He was only there to deliver a few invitations. But what started out as a typical student solicitation turned into an alleged act of intolerance that soon required the involvement of the Vice Provost for Student Affairs, The Stanford Daily, and other anonymous sources—it was a day that left everyone wondering, what exactly happened when Michael Tubbs walked inside the freshman dorm Otero?
“I believe that if I had not been a 6-foot-tall black male, I would not have been stopped, questioned, ridiculed, and followed all at once,” said Tubbs ‘12, the ASSU Co-Chair of Diversity and Tolerance Initiatives and an active member of the Black Student Union (BSU). At the time he was delivering invitations to the BSU’s freshman convocation; however, the second he entered the freshmen residence he was harassed and discriminated against, ultimately treated not as a fellow student but as an “other.” He believes the incident occurred in part due to his race.
“I wasn’t met with the usual Cardinal smiles, but rather with cold, hard, questioning: ‘Who are you? What business do you have here?’” Tubbs recounted.
Soon after the confrontation in Otero, Tubbs contacted Sally Dickson, Associate Vice Provost at VPSA and the primary person in charge of carrying out the Acts of Intolerance Protocol. The Protocol, while outlining university procedures regarding acts of intolerance, does not provide explicit guidelines as to what determines an “AOI”—and so Dickson must judge allegations on a case-by-case basis.
But before she could reach a verdict, Tubbs wrote and submitted a 1,034 word op-ed to The Stanford Daily regarding the incident; his piece, though, was never published. As a result, Tubbs then forwarded this op-ed to collective members of the student body, claiming that the Daily “refused to publish it.” The truth of this statement, however, remains unclear.
According to Devin Banerjee, Editor-in-Chief of The Stanford Daily and the foremost person Tubbs contacted regarding his piece, the initial decision to postpone publication was not due to content. “I hadn’t even read it yet,” said Banerjee. “Michael Tubbs emailed me his op-ed and it was initially too long. I told him to cut it down to about 500-600 words, which is our standard length.”
The next day Tubbs responded to Banerjee’s request via email: “Not a problem, thanks!” and promptly attached the new, shortened op-ed. The problem arose when Banerjee failed to notice the attachment. “The first fault was mine,” admits Banerjee. “I thought that he was just following up—not that he had already attached a new, shortened version. If I had seen that, I might have gone ahead and published it.”
Yet what prevented the Daily from further pursuing Tubbs’ piece was no longer just an issue of miscommunication. “Zack Warma, who’s my Opinions Editor, got back to me and told me that Sally Dickson had reviewed the incident and had found that there was no act of intolerance committed,” Banerjee said. Dickson had finally reached a verdict; her decision was not in Tubbs’ favor.
“The goal of the AOI Protocol is clearly educational. I believe that a mediated conversation will allow us to directly address the concerns of all the students and help resolve the misunderstandings that have ensued,” said Dickson in a released statement. “I think once the students have had an opportunity to share their perceptions and understanding of what occurred then they will have a better understanding of each other.”
Banerjee went on to explain that he had received another email claiming that Tubbs had crossed the line by attempting to publicize the incident, especially after Dickson had deemed it was not an AOI. The email stressed that Tubbs himself might be facing a violation of the university’s Fundamental Standard, and that the Daily would therefore face numerous problems with administration if they were to publish the piece in question.
“I looked back and that’s when I realized that he had in fact sent me his op-ed. But I was grateful that I missed it,” said Banerjee. “It would have been irresponsible of me to publish it without checking—and obviously no one knew the real answer about this event, or who was fully responsible.”
Despite the problems at the Daily, Tubbs went on to circulate his statements via student email lists, and even went on to host a BSU event titled “Cultural Silence: A General Body Meeting on Acts of Intolerance at Stanford.” Tied in with the op-ed, the event emphasized that Tubbs’ initial response to the Otero incident was to walk away in shameful silence. Tubbs’ goal was to raise awareness that silence and ignorance over situations like his ultimately harm societal progress concerning issues of diversity.
“I want to let people who don’t see anything wrong with situations like these or who have been purveyors of similar acts of ignorance know that these actions have real psychological consequences, to the effect of having me question my very presence at this university,” stated Tubbs in his op-ed. “I want the entire university community to know that the silence and awkwardness we feel regarding these issues has the effect of trivializing them and allowing them to fester. It is only by speaking up, that progress can be made.”
But questions have been brought up regarding the accuracy of facts and details mentioned in Tubbs’ op-ed. For example, in the piece he states “Four Caucasian students interrogated me by the ping-pong table in front of the door.” However, after contacting other involved parties, it soon became apparent that it wasn’t four Caucasians at all.
“There were only three students involved, only one of whom is Caucasian,” said one source with authority on the matter. The source declined to reveal the racial identity of the other two boys, emphasizing only that they were indeed not all Caucasian. Nonetheless it was confirmed that Tubbs was inaccurate in reporting this detail to members of the student body.
Asked if he knew that he had presented the wrong facts, Tubbs said he had only learned this detail after he had met with Clifford Nass, the Resident Fellow in Otero, sometime after he had already publicized his op-ed. However, Tubbs believes that this inaccuracy was trivial given that the actual race of the boys should not necessarily influence their treatment of him.
“It’s a false assumption to imply that only whites’ actions are motivated or informed by race,” said Tubbs, who went on to add, “There is a difference between citing race as the sole factor and citing race as a factor… ‘major’ is not a term that I explicitly used.”
Although his recent statements emphasize that he has never cited race as the biggest factor in the incident, his op-ed seems to suggest otherwise: “Words alone could not describe how I felt in [that] moment, but I can say that as a Black student on campus, I had never been more aware of my race, or of the fact that a mere 60 years ago a similar altercation with the same individuals could have resulted in something much more horrifying—like my body dangling from a tree.”
In a separate statement, Tubbs noted that “the op-ed was written in a way for readers to derive their own conclusions.”