Tag Archives: activism

Valarie Kaur’s Baccalaureate Address to the Class of 2013

by Valarie Kaur, ’03

On June 15th, 2013, alumna Valarie Kaur, gave the Baccalaureate Address to the Stanford Class of 2013. Kaur is an award-winning filmmaker, civil rights advocate and interfaith organizer, and this is what she had to say:

President Hennessy, Dean McLennan, professors and staff, family and friends, and the Class of 2013, it is a profound gift for me to return to Stanford to address you. Ten years ago, when I stood in this spot to deliver the student address, I believed what they always tell us on graduation day – that your Stanford education empowers to change the world, that we are the ones we have been waiting for. But what they don’t tell us in college is just how dangerous the journey might be and what that courage might cost.

So I could tell you the story of how I found my passion in a classroom in the Main Quad right over there, or how I snuck a raft onto Lake Lag in the middle of the night, or how I survived SLE [Stanford’s Structured Liberal Education program].

But the story I must tell you today begins in crisis. Continue reading

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(Queer) Activism at Stanford University

by Lina Schmidt, ’15

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What is queer? and what does queer want? were two questions asked over the course of the class “Introduction to Queer Studies” (FEMST 120). Questions about what queer “means” are important to me because, as both a queer-identified individual and as a member of the campus group Stanford Students for Queer Liberation, parts of my identity are implicated in use of the word. The  meanings of queer can be a scholarly pursuit. However, the placement of queer in the title of a student group committed to “social change” makes its meanings relevant to the entire Stanford community, regardless of academic focus.

Described as a “discursive horizon” (Queer Theory 1), queer is fluid; a site of connotation rather than denotation. As a result, writings about queer — “Queer Theory” — are sometimes contradictory. The goal in reading, however, is not to produce a consistent worldview but to challenge entrenched ideas. For example, Annamarie Jagose suggests that 0ne use of queer is as an umbrella term for non-normative identities, serving as a contraction of “LGBTQIA.” Another writer, Cathy J. Cohen, suggests that queer has a more “radical potential” through its inclusivity not just of non-normative sexuality, but of differences in race, class, physical ability, and more (Punks 11-16). Continue reading

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Alumna Offers Advice for Activists

by Emily Bookstein, ’11

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In spite of its nickname “the Farm,” Stanford offered students few avenues for studying the food system: it took years of student activism before the university added coursework in sustainable agriculture and set aside a half-acre for a sustainable ag practicum. But in 2009, student demand still overwhelmed the small farm classes and the campus food-systems community was fragmented, underdeveloped. As the leader of a food-and-farming student group, I believed that an educational farm would nurture a stronger student community and spark changes in food policy and personal behavior. When I and other club leaders discovered that the Dean of Earth Sciences, Pam Matson, was going to propose creating a 2-acre educational farm to President Hennessy, we seized the moment and started a grassroots campaign advocating the proposal. From circulating online and on-paper petitions to parading a huge carrot (made of chicken wire and papiermâché) through White Plaza, we aimed to popularize and build support for the farm. Hennessy approved the proposal, and the farm is being sited. Continue reading

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Rachel Maddow returns to Stanford: Activism, Arguments and the American Military

by Leslie Wu, PhD candidate

Rachel Maddow came to the Stanford campus today, almost twenty years after graduating with an undergraduate degree in public policy (BS ’94). At Memorial Auditorium, speaking to a sold out audience who invited her warmly with standing applause, Maddow told of growing up in Castro Valley. Jokingly, she reported that this was the first time she received applause for being from Castro Valley in the East Bay.

At high school’s end, Maddow was shocked when she found out she had been accepted to Stanford. Shortly before that, at the age of 16, she had been coming out to herself as a lesbian. A teenager at the tail end of the 1980’s, Rachel started to see her gay friends and community suffer from the AIDS crisis. She began her work on AIDS before coming to the Farm, volunteering and later believing that she would focus on health policy as a Stanford student. Continue reading

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On Responsible Activism

by Heather Charles, B.A. ’10 + M.A. ’12

I am going to do what I always do in these conversations and state my credentials from the get-go. I am going to do this because I am white. And because I am white, and grew up extremely poor in an urban area where I attended some of the worst urban schools in the state of California in a community that is one of the most ethnically diverse in the nation and am living with a Mexican American man I grew up with who told his dad that he had no interest in learning Spanish because “he didn’t want to be one of those Mexican kids who can’t read English” and who is half white but knows he gets stopped by cops all the time because he is Mexican, I am intensely aware of how this whole speech and my mere presence in the activist community comes off, and came off while I while an undergrad, to the very communities that I work with. So demographically, when you ask me to be extra specific, I identify as working class, first. That’s the closest I can get to being honest. I do this because, when I entered Stanford I spoke a non-standard version of American English, and maintained the kind of wit that can only be learned on the playground and lot of people thought I was being a crazy asshole.  And I also do this, because I have the white privilege of not having to identify as my racial background. And because as a straight white woman I don’t have to identify as my sexual orientation either. But the fact of the matter is that the reality of my childhood more closely resembles that of poor folks who grow up in urban areas than it does the white peers I most closely resemble physically. On paper, people often assume I am black. This is because they are racist.

I am also an activist in urban education. Continue reading

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My Problem with Having a Problem With Activism

by Conor Doherty, ’13

Activist workshopThe efficacy of Stanford’s student activist movements has been a frequent topic of conversation around campus and in the editorial pages of The Daily the last few weeks. Most prominently, outgoing Executive Editor Brendan O’Bryne wrote an article questioning our “campus’s definition of activism” and raising important concerns about troubling events and policies that have received little attention. While I disagree with some of Brendan’s comments about our the insularity of Stanford’s activist community and narrowing the scope of issues we should be addressing, I appreciate his call for more focused and effective engagement with pressing on-campus problems.

Others have been more dismissive of Stanford’s student activist movements. Toward the end of Fall Quarter, The Daily published an editorial explaining one student’s “problem with activism.” More recently, another writer went so far as the say that the word “activist” should be “banished” from the Stanford lexicon. On the surface, these “critiques” are broad and ambiguous. I recognize that, if you look past the dismissive facades, their author’s are (I think) calling for “better” activism, rather than no activism at all. However, their reductive use of straw man arguments is frustrating and undermines substantive discussion. I get that the “panel on muskrat rights in 19th-century Bulgaria” line was supposed to be funny but, as someone who has written a lot of bad satire, I know it when I see it. Continue reading

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Dispelling Myths about Stanford Activism

by Holly Fetter, ’13

I’ve seen quite a few dudes in The Daily making assumptions about activist communities on campus, so I thought I’d attempt to counter a few common generalizations. (Note that, as there is not one unified activist space on campus, I am only offering my personal perspective informed by my personal experience with political work at Stanford).

1. There is more than one definition of an activist.

As someone who runs a “blog for activists,” I think the word “activist” is often misused and misunderstood. It’s a useful container, and it can be a powerful source of identity and solidarity, but it means different things to different people. Personally, I think an “activist” is someone who has a certain political consciousness, developed intellectually and/or experientially, that inspires a vision of justice, and a dedication to realizing that vision, both on an interpersonal and institutional scale. But someone else’s unique understanding of that word could be way different than my own. Similarly, activism is not limited to rallies and protests, the typical image of political action. Activism can be art, it can be event planning. It can be having tough conversations about current events. It can even be having certain beliefs about how the world should be, and living your life in accordance with those values. It isn’t always loud, it isn’t always articulate, and it definitely doesn’t always take place in White Plaza. Continue reading

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White Fetish

by Janani Balasubramanian, ’12

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A failing of the word ‘activism’ is its designation of certain activities as political engagement and the rest of our lives as some other floaty and apolitical space.  In reality, we are always enacting and interacting with the structures of power and social positions each of us inhabit.  My friend Alok and I were at a queer conference this weekend in Atlanta to facilitate the same workshop that we’re presenting tonight: ‘Because You’re Brown Honey Gurl!: A Dialogue about Race and Desire’.  Our intention was to bring to bear a conversation on spaces where desire, sex, and romance circulate as political spaces.  The project of queer liberation isn’t limited to our policy engagements or our organizing work — it is also about considering how we desire and are desired in white supremacist realities.

We use the term ‘sexual racism’ to describe the ways that racism and racist traumas inflect our romantic and sexual relations. Continue reading

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Activists make a world of difference

by Annie Graham, ’14


In response to a recent Stanford Daily column titled “My Problem with activism,” I think the author has failed to consider many points. I am defending activism on a center-left blog where many activists gather and read. But rather than coming at this issue like I have a pack of snapping, supportive activists to back me up (a la West Side Story), I’ll start by saying I used to be the skeptical party.

When I first came to Stanford, I didn’t really understand these “activist-y” types. They seemed always to be worried about so many things, flooding my inbox with information, and holding up signs with disagreeable phrases.  How could one person genuinely care about so many different causes, or maintain the energy to cause so many fusses? I thought college students had already fought “the man” in the Civil Rights Era and during the Vietnam War, and ever so naively, I thought such work was done. Or at least, I thought, it would be more productive to pump the activist brakes and attend politely to any lingering issues. Continue reading

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Progressive students must push Obama now: a post-election interview with Clayborne Carson

by Kristian Davis Bailey, ’14

This week the United States made history by re-electing Barack Obama as its first African-American president. While the political climate of our country may have had a sobering effect on the national mood, the overall tone of campus seemed to be one of celebration. Cheers of excitement rang from the lounge of my dorm in Ujamaa House, Stanford’s African and African American themed dorm. The larger campus as a whole seemed to echo this enthusiasm–88% of students voted for Obama in the 2012 elections, according to The Stanford Daily.

In the midst of this environment, I had the chance to speak with Dr. Clayborne Carson for fifteen minutes on his responses and reactions to President Obama’s reelection. Carson has been tasked with editing and publishing the complete papers of Martin Luther King, Jr. and directs the Martin Luther King Research Institute at Stanford.

I am currently a student in Carson’s introduction to African American history course “The Modern African American Freedom Struggle,” where we are trying to figure out what gains blacks have made in our modern freedom struggle since 1968. Our comparative discussions framed my conversation with Carson.

‘Act on your own, force Obama to follow your will’
It is necessary for students to create their own progressive pressure on the political system, Carson told me Tuesday night.

“If [people] believe that Obama was the best choice, they shouldn’t just leave it to Obama to carry out any kind of progressive agenda,” Carson said, adding that grassroots support is a necessary factor in creating effective policy.

Continue reading

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