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Open letter to President and Provost on Chanel Miller’s plaque

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At the Oct. 24 meeting of the Faculty Senate, ASSU President Erica Scott informed the Senate of the unanimous votes by both the ASSU Undergraduate Senate and the Graduate Student Council in support of a petition signed by over 2,200 members of the Stanford community. That petition demanded that Stanford honor its formal agreement with Ms. Chanel Miller and place the words of her choosing on a plaque to be placed at the Reflective Garden. Senator David Palumbo-Liu then moved that the Faculty Senate endorse the recommendation of the combined legislative bodies of the student government. After a period of discussion, the Faculty Senate became the third elected body at Stanford to unanimously vote, without a single voice in opposition and without a single abstention, to endorse the recommendation that Stanford honor its agreement.

President Tessier-Lavigne explained that he had an important event to attend, and walked out of the Faculty Senate meeting before the ASSU president spoke, even though he knew the matter to be discussed. For her part, Provost Drell read once again her blog post explaining why Stanford was reneging on its agreement with Ms. Miller. After reading her statement, the provost added that she would listen “very carefully” to the Senate discussion. 

Listening carefully would have disclosed the vocal and unanimous support the Senate gave to the petition, and its stark disagreement with the University’s decision to break its commitment to Chanel Miller.

Yet after hearing the resounding votes of the ASSU Undergraduate Senate, the Graduate Student Council and now the Stanford Faculty Senate, the provost has refused to make any further comment, even after being asked to do so at a recent Faculty Senate meeting by a member of the Faculty Senate.

Since these decisive votes, there have been shockingly regular reports of suspected druggings of young female students to the point of unconsciousness by those with the assumed intent to do physical harm to them, and also regular reports of members of the community placing memorial plaques of their own at the Reflective Garden in the light of Stanford’s failure to honor its agreement. These acts should alert the president and provost that neither sexual violence nor the thirst for justice for victims of sexual violence is going to go away.

The president’s and provost’s refusals to address seriously the tidal wave of protests we see in these petitions, resolutions and acts of creative resistance only erode further any remaining trust we have, precisely at a time when our community needs trust more than anything.

Sadly, the silence on the part of this administration is yet another example of a disappointing response to harm suffered by the Stanford community. Its vapid response to the discovery of a noose on campus and the virulent anti-black racism that object symbolizes, its misleading announcement of services available for victims of sexual harassment and sexual violence and the inexplicably quick departure of its Title IX Coordinator are all part of a deeply troubling pattern of unforced error, insufficient attention and betrayal.

Here we confine ourselves to one basic request. We are members of the three bodies that have asked that you honor Stanford’s agreement with Chanel Miller. We feel that you owe these three bodies and the constituencies they represent (the entire student body and faculty at Stanford University) the courtesy of an honest, direct, substantive and full response. We wish to be absolutely clear — we would find a simple rehash of the provost’s blog post disrespectful. After some of the nation’s leading experts on trauma and PTSD have clarified that there is no reason to think the quote Chanel Miller has chosen for the plaque is triggering, that reasoning cannot stand. One of those experts has worked with trauma survivors at Stanford for decades, giving his position the highest relevance and authority.

We, as representatives of our communities, insist that you explain in full why you find it acceptable to, in the name of our university, renege on Stanford’s promise to Chanel Miller and ignore three elected bodies plus 2,200 members of the Stanford community who have made a reasoned and informed request that you honor that agreement. We would expect to find your response here in The Stanford Daily within a week, which we feel is more than adequate time — three weeks after the Faculty Senate discussion and vote.

Signed,

Emma Tsurkov, PhD Candidate, ASSU Co-Director of Sexual Violence Prevention

Shanta Katipamula, B.S. ‘19, M.S. ‘20, ASSU Executive President 2018-2019

Erica Scott, B.A. ‘20, ASSU Executive President 2019-2020

Isaiah Drummond, B.S. ‘20, M.S. ‘21, ASSU Executive Vice President, 2019-2020

David Palumbo-Liu, Professor and Member, Faculty Senate