Stanford has a relatively large number of minorities – 54.6% of students are non-white – and we pride ourselves on our diversity. In addition, we have a large number of minority groups and clubs that help cultivate common identities and share cultures with Stanford. During my time at Stanford, I’ve been involved with El Centro Chicano y Latino and Los Hermanos de Stanford – a Latino Interest Brotherhood. I have also been able to learn about other cultures through the Pilipino Student Association (PASU) and the Stanford American Indian Organization (SAIO).
Many minority students are at a disadvantage upon arriving at Stanford, initially feeling out of place and as if we do not belong. A lot of us did not have access to the quality education that wealthier school districts can afford, and many of us had to navigate the challenges of coming from a first-generation family. Since I was raised in a community where most people were Latino, Asian or Black, it was initially hard to relate to many people’s experiences in high school. I didn’t grow up taking vacations to the Hamptons or Miami; most people in my community visited their family in places such as Guatemala or Mexico.
The main mechanism for attempting to voice minority issues during student elections is the Students of Color Coalition (SOCC). SOCC grew from the Rainbow Coalition, created in 1987, and is currently composed of the Black Student Union (BSU), Movimiento Estudiantil Chicano de Aztlan (MEChA), Muslim Student Awareness Network (MSAN), the Asian American Student Association (AASA), the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP), and the Stanford American Indian Organization (SAIO).
While SOCC’s intentions are to benefit the minority community, it leaves important viewpoints out of its efforts. In recent years, SOCC has focused primarily on political issues that cause significant divides in the minority community. For example, the campaign to divest from companies operating in the West Bank divided Stanford’s minority community. According to one applicant for the SOCC endorsement, SOCC asked during the interview: “What are your views regarding divestment?” with the implied belief that the correct response would lead to SOCC’s full support.
As someone who is not in favor of divestment from companies operating in the West Bank, I’m left wondering how SOCC represents all minority views. I’ve met many in the Latino community who also oppose divestment and share a similar feeling that SOCC’s endorsements do not truly represent their viewpoints despite its claims to speak for all students of color on campus.
MEChA is the only Latino organization in SOCC and adds a strong activist viewpoint into SOCC. MEChA focuses strongly on the Chicano movement which “involves a personal decision to reject assimilation and work towards the preservation of our cultural heritage”. While defining the term Chicano in itself is controversial, I have always considered myself as an American with proud Guatemalan heritage growing up. For a while even El Centro Chicano (renamed this year to El Centro Chicano y Latino) was difficult to identify with; I’m not Chicano, I am Latino.
Furthermore, activist politics play a huge role in MEChA and can alienate those with center right or center left views like myself. While I would be remiss to not say that MEChA does great things, such as planning Raza Day for High Schoolers and highlighting undocumented student’s stories and struggles, the organization’s focus often divides the greater Latino community on issues of identification and the scope of activism.
The lack of viewpoint diversity in SOCC is important because sponsored candidates historically have shown phenomenal success at winning ASSU Senate seats and Executive Slates. The last five endorsed executive slates (with the exception of Gallagher-Ashton) were elected to ASSU Executive position. In 2011, 12 of 15 SOCC endorsed senate candidates won a position to the ASSU. In 2012, 2013, and 2014, every single SOCC-endorsed candidate that had enough signatures to appear on the ballot was elected to the Senate. In 2015, it is likely this trend will continue. SOCC’s favored policies often translate into actual ASSU votes.
There are two questions I am sure many students grapple with when determining whether to vote for a SOCC candidate. First, is not voting for a SOCC candidate considered racist? For some, I feel this is the case when they vote for SOCC candidates because SOCC claims to represent the minority viewpoint. While I can’t personally identify as strongly with this question as others, I can identify with my second question.
As a minority, is not voting for a SOCC candidate a form of betrayal to my community? I wrestle with this question every year during ASSU election season. I’ve always thought I was betraying my community when I don’t vote for a SOCC candidate. My opinions often didn’t align with SOCC’s and I felt a sense of betrayal if I didn’t vote the SOCC line. However, I’ve recently learned I should take the time to not just vote for a SOCC Candidate but rather research them and learn about them.
There should be more communities involved in SOCC. For example, SOCC represents neither the Pilipino community (PASU), Stanford Sanskriti, nor other minority groups. In addition, other Latino organizations should be a part of SOCC. However, I do recognize the MEChA’s importance in founding the Rainbow Coalition. Although many would argue there would be an overshare of Latino representation, MEChA should not the only Latino opinion on SOCC. Perhaps adding El Centro Chicano y Latino or Latinos Unidos alongside MEChA could help represent a more diverse and wider viewpoint.
Correction: We added Stanford Sanskriti to the last paragraph.