Student Senate candidate allegedly asked by SOCC Leadership member how her Jewish faith would impact her action in the Senate; the Anti-Defamation League launches inquiry.
Correction: An earlier edition of the article stated polls open Tuesday night. Polls actually open late on Wednesday night.
Update: SOCC has released a copy of the contract it claims its candidates signed. It can be found here. The Stanford Review’s response can be found here. The Anti-Defamation league also forwarded The Review a copy of the letter it sent to Stanford, which can be read here.
When Molly Horwitz ’16 decided to run for a seat on Stanford’s student Senate, she applied for as many student groups’ endorsements as possible. Groups of all different sizes and interests grant endorsements and effectively secure their members’ votes for a Senate candidate, making these endorsements one of the most effective campaign tools available. But not all endorsements are created equally. Some are powerless; others can win hundreds of votes for the lucky candidate.
For many candidates, the Students of Color Coalition (SOCC) endorsement is the most sought-after due to its large size and impressive influence. SOCC is an umbrella group for six student organizations — listed at the end of this article — and works assiduously for its chosen candidates. After filling out an endorsement application, Ms. Horwitz was one of a limited number of candidates selected to interview for the SOCC endorsement.
On Friday, March 13, 2015, Ms. Horwitz arrived at the basement of the Native American Community Center for her interview. Accounts of what transpired during the interview vary and, without any recording of the interview, no single version can be verified.
Ms. Horwitz told The Stanford Review that one of SOCC’s leaders asked her, “Given your strong Jewish identity, how would you vote on divestment?” In February, the Undergraduate Senate approved a controversial resolution calling on Stanford to divest from companies aiding Israel’s “occupation” of the West Bank. Ms. Horwitz explained how she asked for clarification, and the SOCC member subsequently alluded to Ms. Horwitz’s application and asked how her strong Jewish identity would affect her decision in the Senate. In her endorsement application (view a screenshot or read a PDF), Ms. Horwitz repeatedly referenced her Jewish identity and included quotations such as the following:
“I identify as a proud South American and as a Jew”
“I felt like I was not enough for the Latino community and further embraced my Jewish identity”
“I found many parallels between the oppression of the Jews in Egypt and oppression of communities of color in the United States”
Ms. Horwitz told The Review that she then expressed disapproval that the Senate voted for divestment, but reiterated both her belief in the Senate’s democratic system and her hope for a peaceful Middle East.
This alleged line of questioning is similar to recent events at UCLA that attracted national condemnation: a Jewish student was asked whether she would be able to “maintain an unbiased view” on the school’s Judicial Board because of her Jewish identity. The incident at UCLA has since been widely criticized as an example of burgeoning anti-semitism and religious discrimination on college campuses.
If Ms. Horwitz’s claims are correct, then the alleged question and subsequent clarification singled out Ms. Horwitz for her religion, implicitly assuming that Ms. Horwitz’s Jewish faith raises questions regarding her ability to serve on the Senate. While SOCC has every right to select candidates it believes will advocate for its agenda, it does not have license to judge candidates purely on the basis of their religious beliefs. Perhaps more importantly, the question reveals an assumption that a student’s Jewish identity inherently compromises his or her ability to serve effectively on the senate. Religious discrimination, like discrimination on the basis of race, gender, or sexuality, is banned by Stanford’s Acts of Intolerance Protocol. These allegations are also concerning because SOCC is a coalition designed to advocate for groups that have historically faced discrimination.
There are other allegations against SOCC as well. Multiple sources have reported that SOCC made its selected candidates sign contracts barring them from associating with specific student groups and campus communities. Some sources indicated Jewish groups were explicitly listed on the contract while others maintained the Jewish groups were stated verbally. SOCC’s leadership allegedly collected the contracts after the candidates signed them.
Update: SOCC recently released a copy of the contract it had its candidates sign. There is no mention of Jewish groups on the contract. Assuming this is in fact the contract the candidates signed, it appears that Jewish groups were either mentioned verbally or not at all.
While multiple sources informed The Review about these clauses in the SOCC contract, there are multiple Senate candidates that are endorsed by both SOCC and by the Jewish Students Association (JSA). Additionally, we have heard from a SOCC-endorsed candidate that the contracts did not target Jewish groups. To resolve this question, The Review has requested that SOCC release the contracts (more on this below). A version of the contract was posted online, likely in response to this article.
The Review directly reached out both to SOCC’s leadership about these allegations and to the individual who allegedly asked the question but, as of publication time, neither have commented. The Review, however, will update this article if or when SOCC comments and can report that SOCC explicitly denied the allegations when the University looked into this matter.
To learn more about these interviews, The Stanford Review also sent a letter to candidates who were either endorsed by SOCC or who may have interviewed with SOCC. None of the candidates endorsed by SOCC responded to our request for comment. However, one candidate who interviewed with, but did not earn an endorsement from SOCC stated he was not initially asked about divestment. Instead, according to his account, SOCC initially asked the candidate how he thought the Senate had handled “major issues” during the year. The candidate then brought up the February senate divestment vote, and SOCC subsequently asked the candidate his thoughts on divestment. The candidate did not express an opinion on the subject, opting instead to call for a more inclusive Senate.
Stanford and the Anti-Defamation League Get Involved
That night, after her interview, Ms. Horwitz emailed Mr. Sajjan Sri-Kumar — the Elections Commissioner — about the incident. Mr. Sri-Kumar forwarded Ms. Horwitz’s complaint to Ms. Nanci Howe, the Associate Dean of Students and Director of Student Activities and Leadership. Ms. Howe promptly contacted Ms. Horwitz. In her email, which she also sent to Ms. Sally Dickson, the Associate Vice President of Student Affairs who runs Stanford’s Acts of Intolerance Protocol, Ms. Howe asked, “Is there a particular course of action you would like me or Sally to take, for example, a follow-up with the SOCC students?”
Ms. Horwitz responded: “I’m saddened by the action of my peers and would like a public apology. I think it’s also extremely problematic for the SOCC to still be able to endorse other students, when they have demonstrated discriminatory practices.” Ms.Howe was unavailable for comment as of this writing; we will update this story if and when she comments.
Ms. Horwitz also contacted the Anti-Defamation League (ADL). According to its website, the ADL “was founded in 1913 ‘to stop the defamation of the Jewish people and to secure justice and fair treatment to all.’ Now the nation’s premier civil rights/human relations agency, ADL fights anti-Semitism and all forms of bigotry, defends democratic ideals and protects civil rights for all.”
On March 18, the ADL sent Ms. Howe a letter outlining Ms. Horwitz’s concerns. Ms. Lisa Lapin, a spokeswoman for Stanford, provided The Stanford Review with Ms. Howe’s response to the ADL letter. Part of it is excerpted below:
Sally Dickson, the Associate Vice Provost of Student Affairs, promptly spoke to the students directly involved in the interview session in order to hear their perspectives about the exchange. We learned that there are different accounts of what occurred. Regardless, we have reminded those involved that all candidates should be treated consistently and fairly and that questioning based on an individual’s ethnic or religious affiliation is inappropriate. We remain committed to working with our students involved in the elections to actively support a fair and respectful process. We will also continue to work directly with Molly in addressing her concerns.
What Happens Next?
It will likely be impossible for Ms. Horwitz to substantiate her claims without hard evidence. However, Ms. Horwitz told The Review that members of her interviewing panel were taking notes. It is also difficult to assess the claims surrounding SOCC’s contracts without seeing copies of the signed contracts. Therefore, on April 9, The Stanford Review sent a letter to SOCC’s leadership, requesting, under the Freedom of Information clause in the ASSU Constitution, all the notes taken by SOCC during the interview process, copies of SOCC’s contracts, any existing question banks for the interviews, and other records. If SOCC does not comply with the request by the end of the day today (Sunday, April 12), then The Stanford Review will file a Constitutional Council Case against SOCC’s member organizations on the morning of Monday, April 13.
With polls opening on Wednesday night, Ms. Horwitz faces an uncertain electoral fate along with the other senate candidates. Unlike some of her opponents, however, Ms. Horwitz will enter the election without the SOCC endorsement logo on her flyers and without the powerful — and possibly discriminatory — support of SOCC’s leadership.
Read The Stanford Review’s correspondence with SOCC’s leadership regarding the letter and the Freedom of Information request:
Note: SOCC was given from Thursday night to Saturday night to answer the original letter. The relatively short timeline was due to the fact that elections are on Tuesday.
SOCC is composed of the following member organizations: the Asian American Students’ Association (AASA), Black Student Union (BSU), Movimiento Estudiantil Chicano de Aztlan (MEChA) de Stanford; Muslim Student Awareness Network (MSAN), the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP), and the Stanford American Indian Organization (SAIO).
Editor’s Note: When first posted, this article contained some documents that were not properly redacted. We have fixed all documents and apologize for the oversight. We thank one of our readers for bringing this to our attention.
Miriam Pollock contributed to the reporting for this article.