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Stanford’s moral voice should be commensurate with its privilege


There has been a great deal of concern about the rhetoric and policies of the new Trump administration. Trump’s promise to “build a wall,” “ban Muslims” and deport “bad hombres” has produced anxiety for many, fear for others and terror for those that have been directly impacted by such threats. One video shows a child’s father being taken away by Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) as she is heard sobbing in the background.

The students of Stanford Sanctuary Now (SSN) have organized a significant coalition of students to request that Stanford declare itself a “sanctuary” campus, among other demands. In a meeting with Stanford President Marc Tessier-Lavigne, Stanford has agreed to enact some of the goals of “sanctuary” while avoiding the label. The students have made several demands, some of which the administration has agreed to, some of which have yet to be fulfilled, and some the administration has denied. It is encouraging that the administration is willing to engage the students in this important dialogue.

So why should any of this matter? After all, it would seem that relatively few students and workers at Stanford are likely to be affected by these policies and rhetoric. The University’s president has said he doesn’t want to raise the university’s profile any more than necessary, lest the University become a target of retaliation. Indeed, both Trump and Jeff Sessions, the U.S. Attorney General, have indicated that they intend to target those cities and institutions who declare themselves sanctuaries.

But let’s be clear: These are not normal times. Since Trump’s election, the incidence of hate crimes and threats have skyrocketed. The Southern Poverty Law Center reports that there were 1,094 reported incidents of bias in first 34 days after the election. These incidents included everything from verbal harassment to graffiti to shootings and arson against mosques. Those targeted include women, people of color, Jews, members of the LGBTQ+ community and, of course, Muslims. We have seen some these incidents right here on the Stanford campus and in the Bay Area. The Evergreen Islamic Center in San Jose was one of three California mosques that received a hand-written letter claiming that Muslims are “Children of Satan” and warning that Trump will do to Muslims what “Hitler did to the Jews.”

And let’s not forget that Trump himself has used racist language and encouraged violence, even offering to pay the legal bills of those who commit violence. This is an affront to all our values as a society and an academic institution. So while the University has acceded to some of the requests of SSN, the University can and should do more.

The Stanford administration has declined to declare itself a sanctuary campus because, they say, the term is “not well-defined.” And yet that is exactly why the University can and should declare itself a sanctuary without fear of retribution. The Trump administration will attempt to make cities, states and institutions pay a cost for attempting to do what they believe is in the best interest of their citizens and communities. But without a well-defined meaning of the term, their efforts will amount to little more than jousting at windmills.

But there are at least three more reasons for Stanford to declare itself a sanctuary campus. First, it would provide an unequivocal declaration that Stanford, consistent with its own “Fundamental Standard” values, intends to protect all those within the Stanford community. While the Stanford administration has made some tentative steps toward protecting those who are undocumented, it has remained mostly silent. Timidity emboldens the oppressor and does not reassure those who are most at risk.

Second, there is safety in numbers. Imagine the possibilities of such a declaration: schools, communities, and churches by the thousands – all over the country –declaring themselves sanctuaries, declaring that they refuse to allow families to be torn apart and their communities harmed. Imagine what injustice could have been prevented if more institutions – including schools and churches – had spoken out leading up to the Holocaust, Japanese internment or any number of other atrocities. As Pastor Martin Niemöller said, “First they came for the socialists, and I didn’t say anything because I wasn’t a socialist … Then they came for the Jews, and I didn’t say anything because I wasn’t a Jew. Then they came for me – and there was no one left to speak for me.”

Finally, if Stanford declares itself a sanctuary campus, not only would the University be renowned for its technical and academic prowess, but it would be viewed as a moral leader willing to stand up to the growing xenophobia and violence of this president and his administration. Imagine the possibility of the most prestigious universities around the country standing up to bigotry and hate.

There are times when we should play it safe, and there are times when we should take risks, especially when we can use our prestige, power and privilege to protect others and preserve the values of our institutions and communities. Stanford has an abundance of all three that it can use to protect this community and create hope and pride in its leadership. The Trump administration will not last forever, but history will ask us: Which side were you on?

– Geoff Browning
Campus pastor, Progressive Christians @ Stanford

Writer’s note: This is a personal opinion and not necessarily the opinion of the [email protected] students.

Contact Geoff Browning at geoff.browning ‘at’ stanford,edu.

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