Last Thursday, May 25, my calendar was blocked out for a long, celebratory afternoon at the Haas Center for Public Service. From a 4 p.m. Cardinal Quarter kickoff to a 5 p.m. front yard barbecue to a 6:30 p.m. final gathering of the Frosh Service Liaisons, I was looking forward to spending the evening reflecting on a year of meaningful service experiences. As far back as Admit Weekend, I knew that the Haas Center would become the focal point of my life at Stanford. I expected to leave the evening with a sense of accomplishment, reflection and anticipation, looking forward to future service experiences while taking pride in the place that had become my second home.
Initially, it seemed like the evening would meet my expectations. At the barbecue, my friends and I reflected on our gratitude for this charming house on Salvatierra Walk and all it has to offer. The Haas Center truly provides a much-needed escape from the single-minded tendencies of the Stanford “bubble,” whose prevailing culture prioritizes Silicon Valley jobs over the ways in which tech hurts low-income communities. I remember remarking to my peers at the picnic table: “Here, you just know that everyone is other-directed and thinking beyond themselves and doing amazing things.” Little did I expect that my laudatory view of the Haas Center would transform into disappointment only a few minutes later.
At 5:30 p.m., everyone gathered by the front porch to hear a series of speakers, with President Marc Tessier-Lavigne delivering the keynote address. After two student members of the Haas staff introduced the president, but before he had the chance to take the microphone, four women of Stanford Sanctuary Now took the stage. My face lit up when they started to speak; naively, it did not even cross my mind that their presence would be met with anything but enthusiasm. A celebration of Stanford’s commitment to service seemed like a perfect moment for them to share their platform. Nevertheless, after the first of the four women reiterated Stanford Sanctuary Now’s demands and criticized the administration’s resistance to taking action, a stern-looking member of the Haas Center staff hopped up next to them on the porch. The first Stanford Sanctuary Now speaker had just passed on the microphone to the second speaker, who barely had a chance to begin before the Haas staff cut her off. When the student insisted that she needed to finish and continued to speak, the Haas staff physically wrestled the microphone out of the student’s hands and snatched the phone from which she was reading. The students reluctantly left the porch but remained in the audience, prepared to listen to President Tessier-Lavigne’s speech attentively.
Tension remained in the air as the president began to speak. He noted that he would discuss these matters with Stanford Sanctuary Now at another time and would address their concerns at the end of his speech. But by continuing with his prepared remarks, the president put himself in a bit of an awkward position. He praised Stanford students’ yearlong dedication to service – just after silencing those who are among the most committed to change. He encouraged students to share their voices through the long-range planning process – while allowing a microphone to literally be ripped out of their hands. The president concluded his speech with lip service to the measures that Stanford has already taken in defense of its undocumented community, unconvincingly asserting that Stanford Sanctuary Now’s ideas were being weighed in administrative decision-making processes. But if the administration were truly supportive of Stanford Sanctuary Now, the president would not have tolerated the hostile removal of these student activists from the stage.
The president echoed the same sort of hypocrisy in his recent “Cath in College” feature, which encourages students to get involved in long-range planning. To conclude his explanation of the process, he remarked, “I just want to be sure that the Stanford we’re creating is a Stanford that our students will be proud of.” If the president truly has this goal in mind, he should be grateful for Stanford Sanctuary Now, which clearly articulates its vision for a Stanford that would merit student pride. Even if the movement’s platform is not feasible in its entirety, President Tessier-Lavigne must recognize the hypocrisy in professing an interest in student perspectives without respecting those courageous enough to confront him openly and publicly.
As disappointed as I was with the president’s remarks, I was even more outraged at the Haas Center’s reaction. I should emphasize that my personal relationships with the Haas Center staff have been nothing but positive. Most of the individual staff members had nothing to do with the dismissal of Stanford Sanctuary Now; I imagine that many of them were shocked and disappointed as well. But considering the staff member who removed the students was clearly representing Haas in a Cardinal Service rally shirt, and no one else intervened, I think it is fair to consider this hostile behavior to be a reflection on Haas overall.
The Haas Center had no logistical reasons to bar the students from finishing their statement. Considering that the event was a casual outdoor barbecue with only a brief scheduled program, allowing the students to continue speaking would not have disrupted a tightly packed schedule.
Some have criticized Stanford Sanctuary Now’s decision to appear at this gathering uninvited, considering that there are plenty of other campus venues at which they could share their message less intrusively. Seeing as I have not been involved with Stanford Sanctuary Now’s organizing processes, I cannot comment on the strategy behind this choice nor its intended impact. Nevertheless, no campus celebration of student service should treat an activist student group as an inconvenience, regardless of any disruption they may have caused.
I was most disappointed in the Haas Center’s reaction because the students’ actions were well-aligned with its own stated principles. As part of the Cardinal Service initiative, intended to make service an integral part of the Stanford experience, Haas defines six Pathways of Public Service. “Community organizing and activism” is explicitly included among these tenets. If the Haas Center were truly committed to its Pathways, it would celebrate the voices of Stanford Sanctuary Now, rather than denying them the chance to speak. On the other hand, if the Haas Center is willing to turn its back on activists when they become an inconvenience, its Pathways ought to be revised accordingly.
I regret that my final column of the quarter must take on such a critical tone. I especially regret that this criticism is directed at a place that has been the source of so many incredible memories, opportunities and highlights of my freshman year. But the Haas Center must be held accountable for encouraging activism in principle while shutting it down in practice. Unless Haas is content to be known as a place that will shamelessly rip a microphone out of student hands, I hope to see a prompt apology, greater institutional commitment to student movements and enthusiastic embrace of activism in the future.
Contact Courtney Cooperman at ccoop20 ‘at’ stanford.edu.
Editor’s note: Due to an editing error, an earlier draft of this piece was previously posted by mistake. The Daily regrets this error.