Equality is not Justice

by members of Stanford Students for Queer Liberation (SSQL)

We are the group of students responsible for the “equality is not justice” flyers last week. Because we are interested in both raising awareness and increasing understanding, we collaborated on a brief summary of each topic listed on the posters.

This article is meant to be shared! However, it is not meant to be the last word on any of the topics below: our foremost goal is to encourage discussion within the Stanford community.

Interested in continuing the conversation? Please consider submitting your ideas to STATIC!

Fear is not governance
Here, we are referring to the illusion that control is gained through fear or fear tactics and, furthermore, that legitimate government rule can be claimed when the majority of the population lives in a state of fear. Moreover, we are addressing the fact that fear is a tactic utilized by the United States, whether conscious or unconscious. Consider, for example, the reaction you have when you see a police officer. Are you afraid or comforted? Why? Also consider jails, which – though they seem to promise safety – are also an implicit threat by the state.

Apathy is not neutral
When we say that apathy is not neutral, we mean that – in many cases – apathy is a privilege. When we choose not to educate ourselves or to do nothing, it is with the knowledge that our lives will not be adversely affected – and not everybody is in such a position.
Another implication of apathy is the fact that, when there is apathy on the part of the state, entire groups of people may suffer. When legislators pay less attention to the well-being of groups such as trans* people of color, for example, this does not represent a simple oversight: it reflects a lack of commitment to the survival of a group that is consistently persecuted in this country.

Social justice is not a hobby
Stanford activists can be found in many campus organizations. They spend time organizing events, writing articles, running meetings, and many other things in addition to their studies. However, for many this work is not simply an extracurricular activity: it has deep personal significance.

Free markets are not democracies
Economic policy and political policies, while linked, are not prerequisites of each other. For example, several nations in Europe would be considered democracies, by American standards, but are not “Free Markets” in the technical sense: they are, in fact, socialist markets. We wish to convey the clear distinctions between free market economy and democratic political system, especially given how a substantial portion of U.S. politics is focused on enforcing free markets with the belief that a democracy will develop. Moreover, a free market, some argue, inherently breeds inequality and, thus, leads to undemocratic systems.

Democrats are not progressives
The statement “Democrats are not progressives” is not intended to be either insulting or defeatist. It refers to the limitations of identifying with a political party: being a Democrat or Republican is not an inherent identity. We associate certain values with being a Democrat, a prescriptive approach that frequently fails to be inclusive of all individuals. For example, a White, Democratic voter might support “equal pay for equal work,” a generalization that erases the fact that women of color are disproportionately affected by wage gaps. In other words, having a progressive mindset is a complex process that neither begins nor ends with choosing a political party with which to identify.

Facebook is not a community
While Facebook allows individuals to share details of their lives with others, we want to stress that, for some individuals, it is not a safe space for discussion and growth. We recognize the fact that Facebook is a means by which people can build community in non-normative ways, for example by organizing events or protests on a large scale. However, we want to emphasize that Facebook is a public forum with a high level of scrutiny from one’s peers. When Facebook encourages engagement, it is in the ways that are easy, not the ways that are meaningful: having a thousand friends on Facebook does not mean you have a thousand friends.

Lifestyles are not lives
An unavoidable part of being who we are is the fact that it is easier to see things from our own perspectives than the perspectives of others. However, society also encourages individuals to overlook the ways in which they benefit from privilege. Culture, including Stanford culture, privileges the voices of its white and heterosexual members. Seeing themselves as the norm leads such individuals to make generalizations about less privileged groups and subcultures. Part of being a responsible member of a community is to remember that an individual’s choices are not reflective of their entire existence. Negative – and positive – qualities of an individual, especially a member of a less privileged group, cannot be used to generalize about that entire group. Think about how you might feel if someone judged you for drinking alcohol, or for choosing not to drink alcohol. Now imagine how you would feel if such judgments were not an isolated incident, but something that happens on a daily basis.

Start-ups are not solutions
We are not trying to say that startups cannot be helpful. Rather, we want to highlight the fact that there are alternate frameworks through which to approach pressing sociopolitical problems. The culture of Stanford places a great emphasis on tech-based solutions to issues. This can marginalize students who approach problems through other disciplines, or in ways that are effective but less technologically dazzling. Additionally, we want to stress that the highly individualistic aspiration of “building a startup” should not overshadow the role that technology plays in improving the well-being of both humans and the environment.

Stanford is not post-class
Though Stanford is home to students who relate to each other as equals through academics and other activities, not every Stanford student has been afforded the same opportunities. Some students, for example, come from less privileged economic backgrounds than others. Students can feel that their identities have been marginalized when an event or organization requires a significant financial contribution in order to participate. This is known as a “microaggression.” A good resource for learning about microaggressions is the post Microaggressions at Stanford.

Assimilation is not progress
Before we accept progress for its own sake, we have to analyze what “progress” really means. Requiring individuals to conform to societal norms in order to achieve recognition is assimilation. Discrimination against individuals who are not fluent in English is an example of how American culture requires assimilation in order to fully access the benefits of being an American citizen. When we say that assimilation is not progress, we mean that progress must be inclusive of all identities, not simply the most visible.

Test scores are not knowledge
Stanford students are aware that performance in academics and in standardized tests are factors in college admissions. However, these tests are neither a measure of a student’s intelligence, nor their capacity for academic achievement at Stanford. Similarly, tests at Stanford are not a measure of one’s worthiness to attend the university. Students engage in a huge spectrum of valuable activities that enrich both their lives and the university as a whole.

One ramp is not accessibility
By “one ramp is not accessibility,” we mean to remind the Stanford community that a commitment to an inclusive, accessible community is an ongoing process: it is not simply a one-time task that can be checked off. When planning events, individuals must be aware of the barriers – physical, social, and emotional – that are put up by society, and which privilege renders invisible.

A co-pay is not mental health care
We cannot solve mental health issues through a prescribed series of actions but rather must consider individuals and their social, political, economic, and other backgrounds. Moreover, mental health care has become an accessibility issue where high co-pay costs are further alienating individuals seeking care.

Stanford is not post-race
Despite Stanford’s reputation as a sunny, welcoming place campus is not a safe space for all individuals. This is due in part to perception of campus culture: as open-minded, progressive. When the dominant dialogue on campus is self-congratulatory, it can erase the fact that casual acts of racism still occur on campus – frequently. This aggressive behavior can be as subtle as making stereotypes about who is most likely to study what, or as visually aggressive as donning a racist Halloween costume. These acts must be discouraged, and the way to do so is not to remain silent.

Stanford is not a paradise
Stanford is great, but it is not perfect. It is important to remember that while Stanford appears sunny both in weather and attitude, there are still issues we can work on as a community. We should avoid thinking of ourselves as a bubble separated from the rest of the world; there is still struggle and there is still wrong here. The first step to improving Stanford is recognizing such. For example, we cannot begin to work towards a safe and open campus without first understanding that many students have experienced discrimination on the basis of race, gender presentation, or sexual identity.

Different is not defective
In saying “different is not defective,” we would like to remind all Stanford students that perception of what is “normal” is highly subjective. It is biased by consumption of media – TV shows, movies, and music – in which diversity of race, sexual orientation, gender presentation, and physical ability is minimal. Not only does this normativity erase diversity, but it is extremely harmful: it implies that, if there is a “normal,” there must be an “abnormal.” In order to create safer spaces on campus, we must understand the subtle ways in which campus culture makes individuals feel unwelcome.

Co-ops are not classless
By this, we do not mean to say that there is anything wrong with living in a co-op. While living in co-ops students can participate in communities that emphasize cooperation and equal contribution. As positive as this experience may be, however, living in a co-op does not equate to being separate from, or “opting out” of what is problematic about Stanford – for example, classism. Simply living in a space that encourages open, equal communication does not take away the individual responsibility to be mindful of privilege. Acts of classism do occur on this campus, and the nominal equality of cooking and cleaning together should not erase them.

The Hoover Institute is not a tower
The Hoover Institute is a crucial example of how Stanford culture can be misleading. We may perceive Stanford as liberal and progressive: in many ways, it is. However, it is important to realize that the Hoover Institute – which, like Hoover Tower, is named for President Herbert Hoover – is in reality a public policy think tank with a conservative bent. Articles available on the Hoover Institute website hold favorable positions toward questionable policies such as the Keystone XL Pipeline, an oil pipeline that could potentially destroy ecosystems and pollute major aquifers in the United States. While it is beneficial to cultivate a variety of perspectives in a university setting, it is also necessary to be aware of what is problematic about Stanford institutions. http://www.hoover.org/news/daily-report/108491

Marriage is not liberation
We question the fact that, on a national level, discussions about LGBT issues tend to focus solely on marriage as the battleground for equal rights. As important as it is to ensure that everyone can secure the legal benefits of marriage, it is also disturbing that pursuit of “marriage equality” idealizes marriage, valorizing the nuclear family to the detriment of other relationship structures. Rhetoric around marriage equality also emphasizes assimilation, reassuring heterosexuals that queer people are “just like” them. This is particularly troubling because it unfairly privileges the image of queer couples as white, middle-class, able-bodied, and cisgender. Finally, pursuing marriage equality legislation at the expense of other legislation minimizes the systematic violence committed against queer  people of color, particularly trans* women of color.

In conclusion, we invite readers to look beyond what is easy and who is “normal,” to what is overlooked and who is silenced.



SSQL’s mission statement: As an activist collective, we believe that queer freedom involves more than legal equality – it necessitates radical social change. We affirm that the right to be different is a fundamental human right and organize around the fact that our liberation is not contingent on adapting to the status quo, but on contesting and changing social norms. We envision a world where all people can manifest their identities with integrity and security.

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13 thoughts on “Equality is not Justice

  1. […] Apathy here means supporting an oppressive status quo… […]

  2. stgx says:

    Great messages. I liked seeing your posters near Meyer. You could have picked a much better acronym for your group, though. Too much like SQL

  3. Anonymous says:

    The Hoover Institute is independent from Stanford

  4. mite says:

    It might be interesting to try writing a poster without the word “not”

    • Anonymous says:

      Agreed, the way we frame our arguments is very important, for example an “anti-war” rally versus a “pro-peace” rally

  5. Eric says:

    Yes, but what about “Equality is not justice”?

  6. Anonymous says:

    Where were the flyers? I did not see them.

  7. Demosthenes says:

    SSQL: Affirms that the right to be different is a fundamental human right; Condemns those who don’t abide by its extreme political views. #hooverinstitute #hypocritical

    • esqg says:

      Well, failing to consider others’ political views can be a real problem in any group. But which are the “extreme” views you don’t want to live by, and why? Let’s hear it.

      • Demosthenes says:

        Well, for one, the assumption that even the existence of a conservative think tank like the Hoover institution is “problematic,” as if it were actually and not just rhetorically a bastion of evil. Personally, I wouldn’t identify as conservative, but I do think that the pipeline might be a good idea and I do not think that thinking so makes me evil. Morality is complicated, and just because someone doesn’t agree with your policy view does not make them a bad person, in the same way that simply being an activist does not make you a good person. I’m not saying that this applies universally (for example, if my policy view was that some races are inferior, it would be completely justified to judge me for that till your heart’s content), but that to blanket an entire political allegiance as somehow morally inferior, without taking each person and view as a case by case is in itself quite misguided and repressive.
        If activism is about fighting oppressive structures, then it, of all communities, should be open to different political views and different solutions to problems like poverty, inequality and justice–problems that the right-wing, and yes Hoover, cares about just as much. I see no contradiction in a conservative or republican activist and neither should you.

      • esqg says:

        That makes a lot of sense. I am sure that an institute with a more “liberal” bent would also have tons of problematic aspects, and it is bad when people not as quick to notice them. But there’s a difference between “automatic dismissal” and “pointing out what is problematic”.

        Take a look at the Hoover article that was linked. I have trouble reading it, admittedly, because large chunks of the article are so superficial and hasty with labels that it reads like a running sports commentary, not a historical analysis. (No matter what side the author is on, such a style never fails to make me nauseous.) I also think that the initial metaphor of Obama as a “monster”, a questionable thing to do given the incredible climate of personal hostility in his first term, is deliberate code for “Republicans enter here”. So yes, there’s bias there.

        Those things aside, I’m glad there are people criticizing big-government policies; but this article ends with a ringing endorsement of Reagan’s legacy of cutting “marginal income tax rates”. Cutting taxes on the rich has been proven over and over again to be terrible for the country, to the point where it’s a mythology that will not die. Perhaps you’ve heard that recently the GOP actually suppressed a nonpartisan report to this effect. And when people continually insist on supporting wrong ideas that conveniently favor rich people, that is more than a difference, it is a huge problem. But that’s my opinion; I regret more that if the Hoover Institute hadn’t been pointed out to me by other members of SSQL, I might never have known about it.

        It doesn’t make anyone or anything evil to be problematic. The word is sometimes used in that tone, and personally I try to question it when it is. It merely means that someone or something should be criticized, that one may be deliberately or unintentionally doing harm. And I think you’re right, it’s a common human reflex to quickly criticize those who do not appear to share one’s moral views, and to be slow to judge those who do. But with these fliers the goal was simply to get a conversation going. It’s natural and common to prefer your own in-group, and SSQL has never been an exception to that, though we may try for more inclusivity and more openness to criticism. Thanks for the check on that.

        But one more thing: social justice is not “extreme” views. What is “extreme” is how easy and comfortable it is for people not to try to unlearn the biases that we absorb from a culture with a long history of colonization and violence. It’s amazing how people, me included at times, like to believe that our society is fair or close to it, simply because it is more comfortable to think that there has been “progress”. If you look at groups of people by class, race, gender, and other identities, look at who’s represented in movies and TV, who has wealth, and who’s in jail, it’s obvious that something is wrong. There’s a choice: one can dismiss this and to think “some people might be inferior or bad”, or think “something about the system is unfair”. The latter view leads to a lot of thinking about one’s place in society, and as you mention it can lead to multiple ideas about finding solutions. But as a fundamental principle, the idea that people should be themselves without being marked as “inferior” is not extreme at all. It is just hard to put into practice.

      • esqg says:

        Thing I did not make clear in that comment: while many many people do not like to challenge our social systems, of course the more privileged one is, the easier it is to be “comfortable” with the results. The link I provided analyzes that tension, and is fantastic reading if you like to think about cognitive dissonance.

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