Winter is coming. Actually, many would argue it is already here. As I walked to class yesterday, I found myself shivering even though it was about 58 degrees. I guess my native Californian blood has returned in full force. Perhaps my body is also reacting to the mountain of physical and mental labor it has incurred this quarter and really, really wants winter break.
Last night a known Islamophobe came to Stanford’s campus. He met with a group of students and then did a question and answer session with the campus Republicans. Outside, about 300 students gathered for a rally, eventually joined by the 150 students who walked out of the talk.
The speakers at the rally were all students, representing Stanford Advocates for Immigrants, Stanford Sanctuary Now, MEChA and the Muslim Student Union, among others. Besides those who had the microphone, students started chants and mini-dialogues in between speeches. I was impressed with each speaker. They not only spoke with passion and truth, they utilized the skills this university has taught them- research, crafting a well-thought out argument, communicating their narratives.
So why did the university allow someone who disregards not only basic human decency but also any kind of intelligent, intellectual basis for crafting their platform? This isn’t new, arguments about free speech have ping-ponged for a long time. It is quite dangerous to presume that everyone has access to this “freedom.”
I’ve been writing an essay this week about St. Clare of Assisi, who was ordained by St. Francis. Female saints experienced some really heinous violence- beatings, whippings, even starvation at the hands of men. We’re kidding ourselves if we look at these texts and think “wow, THEY were so terrible.” Because women and those living on the margins right now, in this moment, experience physical violence, structural violence, and systematic approaches that aim to keep them out.
Clare is an interesting figure. According to her hagiography, she turned an entire army away from the gates of Assisi using the Blessed Sacrament, and a prayer. God spoke to her. God told her the city would be protected. Now, this army was a “Saracen” army from Sicily sent by King Frederick. As a scholar of interfaith interactions, I can’t paint a rosy picture of Muslim-Christian interaction. But one thing the story illustrates is that Clare and her sisters held vastly more power together. Which is why last night, students felt compelled to show up for their friends and classmates. We need to keep showing up.
The Stanford Daily called the rally “innocuous” and “peaceful”, diluting the power of people standing together (literally) and listening to those who rarely get public voice. Student activism has risen a striking amount since the election, and it’s easy to understand why. But it’s not “innocuous,” it’s intentional, well-planned, and organized. It’s students taking their learning out of the classroom and applying it to their experiences.
Last night was the first time I felt really connected to the Stanford community, and definitely recognized again how important students are. As one of the speakers rightly stated, we have plenty of work to do, so let’s go.