On January 19, 2015—Martin Luther King Day—sixty-eight Stanford students were arrested for blocking traffic on the San Mateo Bridge, rallying behind the causes of Black Lives Matter, Stanford Out of Occupied Palestine, and a nebulous variety of issues pertaining to Mexico. The protest endangered the lives of hundreds of local commuters, as evidenced by the multiple accidents and injuries that it caused. The University has even been threatened with a lawsuit over the protest, as a three-year-old child allegedly sustained permanent brain damage as a result of her family’s inability to reach the hospital in time.
Regardless of the outcome of the lawsuit, the students—now charmingly termed the “Stanford 68”—should be processed through the Office of Community Standards (OCS) and be held accountable to Stanford’s Fundamental Standard. The Fundamental Standard reads:
“Students at Stanford are expected to show both within and without the University such respect for order, morality, personal honor and the rights of others as is demanded of good citizens. Failure to do this will be sufficient cause for removal from the University.” [emphasis added]
That the Fundamental Standard applies to these students’ conduct is not even a matter of debate. Stanford has charged students with violations of the Fundamental Standard for off-campus incidents, as is apparent from the Leah Francis case, which occurred 1500 miles away in Juneau, Alaska last year (even in sexual assault cases such as this one, Fundamental Standard charges are also levied). The University routinely doles out Fundamental Standard charges in parallel with the courts’ punishments of other crimes, such as DUIs. The sixty-eight offenders clearly disturbed order, and Stanford even lists “violation of an applicable law” and “knowingly or recklessly exposing others to significant danger” as examples of conduct that violate the Fundamental Standard.
By choosing to make an exception for these students, Stanford is tacitly endorsing their reckless behavior. What’s worse, the University is corroding both the symbolic value and the practical authority of the Fundamental Standard. When the code of conduct is selectively applied, it loses its credibility.
However, Stanford has done more than just tacitly endorse this behavior—it has explicitly endorsed it. On December 3, students staged a similarly illegal shutdown of Highway 101. Just two days later, Vice Provost of Student Affairs Greg Boardman emailed the undergraduates expressing his unqualified support for the demonstrations. Boardman wrote:
“Please know that we stand with you and support you. Black lives matter. Your life matters. You matter. I am proud of those of you who are expressing yourselves actively, thoughtfully and peacefully.”
Meanwhile, the head of Stanford’s Comparative Studies in Race and Ethnicity program (CSRE), David Palumbo-Liu, teaches a class titled “Ferguson in a Global Frame,” a large part of which focuses on “resistance and solidarity against oppressive state violence.” On the day of the San Mateo bridge incident, Palumbo-Liu (@palumboliu) tweeted:By not nipping them in the bud, Stanford permitted these protests to grow from [blocking cyclists](http://www.stanforddaily.com/2014/10/28/students-fill-circle-of-death-for-ferguson-awareness/) at the Circle of Death to [obstructing intersections](http://www.stanforddaily.com/2014/12/01/stanford-students-community-members-lead-demonstration-reacting-to-fergusion-decision/) in Palo Alto to [upholding traffic](http://sanfrancisco.cbslocal.com/2014/12/04/stanford-univeristy-student-protesters-block-highway-101-over-nypd-chokehold-death-eric-garner-new-york-city-police-university-avenue-east-palo-alto/) on Highway 101 to causing injuries on the San Mateo Bridge. The San Mateo Bridge mishap could have been avoided had Stanford intervened earlier in these increasingly dangerous demonstrations. Stanford is more than tangentially involved in the fallout of the incident—it shares direct culpability for it.
In anticipation that there might be calls for Stanford to take disciplinary action, as this op-ed suggests, students circulated a petition to garner support for their rights to “free speech”. As a publication that sued Stanford in the ‘90s over its speech codes, TheStanfordReview has always been a strong proponent of free speech. However, the problems with this demonstration have nothing to do with the protesters’ message. Blocking a bridge with a cause and a flag is just as illegal as blocking a bridge with nothing to say at all—that is to say, the content of the speech is not at issue here. Perhaps the supporters of the Stanford 68 actually meant to cite their right to “peaceably assemble” in the petition. Unfortunately, that constitutional protection doesn’t apply here either, as the demonstration posed a clear and present danger to commuters on the bridge.
The fact that these students are making every effort to avoid disciplinary action is ironic given their branding of the protest with the hashtag “#ReclaimMLK”. Martin Luther King did not resist punishment for breaking the law—in fact, he often used his arrest to further his political agenda. After being indicted for organizing the 1955 Bus Boycott, for instance, King and other movement leaders boldly turned themselves in to authorities rather than wait to be arrested. Part of what makes civil disobedience work as a method of social change is the agents’ willingness to accept the consequences that come with their actions—it demonstrates, for one, that the cause is worth the self-sacrifice. The difference between civil disobedience and entitled privilege is precisely this willingness to accept the repercussions for breaking the rules. Like Martin Luther King, the Stanford 68 should step up and readily accept the appropriate consequences for their actions. If they aren’t willing to do so, they should have voiced their concerns in a method that accords with the Fundamental Standard.
At the end of the day, the Stanford 68 are well-intentioned in their efforts to combat the racial inequities that exist in our society. These are issues that demand our attention. But, as the adage goes, “for every complex problem, there is an answer that is clear, simple, and wrong.” Blocking traffic on a major motorway is the clear, simple, and wrong answer to the problem of racial injustice. As Stanford students and as American citizens, we should fight vehemently to defend our fellow students’ rights, especially in today’s environment where the University is quick to usurp them (see SAE, “Bloody Bloody Andrew Jackson,” and the Anscombe Society). The sixty-eight Stanford students, however, went beyond simply exercising their rights—they broke the law and put the lives of innocent people in danger. The University’s failure to apply its code of conduct to this behavior reveals a disturbing truth about our school: that we don’t have a Fundamental Standard so much as we have a Fundamental Double Standard. When administrators at the University project their own political beliefs onto the code of conduct rather than apply it uniformly, it loses whatever symbolic significance it carried. The Fundamental Standard is the good name of Stanford University, which we all trade on. The administration should pursue Fundamental Standard charges against the Stanford 68 to uphold that good name.