May 5, 2019

Our hope for meaningful dialogue

Many members of our community are experiencing pain and anger this weekend in response to a set of flyers posted around campus. Some of the posters were developed in the context of the upcoming student-sponsored Palestine Awareness Week May 6-10; others were developed in protest to these posters. Some of the posters invoked anti-Semitic stereotypes and tropes and undermined values we seek to foster at Stanford University. Many of our Jewish students expressed how shocking it was to return to their residence halls to discover inflammatory depictions of the Jewish community in their own homes. It brought to mind other incidents, on campus and off, when students have encountered bias, hate, and intolerance.

As many of you are aware, flyering issues have caused deep pain and discord in several student residences in the last two years, particularly for historically marginalized communities. These communities have shared their thoughts on the need for a better and more timely university response should this occur again. We write in this spirit and in the spirit of our community values of elevating our common humanity.

We continue to be disheartened and deeply disturbed by the recent presence of anti-Semitic images on our campus. We speak for our university leadership collectively in condemning anti-Semitism, racism, bigotry, and all forms of intolerance, as we continue to mourn the tragic loss of lives that these ideologies have fueled in places of worship and community gatherings around the world in recent months. We must stand together in our resolve to overcome such hatred and to uplift all peoples in their inherent dignity.

The Israeli-Palestinian conflict is one of the most complex and divisive issues of our time, bringing multi-generational suffering to Israelis, Palestinians, and other peoples in that region and throughout the world. In our passion to promote what we believe is true and right, we can at times overlook and even discount the humanity of others. The impact of our speech may not reflect the intent, and we find we have created harm in the fervor of our advocacy. We will disagree, on this and many other issues. Finding a way to do so that upholds the dignity and humanity of all is difficult, but not impossible.

Friday afternoon, we witnessed the powerful hope of meaningful dialogue on campus. Members of diverse and often ideologically opposed groups met to share their own experiences of the posters and to listen to the experiences of others. Together, they modeled a form of dialogue rooted in shared vulnerability and committed to upholding the humanity of all. Some agreements were reached to remove posters; some disagreements remain. It was not easy. Some people shared their views; others felt unable to do so, or unheard. What gives us hope is that people were willing to engage in these discussions even though it may have come at significant individual cost. It was a step toward the vision of building a community where all feel valued, safe, and respected, even in instances of deep disagreement.

This is nowhere near the end of dialogue on our campus. We know the coming week will bring more moments of difficult conversations and perhaps more protest. We hope, as you enter the week, you might hold on to this hope of respectful dialogue in the midst of deep and passionate disagreements and convictions. As you engage in the various events of the week, be mindful of those with whom you disagree. Ask yourself how your views can best be heard. Cultivate compassion even as you disagree.

As a community, we can and must reaffirm our values of seeking understanding and dialogue across difference, even in the most divisive of circumstances. Only together can we be the Stanford community for which we long.