girls I Teach,” recounting her experience teaching piano to children of color as a metaphor for empowerment. Semilore Sobande ’19 and Yeji Jung ’18 also spoke at the start of the event.
Those in attendance were provided with a handout — one side listed the demands with a space for a signature, and the other side listed the chants that the group would be using. Before departing, the group took a picture to show solidarity with an initiative known as “Defend and Advance Ethnic Studies” at San Francisco State University, which aims to prevent looming budget cuts intended for San Francisco State University’s College of Ethnic Studies.
The group then marched to the Native American Community Center (NACC) ballroom while shouting chants. Placards and chairs had been placed on the stage of the completely-filled ballroom for President John Hennessy and Provost John Etchemendy, but neither appeared at the event.
Who’s Teaching Us members gave a series of performances regarding the demands following the arrival of the group in the ballroom. Jo Lee ’17 began by saying that the administrators’ absence was a response in and of itself, and questioned whether students could trust the administrators when they did not appear at the event.
Lina Khoeur ’18 and Phuntso Wangdra ’17 went up to the stage to read through and respond to a letter sent to WTU by Hennessey. Khoeur read aloud segments of Hennessey’s letter, while Wangdra provided WTU’s response line by line. In response to Hennessy’s statement that complacency has no place in making campus inclusive, Wangdra noted that activists have been fighting for change and voicing concerns for years and that they expected administrators to show a similar level of commitment. Wangdra also commented on the end of the letter, which thanks the WTU students for their commitment, by wondering if the administration was similarly committed to the people of Stanford’s marginalized communities.
Jazlyn Patricio-Archer ’16 then recognized the faculty of color in the room, who were applauded by many in attendance, before the organizers noted the shortage of tenured faculty members of color. Sunli Kim ’15 then spoke on how coming to college allowed her to challenge the shallow identity that media had defined for her, and how that process had been facilitated by former Assistant Professor of English Stephen Hong Sohn, a faculty member of color. Kim recounted the email Professor Sohn sent after he was denied tenure and expressed hope for change in the future.
Nichelle Hall ’19 discussed a perceived lack of representation of people of color and marginalized communities within the Structured Liberal Education (SLE) curriculum. She claimed that oppression was a central theme of many readings assigned in SLE, but that she was told she was distracting others by noting this. Hall then argued that denying the stories of marginalized communities was equivalent to denying the experiences of those who lived in them.
Rochelle Ballantyne ’17 began a speech by relating her anger at racially discriminatory systems of policing and imprisonment. She said that prison populations have greatly increased compared to those in the past, and that men in federal facilities have low rates of high school graduation because blacks are preferentially expelled from high schools. In light of this, she expressed alarm at Stanford’s alleged indirect investments in the prison corporations by means of its investment in Wells Fargo & Company. According to Ballantyne, these organizations lobby for stronger sentences, force their employees to work without wages, fail to provide prisoners with health care and ignore the sexual assault of inmates. Ballantyne concluded by saying that society (and the University) is complicit by means of being funded by the suffering of the historically marginalized.
Colin Kimzey ’17, who will be an Ethnic Theme Associate (ETA) in Okada next year, criticized what he perceived as cultural appropriation committed by co-ops under the mantra of alternate living. Kimzey noted that students of color on campus are often expected to be educators for others; he then reiterated WTU’s demand for a co-op exclusively for upperclass students of color, as a place where students of color are not required to be educators. Kimzey also mentioned that few people applied for the ETA position because of the low pay compared to the RA role.
Kelly Hernandez ’16 spoke about the importance of community centers on campus, stressing her appreciation for El Centro Chicano y Latino. Hernandez stated that she almost did not apply to Stanford, thinking she would not belong, but ultimately applied because of Stanford’s commitment to diversity. During Hernandez’s freshman year, she tried to hide her sense of being an imposter. El Centro Chicano y Latino staff helped her, both through initiatives such as the Frosh Scholars Program and the supportive community of the center. Hernandez called upon the administration to support the centers financially by raising funding levels to pre-recession levels, as outlined in the WTU demands.
The group then began marching towards the north end of campus, circling around the Main Quad before ultimately entering the Quad and ending at the Oval. The group had originally considered marching to Building 10, which houses the President’s Office; they decided not to do so, organizers said, out of respect for their relationships with administrators of color and other marginalized identities.
At the end of the march, students were encouraged to sign the demands on the sheet they had been provided and to hand those sheets to event organizers, who would ultimately relay them to the President. They were also encouraged to post to social media using hashtags to promote the cause.
Going forward, WTU members will be meeting with working groups established by the University to consider their demands, according to Fisk.
“This demonstration was by no means a discredit to what is being done,” Fisk said, “but rather a statement that we need a more explicit acceptance of these demands from the University, and more full faculty-wide support of the efforts that are being done, and to not have all the burden be placed on a relatively select few number of faculty and administrators.”
Contact Skylar Cohen at skylarc ‘at’ stanford.edu