3 Books for Change

by Janani Balasubramanian, ’12 + Alex Kindel, ’14

Both  of us were involved in the campaign against bringing a discriminatory ROTC program back to Stanford last year.  Many of the incoming students  will remember the demonstration we helped to coordinate the day after the faculty senate vote on ROTC, coinciding with Admit Weekend.  Soon after the decision, we learned of the selection by the Three Books program this year, chosen by Political Science professor and ad-hoc ROTC  committee member Scott Sagan.  We were concerned primarily with the exclusive and normative representation these three books bring to incoming freshmen and transfers, and felt alienated as queer students and anti-racist organizers ourselves.  We tried on the idea of hosting our own Three Books in response, by selecting our own three texts.  We quickly realized, however, that the spirit we were trying to capture was one of community discussion and critical engagement, rather than antagonism.  We decided to work with the ASSU Community Board and residence staff to develop a broad network to spread our core questions.

Mission Statement: This year, the “Three Books” presented at NSO for the class of 2015 and transfers are March,One Bullet Away: The Making of a Marine Officer, and The Violence of Peace: America’s Wars in the Age of Obama.  Professor Scott Sagan, who established “war and ethics” as the theme for this year’s three books stated, “I hope that the continuing debates about what is the proper role for the United States will continue on this campus and that this will help make those discussions better informed and more reasoned. I hope they will take place with a stronger background of ethics and understanding of when war is justified and when it is not.” We are continuing the dialog. The three books in question deal with war and ethics from a largely white, male, and US American perspective. While we understand the difficulty of choosing just three books, we believe this year’s selection is insufficient in its representation of war and the people it affects.  We are especially concerned that this exclusive and normative representation will alienate members of the freshman class.

The freshman class, like any other class at Stanford, counts among its number queer students, transgender students, students of color, immigrant students, students with disabilities.  It also includes students who identify their politics as antiracist, queer, Marxist, antiwar, or otherwise not represented by the ideologies in this year’s three books.  This selection’s engagement in histories of war and violence is limited by its point of view and protagonists.  This effort
is not to discount the important lessons and insights these authors have, but to push for further dialog. We will ask students (frosh and others) to write their own lists of “three books” (on any subject[s])on canvases located in multiple community centers.

We see the outcomes as threefold:

  1. To empower students to critically engage with the texts, their communities, and their stories
  2. To unify the community centers in an effort that ties student academic, personal, and cultural experience
  3. To create art as a testament to the incredible wealth of our students’ experiences and ideologies

We are asking students to reflect on the following questions:

What about them (content, narration, style, subject, time, etc) inspires you to share them with the world as emblems of your theory of change?  What kinds of social movements do you draw from in your own work?  How are these books representative or constitutive of your experiences in life and in education?  How do they help you learn?  To teach?  To CHANGE?

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