“Respected and Safe”: An Open Letter to Provost Drell

“Respected and Safe”:
An Open Letter to Provost Drell

Provost Drell,

On November 11th, you sent an email to the entire student body, entitled “Ideas, flyers, and behavior,” in which you discussed Ben Shapiro’s visit to Stanford University, and the Stanford College Republicans’ peaceful attempts to advertise for the event.

We at SCR were very excited for the opportunity to hear Mr. Shapiro speak and to have students with different perspectives challenge him. As such, following all University policies and all rules of common decency, we advertised widely. We did not intimidate anyone into attending—students were more than welcome to simply ignore our flyers—and certainly did not engage in violent behavior of any kind. I cannot say the same for those opposed to the event.

At every stage of the process, our members encountered levels of vitriol that were downright appalling. When they politely requested entrance to Casa Zapata to flyer there (just as they had done in every other dorm they had visited), they were greeted by an angry mob that shouted sexual obscenities at them, chased them off, and began to follow them home.

When they messaged one dorm group chat, they were challenged to a physical fight. When they hung a banner in White Plaza, it was ripped down within the day, and replaced with one accusing us (and you) of racism—a rich irony, given that our speaker spent most of his time decrying white supremacism.

And what was your response to this campaign of hatred?

You compare us to domestic terrorists.

In this time of heightened tensions and fear from national and international events, we need to recognize real fear, grounded in real threats and true harm at events still raw and recent in our memory -- El Paso and Gilroy, Pittsburgh and Poway. ... Casa Zapata and El Centro Chicano y Latino have been particularly impacted by these events

We will do all we can to ensure everyone feels respected and safe, but the truth is the power to shape the environment in which we live is a responsibility that we hold collectively.

What an utter disgrace.

How dare you attempt to weaponize the tragic losses of life that took place in these cities, Provost? How dare you compare the violent mob that confronted the members of SCR to the victims of the El Paso shooting—as if those students screaming at them that night were merely victims, merely innocent bystanders, rather than a violent mob attempting to silence their opposition.

How dare you compare the members of SCR to cold-blooded killers? Do you understand the sort of real-world consequences these words have for your students? On this very campus, Provost, members of SCR have had a rock thrown at them and paint dumped on them for the crime of inviting people to sit down and engage in civil discussion. Were you unaware of those events, Provost? Do you not care about the actual violence that is being done to your students, because of their political views? And do you think your words will have made it any better?

And to add brazen insult to injury, you compare SCR to anti-Semitic killers, of all things — to the murderers of Poway and Pittsburgh! Perhaps I missed something, Provost. As I recall, it was not the members of SCR who passed out flyers depicting Ben Shapiro, an Orthodox Jew, as an insect in need of extermination. And perhaps I missed something else, Provost, but for someone so eager to concede that our speaker and his ideas were “abhorrent,” you yourself were remarkably silent on the topic of “Ben-B-Gon.”

And after all these disgusting comparisons, you have the gall to lecture us on our “collective responsibility” to make sure that everyone “feels respected and safe.” What an absolute farce. How do you think your words today have made US feel, Provost? Do you think that smearing us as mass murderers has made us feel “respected and safe”? What about falsely accusing us of trying to break into a residence hall? What about slanderously insinuating that we were the perpetrators of these “verbal threats and intimidating behavior,” rather than its victims? Is that supposed to make us feel “respected and safe”? Or does “respected and safe” only extend as far as the people who agree with you politically?

There are several things that must be done before we as a University can begin to move on from this disgraceful display. First, Provost, you must apologize for referring to the members of SCR in such a disgusting manner. Never do so again. Not to us, not to anyone on campus — ever again.

Second, denounce the violence that has taken place on this campus, and which has been directed exclusively at the members of SCR, and has at no point come from us. Do not merely denounce your own invented stories about us attempting to “demand entrance” into residence halls — no, denounce the actual intimidation that our members have faced, and call out the actual perpetrators of it specifically. Furthermore, do not decry the silencing of political opposition as merely ineffective at “eliminating [abhorrent] ideas from campus” (as if that were even a worthy goal to pursue!) — rather, denounce it for what it is: a moral evil, in and of itself.

Third and finally, stop making excuses for the students of this University. Contrary to all appearances, Provost, they are not children. They can handle seeing Ben Shapiro’s face on a flyer without having a meltdown and attempting to physically intimidate their colleagues.

Do these things, Provost, and perhaps we as a community can move on from the mistake you have made in sending this email. Fail to do so, and you will have proven that Stanford is no safe haven for open discussion—at least, not unless you happen to personally “approve” of the opinions being expressed therein.

Scott Borgeson,
PhD Student

Subscribe to the Stanford Review
UA-140492650-2