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Stolen fire

On May 24th, Stanford invited Junot Díaz to give the 2017 Stanford Presidential Lecture in Arts and Humanities. Díaz, a Pulitzer Prize winning author, used this platform to address the experiences of people of color in elite universities, and to rail against the societal inequality perpetuated by such elite, neoliberal, universities like Stanford that hoard so much wealth for the benefit of so few. In his talk, Díaz declared that “Stanford should be embarrassed of itself.” He accused the university of behaving like a bank, of caring more about money from conservative donors than the well-being of the students and workers who are on this campus every day. Díaz’s words resonated with those in the audience, who were all too familiar with Stanford’s two-facedness, its desire to do anything to project a face of excellence, diversity and caring to the world, while simultaneously engaging in practices that undermine this “diversity” in both, the Bay Area and the world at large. Díaz instructed the students present to “steal fire” from Stanford, to do anything they can to break their chains and distribute the privileges of this institution to the general public.

It is predictable, then, that Stanford would attempt to appropriate this too into its non-stop public-relations empire. Stanford’s coverage of the event dismembered Díaz’s talk. Nowhere in the article are any of the direct condemnations of Stanford and other institutions of privilege. In his talk, Díaz implored students to research the hegemony we live under, to understand organizations like Stanford so that we may combat the vast injustices that they continue to perpetrate. To this effect, Díaz said “You must educate yourself in the system that you inhabit. This is a select college. You’ll never be in this kind of environment again.” The Stanford article includes this quote, but prefaces it with the following comment:

“Díaz encouraged students to take advantage of resources that surround them during their time in college.”

Not only has Stanford stripped Díaz’s speech of its content, of its fire, Stanford has conceitedly attempted to twist Díaz’s words to score further PR points, to turn him into an unwitting accomplice for the university. Stanford not only censored his statements, it intentionally misrepresented the words and thoughts of an author and professor to better suit their goals. In doing so, they violate the academic integrity of this institution, the very idea that Stanford stands as an institution devoted to the honest exchange of ideas. By lying to the public in order to better suit its self-image, Stanford has revealed that it is everything that Díaz accused it of being.

Stanford hosted a webcast of Díaz’s talk, which was broadcast live on May 24. The webcast has now been removed. As of Friday, June 2, the webcast site says that “at request of the speaker, this talk was only available live and was not recorded.” Nevertheless, there exists on Youtube a copy of the speech, proudly bearing the Stanford Humanities Center logo. Moreover, Díaz confirmed with us that he has reached out to Stanford, asking them to put his talk back online.

To the students of marginalized communities and radical politics that flocked to hear Díaz speak, it comes as no surprise that Stanford would attempt to twist the truth to serve its own ends. Even as Stanford attempts to co-opt the words that call out its hypocrisies, as Marc-Tessier Lavigne and Persis Drell nod and smile and tell the Sanctuary Now movement that only Stanford knows what is best for them, we must hold fast to the truth as we see it, and continue stealing the fire that is locked up in this institution.


— Jonathan Yehuda Engel ‘17
Student And Labor Alliance (SALA)


Contact the Student and Labor Alliance at stanfordsala ‘at’

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