Reviews | Lack of freedom of expression for marginalized students
“Practice the tolerance you preach”, “Give the floor a chance” and “Tolerance includes listening”. Stanford College Republicans (SCR) taped posters bearing these phrases around the Dinkelspiel auditorium in anticipation of two very different visitors; former Vice President Mike Pence for his speech on “How to Save America from the Woke Left”, as well as the supposed anti-Pence “Woke Left” organizers who came out to protest his visit.
As anti-Pence protesters staged a rally ahead of the event, there was growing discussion of the usual ‘free speech’ plea that accompanies bringing a controversial speaker to campus. . The importance of free speech dominated conversation on campus in the days leading up to this event – and with the clash between different political groups in Dinkelspiel today, there is much to be said for how Stanford can protect the right of students to freely engage in political discourse.
Despite the focus on free speech, many students of color and students from marginalized backgrounds have limited free speech amid a polarized political climate and aggressive practices such as doxxing, harassment, and other hostile interactions. It’s Stanford’s most vulnerable population that remains most exposed to these attacks — and with an open campus, it’s unclear what kind of unwanted outside attention a Pence event might bring and how it might affect these marginalized students.
Take Ritwik Tati ’25, for example, a co-organizer of the anti-Pence protest. While protesting Pence’s presence on campus, Tati reflected on his own experience of being doxxed by opposing groups on campus. In Tati’s account, opposing groups spread dangerous and false statements about her online, along with personal screenshots and links to her social media accounts. It represented direct exposure that put Tati at risk of receiving hate online, simply because of her leftist beliefs.
Another student from the class of 2025, who asked to remain anonymous for privacy and security reasons, said standing in front of Dinkelspiel during the Pence event “is not a safe space for students of color to protest. Some of us have mid-term exams, which is why we’re not here. The rest of us know how mentally taxing it can be. The political climate surrounding the auditorium and the fear of aggressive practices such as doxxing inhibited students’ ability to engage in what would otherwise have been healthy speech.
The same anonymous student just didn’t want to be quoted in the dorm he was living in, lest it put him in a position to receive hate from groups on or off campus. It was hard for me to see “free speech” outside of Dinkelspiel when unsound political practices clearly created an environment too hostile for a large student population to engage with Pence’s visit to campus.
Less than an hour after Pence delivered his speech, tension remained high around Dinkelspiel with patrolling security, SCR organizers, anti-Pence protesters and daily passers-by strolling White Plaza.
I saw a Stanford freshman – a hijabi – approached and questioned about her affiliation with anti-Pence organizers. She was a passerby who really had no allegiance to any organized political group that day. But her mere appearance put her in a position to be questioned and taunted in a naturally hostile way – the stakes were up and there were accusations of aggressive protesters, but she just has nothing to do with it.
At the same time, there were numerous instances of people aggressively filming their surroundings inside and outside Dinkelspiel, leaving little room for real conversation and political discourse around the auditorium. Some of that aggression can be expected with a controversial speaker like Pence coming to campus; however, hostile individual behavior exacerbated the problem, ultimately discouraging the most marginalized groups from speaking out freely about their opinions. “The first thing my parents told me was to proceed with caution,” said the same anonymous student.
As the SCR and anti-Pence protesters exercised their freedom of speech inside and outside Dinkelspiel today, there is a larger conversation to be had about unheard student voices and how which we, as a community, can foster more productive debate among different groups on campus.
Students affiliated with anti-Pence protesters have alleged that organizers of the Pence event canceled the tickets of people they thought might walk out. A student I spoke to, who asked to remain anonymous for fear of being targeted, claimed that the ticket cancellation process may have involved the ‘racial profiling’ of names on the list of event, based on their observation that some students of color — who were not publicly affiliated with the anti-Pence protesters — were escorted away. These allegations are speculative, but whether true or not, the expulsion of student protesters represents an unwillingness to hear both sides of the issue.
Whether you stand inside or outside Dinkelspiel today, it’s clear that more emphasis needs to be placed on student dissent and speech being safe without the personal attacks and risks that accompany political affiliation. This could be achieved through more frequent political engagement between opposing groups on campus, greater assurances of security for Stanford students wishing to attend such events, and the willingness of Stanford administration to getting involved in cases of political harassment and doxxing. Protecting free speech on our campus can only begin with protecting and reassuring our students’ ability to organize, protest, and disagree with controversial speakers.