Why Linda Sarsour and Angela Davis? An Open Letter to Provost Drell

Why Linda Sarsour and Angela Davis? An Open Letter to Provost Drell

Dear Provost Drell,

I am writing concerning Stanford’s recent invitations to Linda Sarsour and Angela Davis. I find these invitations puzzling, given your Notes from the Quad blog post from this past fall, where you and President Tessier-Lavigne asserted that the University would “speak out against views that “are at odds with the fundamental values of the University.” The standard you have proposed is admirable and well-needed. Yet, just six months after establishing this standard for speakers brough by student groups, the University has decided to toss it away for its own speakers. Both Ms. Sarsour and Ms. Davis have utterly failed to meet your standard and do not deserve Stanford’s endorsement.

After fall quarter saw bitter political debate, you emphasized in February your goal of “encouraging” and “modeling...respectful expression” of ideas. You have also urged the Stanford’s community to have a “fundamental respect for others” when disagreements occur. I assume, when you speak of “fundamental respect for others,” you aren’t referring to the actions of Muslim activist Linda Sarsour, who said that women like Ayaan Hirsi Ali, an advocate for women who promotes moderate reforms of Islam, “don’t deserve to be women” and stating that she “wished she could take [Ali’s] vagina away.”

Ms. Sarsour’s style of arguments are ad hominem and unintellectual, the exact opposite of the “respectful expression” of ideas you want invited speakers to model. You have also commented that the Stanford community should work to prevent online verbal attacks against its fellow members. Unfortunately for Ms. Ali, who works on Stanford’s campus at the Hoover Institution, it seems that the sanctity of the Stanford community does not extend to her.

Equally troubling is the invitation you extended to Angela Davis, who spoke on Thursday about the ‘revolutionary struggle.’ Ms. Davis spent several months on the FBI’s Most Wanted List while hiding from charges connected to the murder of six people, including a judge, and the kidnapping of four jury members from a Marin County courthouse. Although a jury eventually acquitted Ms. Davis on the charges, the trial revealed that Ms. Davis bought and modified several guns before giving them to a fellow Black Panther, with full knowledge they would be used in the massacre. Does Stanford endorse the use of violence and kidnapping to achieve political ends? By inviting Ms. Davis, it would appear so.

You may read my letter as suggesting that Mses. Sarsour’s and Davis’s views should be barred from campus. This is not my intention. The freedom to express ideas should be the goal of every university. Rather, my argument is that there is a substantive difference between the University allowing a speaker with controversial views to speak on campus and actively inviting such a speaker. In the cases of Mses. Sarsour and Davis, Stanford has put its stamp of approval on two figures whose actions and words flagrantly violate the University's values. If Stanford wanted to invite progressive leaders to campus, why couldn’t Stanford have invited more speakers like Alicia Garza, co-founder of Black Lives Matter, or former Obama ambassador to the UN Samantha Power, both of whom are liberal stalwarts but (unlike Sarsour and Davis) possess impeccable characters and do not harass other women online?

Stanford holds its students to high standards of conduct. It is only fair that the speakers the University invites to campus should be held to the same standard.

Benjamin Esposito

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