April 23, 2015.
It’s midnight and I am chalking the words “#BlackLivesMatter” in block letters in front of Florence Moore hall. There are many of us — a coalition of activists from every corner of campus who have come together many times this year and who are coming together again. Admit Weekend begins in a number of hours, and we want to make sure that prospective frosh see the results of our year of activism, the other side of the manicured, quirky-yet-academic paradise being sold to them. A few lanyard-wearing ProFros wander past us, presumably on some kind of nighttime adventure before Admit Weekend begins. One of them pauses to read our chalked messages, laughs quietly and walks away.
Our chalking does not go unopposed. Overnight, Yik Yak buzzes with students furious at our actions, many whom are outraged by the image of Stanford we are revealing to ProFros. Unsympathetic students rally their dorms (in an admittedly impressive burst of on-the-fly student organizing) to wash away our messages; in the morning, students across campus receive bizarre emails reprimanding the usage of chalk as a waste of water — a thinly-veiled but targeted message, given that only chalked messages critical of Stanford were washed away the previous night.
Some of our messages survive the night, however, and so during the following day, The Stanford Review hastily publishes an article assuring ProFros that activists are not to be listened to. ProFros, wanting to decide for themselves, fill the room of our student-organized Activist Open House.
April 28, 2016.
It’s midnight and I am chalking the words “#BlackTransLivesMatter” in block letters in White Plaza. Admit Weekend begins in a number of hours, and this year, like last year, a coalition of activists has come together to make the activist legacy of Stanford known and to expose the issues and injustices still prevalent on campus.
A few ProFros walk past us, craning their heads to look at the phrases we are chalking — “73% White, 73% Cisgender men;” “End Incarceration #NotMySchool.”
“Thank you for all your hard work!” one of them tells us.
“This is really important,” another agrees. We smile and keep chalking.
This year’s Activist Open House is packed. The event, put on by the student coalition Who’s Teaching Us? and featuring student groups like Students for Alternatives to Militarism (SAM), Stanford Students for Justice in Palestine (SJP), Student And Labor Alliance (SALA), Fossil Free Stanford and Stanford Students for Queer Liberation (SSQL) — among many others — is so noisy that my voice grows hoarse explaining trans activism, structural oppression and the prison-industrial complex to curious ProFros.
After an hour and a half, the event reorganizes into a teach-in with Cindy Ng of the A3C, Dereca Blackmon of the DGEN office and lecturer Stephen Murphy-Shigematsu as panelists. Stanford students and ProFros alike listen intently as the panelists share stories of their time at Stanford — stories about the ’89 takeover of the Stanford President’s office, the student fight for community centers and their funding and the experience of existing at Stanford as a perpetual other. As the teach-in ends after several rounds of of applause, many ProFros remain in the room to thank the speakers, ask more questions and express their excitement at coming to Stanford. I leave the event feeling exhausted but more satisfied than I’ve been in a long time.
It was, simply put, one of the most energizing events I’ve seen at Stanford.
I tell this story because I believe after this weekend that there is hope moving forward, that things on this campus can change and indeed are changing already. The seeds for change were laid long ago by a history of student activism and stirred from dormancy by the whirlwind of last year; they were watered diligently by a dedicated core of activists and communities and perhaps now something is beginning to shift. If Stanford’s bureaucracy is a glacier, then student organizing is the river that cuts through it.
That’s the optimistic viewpoint, at least.
Stanford’s activism still has much further to go. We need to find ways to share and pool our collective knowledge — to reach past our identities and organizational borders to find the common truths in our work. We need to create change that builds on past work, to center community healing and growth, to put our words and intentions into actions and impacts. Most importantly, we need to contextualize our work in the context of the world beyond Campus Drive.
Administrators; faculty — so much of this is up to you. As the student body increasingly begins to care about and act against larger issues of injustice at Stanford and in the world, we will look to you to teach, to transform knowledge into skills into praxis. With our campus climate as charged as it is, how many of us can continue to have the luxury of remaining apolitical? With our world as tumultuous as it is, how many of us can pretend not to have a stake in the future?
This is where we’re at right now, Stanford. We’re at a point where the chance to act towards a better future is right in front of us, at a place that future activists will know as either a turning point or a missed opportunity in Stanford’s fight towards justice in society. It’s really up to us to pick which legacy we want to leave.
Contact Lily Zheng at lilyz8 ‘at’ stanford.edu.