President rolls out new initiatives as a ‘starting point’ in combating anti-Black racism

Tessier-Lavigne also pledges support to existing programs

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President Marc Tessier-Lavigne announced on Tuesday afternoon a number of initiatives intended to combat anti-Black racism at Stanford, including the introduction of new diversity and inclusion fellowships, the hiring of 10 new faculty members in the study of the impact of race and the establishment of the Center for Racial Justice at Stanford Law School. 

Tessier-Lavigne also emphasized support for existing programs including the Martin Luther King, Jr. Research and Education Institute and opened the door for discussion on the future of African and African American Studies (AAAS), though he stopped short of officially committing to departmentalize the program. 

“The events of recent weeks following the murder of George Floyd have made us all painfully aware of the shameful legacy of anti-Black racism and how it endures in our communities and our country,” he wrote. “Unfortunately, our campus is not immune from such pernicious forces.” 

The IDEAL Fellows program is intended to support early-career researchers whose work focuses on reshaping race relations, and the program will recruit cohorts of four to five Ph.D. recipients for three-year fellowships. They will be selected by Stanford faculty who study the impacts of race in America. The fellowship falls under the University’s IDEAL initiative established in 2018, which stands for Inclusion, Diversity, Equity and Access in a Learning environment.

Tessier-Lavigne also announced the University would be hiring 10 new faculty members, at least half of which will be junior faculty, such as assistant professors. Two search teams, one focused on the humanities and social sciences and the other focused on STEM fields, will look for “eminent scholars and researchers who are leaders in the study of the impact of race in America.”

“Hiring priorities matter, and we should count as progress an effort to hire 10 new faculty members focused on the impact of race in America.,” Hakeem Jefferson, a political science assistant professor, wrote in response to the new policies in an email to The Daily. “Make no mistake, this won’t solve anti-Black racism on campus, nor will it completely change the nature of an institution that must continue to grapple with the role it plays in perpetuating inequality in the United States.”

Students and faculty, including the campus group Who’s Teaching Us, have demanded that Stanford increase faculty diversity, particularly following instances of potential hate crimes on campus and outrage after multiple Stanford faculty read racial slurs aloud during class. A recent Daily data analysis found that there was only one more Black professor at Stanford than there was in 2010. 

Tessier-Lavigne also introduced the new Center for Racial Justice at the Stanford Law School (SLS), which will “engage law students and the broader student community through public programs, conferences, workshops and SLS policy labs.” The president wrote that the center will collaborate with nonprofit and business leaders, legislators, and government officials to produce research papers and policy proposals aimed at addressing “societal problems and injustice.” He added that SLS leaders have already begun the process to establish the center this summer. 

The president further pledged support to existing programs, including reinvigorating the search for a new director of the Martin Luther King, Jr. Research and Education Institute, which engages in outreach efforts, provides educational and historical resources, and assembles and publishes the papers of Martin Luther King, Jr. 

Tessier-Lavigne added that under the new director, “a thorough study will be undertaken to create a strategy” for the institute, which he expects will include recommendations on the “physical location on campus and additional necessary resources.” 

Students and faculty have expressed disappointment at the King Institute’s current home being located at Cypress Hall D, a temporary facility made up of a group of portables at the end of the Engineering Quad. A petition, which began circulating earlier this month and now has close to 10,000 signatures, called on Stanford to better support the King Institute financially and increase its endowment. Students also solicited donations to the King Institute online via social media platforms.

The Provost and the Dean of the School of Humanities and Sciences will conduct a University-wide “self-study” to determine a structure for supporting studies of Race and Ethnicity, which will also consider the status of AAAS and “whether the research and educational missions of the University would be better served with departments rather than the current structure of interdisciplinary programs.”

“As a director of African and African American Studies, and as a historian, I am disappointed that there isn’t more about developing and strengthening and building African American Studies at Stanford,” Allyson Hobbs said in an interview with The Daily. Hobbs is AAAS director and an American History associate professor.

“I think it’s always good when the University issues a statement about racism, about the importance of creating a more inclusive community, the importance of listening to community members and hearing their concerns and taking steps to change our campus culture,” she added.

Another petition, calling for the departmentalization of AAAS, has garnered nearly 5,000 signatures since it began circulating a couple of weeks ago. It asks Stanford to “redistribute its enormous resources to prioritize and fully support” AAAS and, among other demands, authorize a “cluster hire” in the discipline specifically. 

“I would have loved to see the University make a stronger statement about hiring more faculty who work on African American Studies,” Hobbs said. “In African and African American Studies, we have a teaching and an advising crisis, we have 47 majors and zero faculty who are dedicated to African and African American Studies, everything is cross-listed. All of our faculty are in other departments.”

Tessier-Lavigne also asked urged department and school within Stanford to hold “listening sessions” before the the end of the calendar year, with the purpose being to hear the stories from students, faculty and staff about experiences “related to the racial climate on campus,” as well as to seek recommendations on how to improve the climate of each unit. Representatives from the president and provost’s offices will meet in small groups with every Black staff member who wishes to engage in conversation, “as this segment of our community has been too often overlooked in institutional change initiatives.” Additionally, the University is “committed to providing anti-bias training.”

The president also committed to conducting regular surveys of students, postdocs, faculty and staff to assess the racial climate at Stanford. The Office of Institutional Research and Decision Support will continue to update the IDEAL dashboards with aggregated data. The University will also form a Black Community Council to engage Black alumni with students, staff and faculty for oversight of initiatives focusing on the Black community. The council will exist for at least three years.

“I think there is much to be excited about in President Tessier-Lavigne’s email to the campus community,” Jefferson wrote. “But as my graduate school advisor said every time I went to him excited about some new finding I had uncovered in my research, the devil is in the details, so I’ll be paying close attention to how all of this unfolds, and encourage others to do the same.”

Contact Emma Talley at emmat332 ‘at’ stanford.edu

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Emma Talley is from Sacramento, California. She is a Managing Editor of News and plans to pursue a career in journalism or writing. She doesn't know what to major in yet, and is open to suggestions. Contact her at emmat332 'at' stanford.edu.