Before Kimball emptied out for winter break, a dorm resident had a yellow poster that contained information for Santa Clara’s Rapid Response Network – a hotline number that is intended for those that witness Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) activity in the Santa Clara county and choose to call a Rapid Responder. An individual’s door is meant to be a space for them to respectfully express themselves, and others are expected to be respectful of that. However, another resident in the dorm decided they had a right to take down said yellow poster, and replace it with a poster of their own that read “#BuildTheWall”, violating the resident’s freedom of speech and expression. The blatantly racist and xenophobic handwritten poster was promptly taken down by another student who had seen it, and upon arriving from break, the resident replaced it with another copy of the yellow Rapid Response poster they had previously had on their door.
After two weeks of the poster being on the door, it was torn down once more. In total, there have been two reported Acts of Intolerance to the same resident. Despite these incidents at Kimball, the staff were unable to provide support to the individual who was targeted by another resident. The staff initially sent out an email in the beginning of winter quarter stating that Acts of Intolerance were unacceptable in Kimball; however, the email was vague and did not hint or detail as to what had occurred.
To stand in solidarity with the resident who was targeted, the three of us, with the support of MEChA de Stanford, printed over 200 yellow flyers, and posted them all over the dorm. Because we understood that many dorm residents would be confused as to the number of flyers all over Kimball, we sent out an email detailing the two Acts of Intolerance, and our reasoning behind flyering the entire dorm. The “#BuildtheWall” message was targeted at one resident in particular because of their ethnicity, and their belief that deportations are cruel and separate families. However, as Latinas in Kimball and on this campus in general, we also heard the aggressor’s message loud and clear. We are now acutely aware that there are people on this campus that not only despise our presence, but would also target and attack us through intimidating acts and speech. This is not only targeting the resident or a single ethnic/racial group, but also any immigrant or child of immigrants that are burdened with labels such as “illegal”, “alien”, “unwelcome”, etc.
We felt we had to address the situation in a more concrete and explicit way due to the lack of meaningful and decisive action on behalf of Kimball and University staff. As people who are directly impacted by the hateful rhetoric of the current political climate, and on behalf of our fellow resident who was directly impacted by hateful acts in their own home, we felt that we could not let the issue go unresolved.
Apart from needing to attend classes everyday, go to work, and complete normal Stanford student responsibilities, we have also have had to remain vigilant in our dorms as we have felt personally attacked, be in constant communication through email with Kimball staff, RFs, and RDs, as well as attend almost daily meetings with the same parties to address our feelings, concerns, and frustrations. Understanding Kimball’s community standards and upon meeting with the RFs, we reached an agreement that our flyers would be taken down by the staff, and would be returned to us to redistribute.
The following day, another resident in Kimball decided to make a poster mocking the original “Protect Our Community” flyer that was torn down twice. The flyers were promptly taken down by Kimball staff because they had violated community standards of mutual respect.
The resident who created the poster came forward to the RFs with the intention of having a “discussion” as to why his posters had been removed, which he felt was a violation of his right to free speech.
The three of us met with the individual, along with Kimball staff, the RF’s, the Resident Dean on-call, and the Associate Dean of Students who oversees the Acts of Intolerance process. Within a few minutes of speaking with the individual, it was clear he was only there to defend his poster, without any regard for our emotional state. He continuously mocked our emotions during the meeting by rambling on and on about his confusion as to how our identities were targeted by his flyer. He failed to understand the link between law enforcement and communities of color; he continued to disregard how immigration is racialized, and how ICE is known for abusing its power. Despite our attempt to help him understand why his poster was insensitive, he fixated on his right to freedom of speech. Everyone in the room clearly saw his pure lack of empathy and emotions as the three of us sat visibly emotionally distressed in front of him. He offended our views, our identities, our emotions, and our humanity.
The “meeting” lasted an hour and a half, with all of the Kimball staff and Stanford faculty allowing the verbal attacks and insults to continue. Rather than expressing the intent behind the posters and apologizing for their impact, he proceeded to direct the situation into a matter of free speech.He did not understand that this entire situation stemmed out of the original #BuildtheWall incident, thus the very act of creating a mocking flyer was tied to what was a clear matter of hate speech. While some staff members did address his clear lack of sensitivity and explained why his flyer violated Kimball community standards (thus the urgency of their removal), the meeting finally concluded when the Associate Dean of Students expressed that no meaningful dialogue could come out of the “discussion”.
Though we did hope to engage in meaningful conversations where possibly conflicting ideas can be expressed, it was clear from the beginning of the meeting that that was not the intention. In order for meaningful discussions to take place, there must be at least two of the following: pre-existing relationships, a moderator with skills in facilitating, and/or structure and guidelines. None of these were present at the meeting resulting in a lack of intervention on behalf of the staff.
Currently, Stanford faculty and staff are not being taught the necessary skills to help facilitate meaningful dialogue about race and ethnicity, and how they are tied to all facets of student life. If skills relating to guiding and moderating discussions between students with differing views were taught to Stanford faculty and staff, then “conversations” where one student is allowed to blatantly attack and dehumanize others, like the one we had to go through, would not occur.
Recently, there has been much attention directed toward the exercise of freedom of speech on college campuses; however, this case, nor any in which the speech of some is emotionally violent toward a person or group, is not a free speech issue. The resident who created the mocking flyers would not have done so if he was not emboldened by the original “#BuildtheWall” flyer that had been plastered on a another resident’s door. The events and their impact are clearly and intentionally conflated to further inflict fear and hate.
It is imperative for the University as a whole to recognize the severity of the first incident, not only as an Act of Intolerance, but as a hate crime. Although “Build the Wall” rhetoric is harmful to all immigrants, it is specifically targeted at Mexicans and other Latinx immigrants. This language is not only exclusionary, but also racist and hateful in calling for the creation of a physical barrier intended to keep “undesirable” people out, leading to the forced movement of an entire population. “Build the Wall” has become synonymous for many Latinx people to ethnic cleansing, as these deportation policies often send vulnerable immigrants seeking safety back to countries racked with violence, poverty, and governmental repression. It is comparable to other symbols such as swastikas, nooses, and white hoods, which historically started off as hate speech, trying to deem one ethnicity or group lower than others, and in turn, incited violence and genocide. Will it take the literal execution of millions of Latinx people for others to recognize that the hate speech, such as the one seen in the initial incident and reinforced through the mocking flyers, has severe consequences outside of simply “hurt feelings”?
If the rhetoric used in these incidents had been attacking another ethnic group, the University would have immediately and forcefully addressed our concerns and the situation as a whole. For the University to not publicly denounce the poster as hate speech, or at the very least take a clear stance against discriminatory rhetoric is shameful, and shows a lack of empathy and institutional will to protect all students on campus.
We understand that the primary goal of campus administration is ultimately to protect the Stanford brand, and not necessarily the students of color who are most vulnerable to be victims of hateful rhetoric. So, we call on the President and Provost to, at the very least, condemn this rhetoric as unacceptable under the current standards of academic integrity the University holds in a public statement to the Stanford community. By allowing only the hateful narratives to exist without any contestation from University leadership sets the stage for continued acts of emotional, and even physical, violence to be enacted against students of all marginalized and vulnerable communities.
We also urge the broader Stanford community to hold their peers accountable to any racist, xenophobic, sexist, ableist, classist, etc. rhetoric or behavior, rather than just being passive bystanders, and thus complicit in the perpetuation of systematic oppression.
Jessica Reynoso ‘20; firstname.lastname@example.org
Mayahuel Victoria Ramírez ‘20; email@example.com
Araceli Alicia Garcia ‘20; firstname.lastname@example.org