Do Not Tell Me to Shut Up

As I have moved forward in my career in public service and science, I have drawn upon the skills learned in the required PWR and IHUM curriculum to advocate for change, whether that means leading an Alternative Spring Break or lobbying in the Capitol on behalf of primary care providers.  And as the Human Biology Academic Theme Associate for Storey House, I have sought to instill the idea in our residents that the power of analytical thought and articulate communication will be instrumental in bringing the our world to a happier and healthier state of being.

Recent events within our house, unfortunately, indicate that Residential Education does not share this same point of view.  I want to share an abbreviated version of a saga that has been unfolding in my house in the last couple of weeks.

The custodian in our house, protected here by the pseudonym Maria, was a very central part of our community.  Many of our residents tutored her children, she was very close with the kitchen staff, and all of us had grown fond of her cheery presence in the house.  Despite being told that she would be hired full time after a trial period, she was told three weeks before Spring Break that the term of her employment at Stanford might be coming to a close.

Because of our unique involvement with Maria as well our position as the customers of Stanford Housing’s services, our house came together to write a thoughtful letter on her behalf that might persuade the powers that be to keep her with us.  However, on the Monday of Spring Break, our House Manager received a very upset call from Maria who had just been informed that she was banned from working on the Stanford campus; not able to determine the reason of her dismissal, she acquiesced to our request to investigate the situation, giving us permission to advocate on her behalf.

Although the details about her employment status and what actually transpired are supposedly confidential (or at least they have become so in the wake of our investigative calls and unappreciated interactions with the managers at Housing and ResEd), there are several facts that ring loud and clear: 1.  Our row houses loved her and wanted her to have a longer term of employment; her work was exceptional. 2.  Maria was counting on the promised longer term of employment with Stanford.  3.  When it became clear that we were organizing on her behalf (to advocate for hiring her full time, from part time), the authorities ended her employment leaving her scrambling to pay the rent and feed her kids.

As paying customers of the Housing system, why was our desire to keep Maria so inexplicably ignored (and perhaps acted on in a negative way)? Why is no one concerned about the wellbeing of someone for whom we care deeply? Housing’s system for managing their workers appears to be broken.

When I brought these concerns up with ResEd, the organization fronting for housing after the facts became too uncomfortable, I was given the following piece of crassitude as an official statement: “the Maria situation – it’s dead.”

And what’s more, the administrator roundly chastised me for having spoken about it in a class that I teach on social justice and ordered that I was never to speak of it again. It seemed to me an abrogation of both my Stanford guaranteed academic freedoms as well as those pesky, Supreme Court guaranteed first amendment rights.  The system, I am told by the authorities, is fine –as long as I keep my trap shut.

To draw from my experiences as an infectious diseases scientist, when counting cells, it is actually considered bad practice to ignore the data points that you do not like.  Now call me crazy for applying this mindset to this macro-level situation, but Maria’s situation is a clear example among many which would testify that there is something egregiously wrong with the way we are treating our custodial staff.  Of course, I use “would testify” since the moratorium on any contrarian rhetoric ensures that our voices have been effectively neutralized.

Before your feelings on SLAC or worker’s rights cloud your perception of the problem I just presented, I urge you to look at the real threat here.  Housing and ResEd have teamed up to actively suppress and ignore our right to speak out against the outrages that we witness.  I can see that PWR and IHUM were really a sham: On issues that really matter, hold the thesis please.   Your opinion doesn’t matter.

If you disagree with me, I encourage you to discuss it with me, for this is much more than ResEd ever did.  Point out my errors in logic.  But do not tell me to shut up.

“Our lives begin to end the day we become silent about things that matter.” – Martin Luther King, Jr.

Josh Wong (’10) is a HumBio Major with a service focus on underserved community health.  When he isn’t health educating at Pacific Free Clinic or teaching HIV-education in Africa, he can be found spouting off his opinions as a Student Advisor for HumBio.

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