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A response to the President’s “Remembering Martin Luther King, Jr.”

Kimiko Hirota ’20 responds to President Tessier-Lavigne’s MLK remembrance letter

“Fifty-two years after he spoke at Stanford, Dr. King’s pursuit of social progress, his resistance to prejudice and his life of service continue to inspire our efforts to foster a welcoming and inclusive community on campus.” Marc Tessier-Lavigne, President of Stanford University

Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. would be disappointed to see the state of racial and social justice at this institution today. Disgusted, even.

King would be disgusted by the fact that people of color—students, faculty and workers—still must fight to be heard and supported on this campus and within our larger community.

King would be disgusted by the fact that our predominantly Latinx residential, dining and landscaping staff have nowhere to live nearby because Stanford refuses to provide affordable housing for its workers, despite its $26.5 billion endowment. Imagine what Dr. King would say if we told him some workers must sleep in trucks or RVs during the week as their homes are hours away.

King would be disgusted by the fact that students still must organize for the same causes 50 years later. In truth, the community centers that “do remarkable work to build community, promote an honest exchange of ideas and empower individuals through intellectual, cultural and leadership opportunities,” as President Tessier-Lavigne said, have lacked full staff and funding for the last 30 years. It took a campus-wide, student-led initiative to force Stanford to provide increased support.

King would be disgusted by the fact that the world’s greatest source of information about his transformative work is found in a shabby, hallway-sized portable on the backside of campus. Meanwhile, Stanford consistently invests billions of dollars into projects like the new Science and Engineering Quad directly across from it, leaving the King Institute in a temporary structure for more then 30 years. Guests, like King’s family and the Dalai Lama, have visited the Institute to witness the exceptional primary resources and scholarship it houses. Yet people often walk down the single hallway and ask: Is this it?

King would be disgusted by the fact that Stanford allows hate-mongers who incite violence to preach in front of audiences. That self-declared Islamophobes spark death threats against specific students by posting photos of them online and the university does nothing in response. That scholars who use research to convince others that Black people are genetically inferior, poor people are born lazy and Latin American and African immigration decrease the distribution of intelligence in our country are welcome at Stanford.

King would be disgusted by the fact that two police forces exist on this campus and make Black and brown students feel unsafe instead of protected. He would be shocked to learn that the streets near Ujamaa, Stanford’s African and African American-themed house, see a larger police presence than any other spot. That police shut down parties at Casa Zapata, Stanford’s Chicanx and Latinx themed house, by entering students’ rooms and detaining them. That students experiencing mental health crises reach out for support and end up in handcuffs. That other students experiencing mental health crises refuse to reach out for help, knowing they may be forcibly kicked off campus if they do so.

King would be disgusted by the fact that Stanford does little to combat the severe economic exploitation in our community. There are more than 25,000 people living without homes and more than one in every 10 people are hungry in the Bay Area; at the same time, Stanford and the Bay Area tech industry produce the most billionaires. In his Nobel Peace Prize address, Dr. King said, “The rich nations must use their vast resources of wealth to develop the underdeveloped, school the unschooled, and feed the unfed.” I ask President Tessier-Lavigne: What has Stanford done with its excessive wealth to help eradicate poverty in its own backyard?

If Dr. King spoke at Memorial Auditorium in 2019, he would denounce this university, not uphold it as a place fostering “a welcoming and inclusive community.” President Tessier-Lavigne is right to thank community centers, the Diversity and First-Gen Office, ethnic theme houses and student-led organizations for their incredible labor to advance racial and social justice. I ask the President: How much of Stanford’s fight toward equality is put on the backs of people of color instead of on this institution? I hope to see the day Martin Luther King Jr.’s “principles of courage, truth, compassion and dignity” are expressed through Stanford’s role in our society.  

– Kimiko Estella Hirota ‘20

Contact Kimiko Hirota at kimikohi ‘at’ stanford.edu. 

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