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Hacking misconception: Addressing concerns about ‘Hacking Hate’

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I was on campus when I heard that someone hung a noose at Stanford. I wish that I were shocked, surprised or even startled. But I wasn’t — not in the slightest. 

As a minority student, I have become particularly keen to racial threats. Last year, when I heard that people hurling racist epithets at East Asian students were “punished” with an AlertSU email, I knew that it was only a matter of time before my community was publicly attacked too. I didn’t know how, I didn’t know when, but I knew.

And in July, there it was: a noose. A symbol of my people’s bloody and terrifying oppression — unabashed metonymy for burning crosses and pointed robes. It was an explicit threat, and it was in my backyard. Yet I wasn’t surprised. I was angry, disappointed, afraid even — but somewhere deep down, I’d expected it.

Joining most of the student body, I complained about Stanford’s slow response. When the administration’s email finally arrived, I joined the uproar charging them with offering token, face-saving PR stunts instead of real change. I stood steely-eyed and skeptical when Provost Persis Drell arrived late to the July 25 Solidarity Rally and seemed to pass the buck to the students. In short, I was frustrated with the administration, so I emailed the provost.

That email brought me onto the Education Against Racial Hatred Planning Committee (EARHPC), which may be a new name to many students. To explain, the EARHPC initially brought students, faculty and staff together to organize on-campus events in response to the noose incident. With time, we’ve expanded to consider other acts of racial intolerance as well. 

I must admit that I walked into the first meeting skeptical and suspicious, aware that my presence — indeed, this whole committee’s — might be a token one. But the administration’s enthusiasm for one project in particular dropped my guard, and the control that they gave students over it raised my spirits. That project — conceived and planned almost entirely by undergraduates — is Hacking Hate.

Hacking Hate has stirred up quite a bit of controversy recently, prompting incredulous tweets, angry Daily Articles, and countless sly GroupMes all offering legitimate concerns. This is something that the team and I regret and take responsibility for: Many of these concerns might have been addressed if the project had been introduced in more detail. That’s why I want to explain Hacking Hate as I see it, clearing up any misconceptions and, most importantly, reassuring students that the project is more than the one-and-done publicity scam that many of us have come to expect from the administration.

Hacking Hate is a policy hackathon that will bring together teams of students to propose ways of preventing on-campus racial hatred; if it is successful this year, it may become a recurring annual event. It seeks to fast-track University bureaucracy, respecting and trusting students with a direct line to change this campus in the ways they deem most necessary. Try as they may, administrators will never know the racial hatred students experience; who could be more helpful to affected students than the students themselves? That’s why we and the administration are cutting the cord that tethers student input to the slow, impersonal bureaucracy that so frequently stifles and chokes us. No longer will our frustrations, fears and ideas be tweeted and retweeted into the void: Winning students who participate in the hackathon will receive University resources — including several thousand dollars — to implement their solutions immediately, and all participants will receive a public audience for their proposals.

Who picks the winner? If the administration does, then the cynic might logically conclude that Hacking Hate is bankrupt: The administration could choose the least innovative and least relevant proposal, justify it as “feasible” and ensure that Stanford is never challenged while it gives students a “voice.” That scenario would be total victory for the administration, giving it good PR while leaving the newly “voiced” students with little leverage to bring about actual change. In short, it’d be checkmate for the socially conscious student body.

The students on the committee knew this too. That’s why the committee has taken steps to ensure that a group of mainly undergraduates — not the provost, president or spokespeople — selects the winner. This way the projects that move forward won’t necessarily reflect the most convenient solutions for the administration, but those deemed most impactful by us students.

Also, we did not conceive this hackathon as a way to magically fix racism, and it definitely wasn’t conceived with tech fixes in mind (although I can understand the association). No one on the committee — least of all, me — is presumptuous enough to believe that racism can be eradicated with a simple plan or clever app. Racism is a multi-faceted, surreptitious, and tenacious opponent: No single move can bring it to its knees. 

Hacking Hate is the direct product of that knowledge: It aims to provide a platform for each and every student to have their voice and solution heard. Moreover, it gives those voices teeth, providing the winning students access to Stanford’s resources so that they can make their plans reality by year’s end. While a few months is nowhere near time enough to “end racism,” as some have gathered is Hacking Hate’s intention, it is certainly time enough to bring about specific and achievable campus-wide change. The hope is that over the years, this incremental change will add up — and that’s an opportunity too promising to ignore.

We have to admit that Hacking Hate is still in the process of being organized: Some of its details are still being hammered out. Seeing as Hacking Hate prides itself on student involvement — and there are plenty of thoughtful concerns about the project floating around campus — we want to hear what you have to say. We will be sending a Google Survey to the student body asking for your input on a few aspects of the event: We sincerely ask for your help in shaping it for the better. Please fill out the survey here: http://bit.ly/HHinput.

Hacking Hate was born so that students and the administration could collaborate in the campus’ interests, with students bringing the ideas and Stanford propping them up with its plentiful resources. It’s not trying to replace activism or traditional campus protest. Hacking Hate’s sole purpose is to empower students to make a specific change based on the problems that they see in their day-to-day lives. I’ve said it once and I’ll say it again: No one knows our problems better than we do.

So let’s not get bogged down in how “problematic” Hacking Hate’s name might be. It’s not trying to shortcut racism, nor develop an app to solve it, nor does it even attempt to (according to the dictionary) “cut [racism] roughly.” To its critics, I ask that you look beyond semantics and focus on the content of its context. Hacking Hate is a student-born, student-led, and student-driven event that wants to streamline communication and coordination between Stanford students and Stanford administration. In that light, I like to think that Hacking Hate has a value far beyond the projects it funds: It will strengthen the trust between students and administration that is direly needed for the change this campus requires.

Whether or not you think Hacking Hate is the best solution Stanford could’ve come up with, we invite you to participate in it. As a student body, racial hatred on our campus is an issue that can only be tackled with all of our creativity and collaboration. I have talked with students; I have liked the Tweets and read the articles; every day I see and hear the passion, intelligence, and dedication that we have at our disposal. Our ingenuity ceaselessly chomps at the bit, and I’m confident that Hacking Hate will loosen the reigns. If you have any questions or concerns, or are interested in becoming involved in the planning process for this event, please contact me.

Contact Logan Welch at ltw427 ‘at’ stanford.edu.

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