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Open letter to the President and Provost on last week’s events

Dear Dr. Marc Tessier-Lavigne and Dr. Persis Drell,

As a graduate student at Stanford, I would like to voice my concern over recent phenomena on campus and file a complaint against the actions of some fellow members of the Stanford community. Such actions include denying access to a lecture and displaying of the Antifa symbol on academic buildings. It is my opinion that these actions do not befit an institution of learning and intellectual discussions, and may have violated the University’s Policy on Campus Disruptions. I do not seek punitive action against people involved; however, I feel that it would be beneficial if the administration’s position on these particular matters are known to the members of the community.

On the evening of Nov. 14, the Stanford College Republicans organized a lecture given by Mr. Robert Spencer, a controversial critic of Islam. A colleague and I wished to attend the lecture because such viewpoints are rare on Stanford campus and we wanted to evaluate the merit of the speaker’s opinion on our own without being told what not to listen to. However, we were denied entry and were told that the event was full.

Later on, we read in the news that a large proportion of the audience walked out in an organized fashion in the middle of the lecture. While leaving an ongoing event is certainly within an individual attendee’s rights, we believe that doing so in a planned manner by a large group of people at a fully booked event unfairly denies access to members of the Stanford community who are genuinely interested in attending. Such action defeats the purpose of the lecture and prevents the effective carrying out of a University-approved activity and therefore is likely a violation of the University’s Policy on Campus Disruptions. Lastly and very importantly, such action in effect impedes freedom of inquiry and freedom of speech on campus.

You have pointed out in your recent blog that freedom of inquiry and freedom of speech are fundamental to the mission of the University. In addition to that, we believe that freedom of speech is crucial to the functioning of any modern civil society, Western or otherwise. Good opinions should be heard so that they may inspire. Bad opinions should be heard so that they may be refuted. Even polarizing or extreme opinions should be heard in public, so that they do not ferment in private into extreme actions. Dialogue, understanding and compromises are the only antidotes to polarization and extremism.

The actions of the walking-out attendees at the Robert Spencer lecture certainly did not facilitate dialogue, understanding or compromises. Had they instead joined the protesters outside the event or, even better, stayed in the lecture and challenged the speaker during the Q&A session, not only would their opinions be better clarified but more members of the Stanford community would also be included in the dialogue. There was nothing to gain, and everything to lose, by purposely walking out of the lecture as an organized group.

My colleague and I observed and talked to some protesters outside the Robert Spencer lecture, and found them both passionate and civil. We believe that they were voicing what they believed to be true and just. Their protest was therefore not only healthy but laudable. At the same time, however, we have noticed a banner hanging from the window above the lecture room featuring the Stanford logo and the Antifa symbol side by side that, on the next day, was moved to the exterior of the Earth Sciences building (picture attached). We found such a sight extremely troubling, as Antifa has been widely reported to be a group that advocates violence and was responsible for violent offenses in multiple parts of the United States.

While we absolutely defend the right of the person or organization behind the banner to express their own alignment to Antifa, we found such alignment itself morally objectionable. Furthermore, by using the Stanford logo alongside the Antifa symbol, and by displaying the banner on the University’s academic buildings, they have purported to represent the Stanford community, which they by no means have the right to and therefore is nothing but reprehensible.

I hope you find these concerns constructive and helpful.

— Qi Yang, Ph.D. candidate in physics


Contact Qi Yang at qiyang ‘at’

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