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Student voices are silenced in recent Center for African Studies move

As reported by The Stanford Daily two weeks ago, the Center for African Studies (CAS) moved from its location at 100 Encina Commons to a different space in the complex. I imagine that in this article, The Daily was trying to find a neutral way of presenting the events at hand. Unfortunately, as any student of history knows, particularly students of activist and civil rights movements across the globe, positions of neutrality further empower oppressive forces. This has not ceased to be the case in this situation. In its attempt to be neutral and with its prioritization of administrator opinion over student voices, The Daily also obscured some of the context surrounding the move. I’d like to clarify some of that context in this response.

As Dr. Kate Kuhns, the Executive Director of Stanford Global Studies (SGS), stated, the move did occur in the context of broader physical shifts of SGS programs. What Dr. Kuhns neglected to recognize in her comments was the directionality of said moves, in addition to who has power and choice. Whereas CAS was told where we would move, having no input in where we would go (and were automatically relegated to basement spaces), flashy, revenue-increasing, profitable programs like the Freeman Spogli Institute (FSI) got their first pick of spaces. We hear your message: You care more about profitability than supporting your students.

It should also be noted that Dr. Jeremy Weinstein, who was heading SGS during the 2016-17 school year throughout conversations between CAS students and SGS staff regarding the move, is a Senior Fellow at FSI, causing him to directly benefit from the directionality of this move.

In addition, it is deeply ironic that the leadership of SGS has tried to contextualize this in the moves of a program that has no overarching intellectual mission or weight. SGS itself is nothing more than an administrative shell. Its programs hold events, and some of its programs create community and produce thoughtful scholarship, but SGS itself is nothing more than, by its own description, a network.

In addition to providing greater context for this move within the University, it would be intellectually irresponsible not to contextualize this move in the broader political climate of the nation. This move is an example of ignoring the voices of folks who historically have been and contemporarily continue to be excluded from conversations about where and how they, we, get to be. In Donald Trump’s racist, xenophobic, violent America, the University has chosen to suppress this community instead of celebrating it.

Regarding the point about engaging students in the selection of the technology for the space, let’s be very clear: Technology is not a replacement for a home. Deigning to allow students to have some input in décor is not the same as giving them a say in where they stay. If it were, offers of plasma TVs and Macbooks would be sufficient to incentivize students to abandon Tier One housing for Tier Three housing. Ask anyone currently in possession of a coveted row rooming assignment if they’d give up their housing for a place in Gov Co if that place in Gov Co got a new computer cluster.

Dr. Kuhns also neglected to note in her comments to The Daily that because the new space that CAS moved to is part of a historical building, the students of CAS did not have input on the space’s design. There were significant limitations on the structural modifications we were allowed to make. In fact, we weren’t even allowed to have any input on the color of paint on the walls because there was only one paint color that would fit the University standards for historical buildings.

In addition, during the entire process of alleged negotiations about the space, the administration of SGS and the University more broadly punted student concerns from department to department, never showing us any care or compassion. They made decisions together with faculty that affected CAS’s students behind our backs and sometimes in the middle of the night.

I don’t know Vice Provost of Student Affairs Susie Brubaker-Cole, and I don’t know about the research that she and her group or doing. But I would suggest to them that perhaps a place to start (or continue) would be listening to what students in community center spaces have asked for. We have not been silent. We have been loud, and yet we have still been ignored. Rather, the University and its administrations have ignored our pleas.

In addition to the problematic representation of events during the 2016-17 academic year, an article I wrote when the students of CAS were attempting dialogue with the Director of Global Studies regarding the move was quoted without any engagement from me. The Daily did not seek my counsel on whether they were accurately representing my thoughts, either at the time of the opinion piece’s publication or currently, which is standard practice in news articles for major publications. The fact that The Daily made no such attempts is poor journalism. The Daily also did not fact check any of the comments made by Dr. Kuhns. This is also poor journalism.

How dare the University administration (because yes, administration at any level is administration that is ultimately sanctioned by the University) patronizingly tell a community what is best for it when that community has explicitly expressed otherwise. How dare the University pride itself in celebrating diversity, only to quash one of the only spaces on campus that protects students of diverse backgrounds. If you cannot support spaces important to diverse students, stop tokenizing those students.

We call CAS a de-facto community center because it is indeed a community center. In the column I wrote last year, I argued not that moving CAS would disrupt the community there but that moving CAS would destroy our community.

I have seldom been so disappointed by a community, Stanford University, that I have chosen to be a part of. I am hurting. I am not even there, and I am hurting. At the very least, acknowledge the pain of your students. In this instance, you have failed us. You have failed the CAS community. We will attempt to reassemble ourselves, to put back together the pieces of what we once were, to find our magic again. We’re resilient that way. But I want you to know, you SGS administration, you Stanford administration, you who sat by and did nothing while this violence occurred, that if CAS returns to its former glory, it is in spite of the aforementioned groups. Do better, Stanford. Do better.

— Mina Shah ’17

Contact Mina Shah at minagshah ‘at’ gmail.com.

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