Widgets Magazine


Dialogue isn’t enough

During last Thursday’s Faculty Senate meeting, Provost John Etchemendy shared a prepared statement about the importance of dialogue to divisive campus issues. He stated, “The essential feature of dialogue is not monologue times two. The essential feature of dialogue is not speaking but listening, listening with respect and then expressing, in turn, one’s own view with clarity, rather than volume.”

Etchemendy is right about his definition and insight into the parameters of true dialogue. It takes discussion and differing opinions. There are often no answers, and it is understandable if there is a disagreement because of a difference in ideologies or priorities. Dialogue is important for academic discussion and personal and communal growth.

But Etchemendy fails to acknowledge where dialogue falls short.

When two dissenting groups or people engage in dialogue, the conversation is not divorced from the framework of power and privilege in which it takes place. Each group or individual comes in with its own privileges and marginalities. There is always a power struggle. There is always an imbalance of who will actually be valued and heard.

And like Black lives, these stakes matter.

Etchemendy stated, “Whether the issue is Israel and Palestine, sexual assault and due process, investment in fossil fuels, marriage and gay rights, black lives or increasing disparities in wealth, we seem to have lost the ability to engage in true dialogue.”

If we are to talk about these issues without nuance and reduce them to “for” and “against,” we cannot deny that student advocacy groups are looking death and destruction in the eye. Palestinian students have spoken of death. Trans* women of color are being murdered. Sexual assault survivors are fighting. Black people are being executed. And people at the bottom of the socioeconomic ladder are starving.

The stakes are high for people who are screaming for their voices to be heard; dialogue does not communicate urgency. Dialogue is unfair to require of everyone, especially if they feel disempowered by the entity or person with whom they are engaging in dialogue. In the context of Stanford, an institution that represents so much power and privilege, how can dialogue be the be-all and end-all when your students are telling you that they are afraid of death?

When the stakes are low, dialogue seems completely reasonable. Dialogue about philosophy and Shakespeare is great, but dialogue about whether or not black lives matter should never be a discussion because the answer is always yes. Student activism has been trying to bring Stanford into a conversation that has been ongoing since activism against oppressive systems started. This is not about dialogue. This is about joining a struggle concerning justice that Stanford has historically been on the wrong side of until their students push them. Student organizations are doing their best to bring Stanford into this conversation, but Stanford administration and some students have shown apathy.

So, student organizations form coalitions for a chance to band together for a cause and be heard. Coalitions have a clear purpose, and have dialogued amongst themselves in order to be strong and resemble a microcosm of other organizations that exist worldwide. The reason coalitions exist is because there is political support amongst students. When ASSU candidates seek the endorsements of these coalitions, they are saying that they will be thinking about these groups and causes because they see the importance of them. Coalitions have political power because students care what they think and share their beliefs.

For Etchemendy to say, “I am deeply concerned about the outcome of this approach. I would like to ask our students which they would prefer: a senate composed of thoughtful, open-minded students representing the full range of student opinion, or a senate pre-selected to represent a filtered set of beliefs. If the answer is the latter, then I fear we have failed as a university.”

This is insulting not only to coalitions, but to the students who value what these coalitions represent. The Students of Color Coalition, The Queer Coalition at Stanford, Stanford Green Alliance for Innovative Action, and the Stanford First-Generation Low Income Partnerships are coalitions who view the stakes as high. To say that they are not thoughtful open-minded students representing a range of opinions within each coalition is highly offensive. These coalitions represent the causes that are important and pressing to many students, and even within them, there are a range of beliefs. Even among activists, some believe in violence, some believe in peaceful protest. They have the same goal — justice. Coalitions are never monoliths.

Dialogue is fine when there is no urgency and people are ready to listen. The organizations involved in these coalitions have been in conversation and have been trying dialogue for years. Etchemendy’s comments prove that the university administration is out of touch with the conversations that have already been happening on campus and the struggle for justice worldwide. We have already transcended dialogue, and we’re ready for change.

Contact Mysia Anderson at mysia ‘at’ stanford.edu.

About Mysia Anderson

Mysia Anderson '17 is a sophomore majoring in African & African American studies. She is from Miami, Florida and is an unapologetic Black feminist. She enjoys poems about love, free food, and dancing to Beyoncé. You can contact Mysia at mysia@stanford.edu.
  • robman012

    Wow my sister, well said! Dialogue doesn’t bring justice; in order to have peace, there has to be justice. No justice, no peace.

  • Derwood Kirby

    Yo! Msia! Two things. A COMB! And stay away from electrical outlets.

  • John

    Ok I get where you’re coming from, but why should we “talk about these issues without nuance?” Dialogue is about acknowledging the nuances present in each situation and trying to come to an understanding; not one person being emotionally certain that their beliefs are correct. Why do you expect others to acknowledge your perspective when (it seems) that you aren’t willing to acknowledge theirs? Some things here are obvious: black lives matter, queer lives matter, trans lives matter, etc. But how do we make that a reality? I think that’s a much more nuanced question that deserves discussion, and rhetoric like this makes me personally much less likely to try and talk to you because it makes me feel like I’ll only get shut down immediately with no chance to have a healthy discussion that could actually change my mind.

  • CheckYourIgnorance

    Well said Mysia! And awesome work you’re doing on campus. We see you!

  • Alumna

    I always wonder how people supporting the Palestinians fail to mention the terror attacks that Hamas perpetuates. Luring three teenage boys into a car and murdering them only because they are Jewish does not seem to bother these “activists.” It seems that Jewish lives don’t matter to these people, but I suppose ignoring the Palestinian terror makes the peicture a lot more simple, and the Palestinian supporters need the comfort of this simplicity. To simplify even further, the Palestinian lives and rights matter only when they are affected by Israel, but not when ISIS or Hamas savagely murder people without trial.
    I would expect a bit less hypocricy and a lot more critical thinking from Stanford students.

  • mxm123

    What does Hamas have to do with Israeli settlement policy/apartheid in the West Bank. You can’ have a modern organized state have a deliberate policy of dispossession and then blame everyone , everything to obfuscate such.

    Whose hypocrisy is on display here ?

  • rab
  • Disagree

    Yes, we can all agree that black lives matter. But is blocking a vital bridge in protest a reasonable response to the Ferguson shooting? Should a Palestinian flag be spread across the protesters when the protest was ostensibly regarding Ferguson?

    And we can all agree that sexual assault is terrible. But does that mean we should assume the perpetrator’s guilt rather than innocence? Does that mean all students should undergo sexual assault prevention training?

    The problem with identity politics is that there is no room for nuance: you are a women, therefore you should support women’s rights. Okay, but what does that mean? That’s the question identity politics neglects. It’s more about what side you’re on than what change you want to see.

  • Alumna

    As seen in the comment above, no facts that I mentioned are addressed. Not Hamas terror, not ISIS, not murder of Jews just because they are Jews. This is a classic example of the pro-Palestinian tactic: no facts, no actual rebuttals to the issues brought up – just throwing emotional terms around with no facts whatsoever.

  • mxm123

    I asked a specific question.

    ” What does Hamas have to do with Israeli settlement policy/apartheid in the West Bank.”

    And you won’t answer. I think we all know why.Because your tactic, along with Netanyahu, is to pretend that Israel is this oh so innocent party that is all peaches and cream with the Palestinians.

    Your questions are similar to those in the past who continuously condemned the terrorism of the ANC, which may right wingers solely focused on at that time, while ignoring apartheid at that time in South Africa.

  • robman012

    Right, and they fail to mention that Hamas wouldn’t even exist if it weren’t for Israeli policies in the first place. then they wanna call someone a terrorist when in fact the Israeli colonial network and apartheid is the real terrorism.

  • Alumna

    If we look back historically, we see that Arab states rejected the 1947 UN partition plan, and until today, many continue to deny Israel’s right to exist. If you do as well, please state that clearly.

    If you do support Israel’s right to exist, some examination of history is in order: Israel returned Gaza to the Palestinians, and what do they do? Build an economy or do anything productive? No, they elect Hamas and shoot rockets at Israeli civilians, kidnap hostages and use their own young people as suicide bombers. Gaza had thriving greenhouses and once the Palestinians took control of the area they destroyed them.

    As a pro-Palestinian “activist,” how do you reconcile the fact that you support a society where there is no freedom of speech or religion, no equal rights for women, and gays are murdered if they are discovered?

  • anon

    PLO was a terrorist organization formed pre-occupation (it eventually moved–somewhat–toward normalized relations). Also, the selective determinism applied in this case is opportunistic and patronizing.

    It is relevant, as well, because it makes it much harder, both from a genuine security standpoint and from a political capital standpoint, to leave the west bank and ease the blockade on gaza. that seems pretty hard to deny.

  • check your privilege

    1) Her name is spelt Mysia
    2) Your comment is racist. Her hair doesn’t conform to white standards of professionalism — so what?

  • mxm123

    And so were the Irgun. Just saying.

    If the lack of freedom at the current time is due to the security standpoint, then i guess the settlements on those very lands is for good karma ?

    Your morality seems quite selective.

  • mxm123

    Your regurgitation of 1947 and the deny Israel canard destroys your credibility or what’s left of it. Like you’ve never heard of the Saudi Plan.

    Israel returned Gaza, and made it a prison. Lets not pretend that Israel returned Gaza to make it a step forward. The historical record proves your statement utterly false. Regarding the greenhouses you could ask James Wolfonson one of the funders who he blames. If that matters to you.

    When you point to lack of freedom in Palestinian society, do tell what Israel has done to promote such freedom. Israel propped up Hamas to undermine the PLO. So much for your and Israel’s love for freedom when it came to the Palestinians. At every opportunity, if it gave it an advantage Israel has chosen to undermine Palestinians.

    If Israel is so worried about gays in Palestinian society why does it blackmail them on their sexuality. Your talking points only go that far.

  • J Leland Kupferberg

    This article sounds like Marxist pablum to me. It looks for struggles where they don’t exist, and purports to construct “communities” of people out of abstract categories.

    And don’t you love it when they resort to talk about “conversations”? I feel really sorry for that portion of the student body at Stanford that has to be subjected to this kind of intellectual leftist nonsense day in and day out.

    To my mind, these are the people who are truly experiencing pain and an overall fear of brain death on the campus grounds as the Marxists perpetually drill their tiresome jargon into unwilling skulls.

    Frankly, after reading this article, my head is spinning, my tongue is numb, and I feel like my spirit is under siege by a braying herd of atheistic materialists. Are there any hearts out there that can bleed for our plight? Any left ventricles that can pump a pint or two of fresh blood to revive all that decaying tissue on the right?

  • J Leland Kupferberg

    Blah, blah, blah. I suppose that repeatedly calling it “apartheid” makes it so. You must be so disappointed that Israel has an Arab Supreme Court Justice and that its Elections Chairman is an Arab as well.

    And isn’t it terrible that Israel built an effective security barrier to keep out suicide bombers? If that, in your definition, is “apartheid,” my response is: Who cares?

    And as far as “colonial networks” go, a country that is still only nine miles wide at its center portion just happens to be doing a terrible job at amassing colonial properties.

    Or let’s talk about the world’s most distinguishable “ethnic cleansing” – where the supposedly “cleansed” population continues to grow within Israel, the West Bank, and Gaza by leaps and bounds year after year.

    By any objective historical standard, the Israelis stink at apartheid, colonialism, and ethnic cleansing. But if you’re offering them this much credit, all I can conclude is that you’re an easy grader.

  • Alumna

    Still no clear answers or facts from pro-Palestinian “activist.”

    No answer as to how s/he supports a society with no freedoms or equal rights for women and minorities.

    Obviously, it’s not justice this “activist” is interested in, but blaming Israel for anything that comes to mind.

    In short, a lot of emotion and no logic/history facts whatsoever.

  • mxm123

    The same Alumna who won’t answer why Israel targets Palestinian gays or why Israel never created Hamas is now so concerned about Palestinian freedoms. Awww.

    Oh wait, its Alumna regurgitating the same old talking points from. Who shall we blame for apartheid in Israel ? The Irish ?

  • rab

    He’s not worth your time.

  • ModernMaccabi

    “why Israel targets Palestinian gays…” What the …? Dude, what the hell are you smoking. Your “comments” are getting nuttier by the day. Not to mention the fact that you have failed to answer a single question or engage in a reasonable discussion with anyone. I’m starting to wonder if your account might actually be an attempt by Mossad to undermine the activities of legitimate pro-Palestinian advocates.

  • mxm123


    Like you didn’t know.

    “The members of the Shin Bet put a cruel choice before gay Palestinians: betray their people by spying for the regime and risk being cruelly put to death – all in exchange for keeping their secret – or have their secret exposed and be ostracized from their families, exposed to violent attacks and perhaps even murdered.”

  • ModernMaccabi

    Well if that is true it is totally unacceptable. See how a “dialogue” can work?

  • student

    This has crossed the line into scary.

    You legitimately believe that disagreement over whether to impose your will through violence or advocate for it through peaceful protest constitutes a “range of beliefs” in a society. You’ve even called it “highly offensive” to suggest that we should have ANY student leaders who do not come from one of four very narrowly-focused identity groups or consider any concerns but your own.

    Justice has nothing to do with getting what you what. It’s getting what you deserve. True: the groups you advocate for deserve better. But if you think violence is an acceptable course of action, I have no doubt that you will get what you deserve in return. I only hope that the noble causes you have perverted into authoritarian madness can survive your self-righteousness.

  • student

    “Why do you expect others to acknowledge your perspective when (it seems) that you aren’t willing to acknowledge theirs?”

    And they wonder why their strategy isn’t working very well…

  • Alum

    In a way, I’m glad the Far Left has gone so crazy. It’s a nice counterbalance to the religious nuts on the Far Right. They’re all a reminder of why our society does not let any one person have absolute power.

    Remember: There’s nothing courageous about believing your views are absolute. That is always the easy route.


  • Jonathan Poto

    While you’re right that taking action based on discussion is the necessary, it’s important to not that Etchemendy has come a long way from his divisive pro-faculty anti LGBT community viewpoints in 2010 on the ROTC issue. The last few years he’s been far more outspoke for student’s issues such as sexual assault on campus. I think he’s a potential ally within the Faculty Senate’s hard to access power structure and that we should encourage as much additional dialogue with him as possible.

  • Stanford Alumnus from ages ago

    Shalom Deadwood! Two things. Mysia is intelligent and looks great! And stay away from commenting. Was that three things? Never mind.

  • All voices matter

    I agree with Provost Etchemendy’s statement “The essential feature of
    dialogue is not speaking but listening, listening with respect and then
    expressing, in turn, one’s own view with clarity, rather than volume.”

    I will address only one of the issues that you believe should warrant no further discussion.

    Mysia you say “but dialogue about whether or not black lives matter should
    never be a discussion because the answer is always yes.” But the
    dialogue should be that ALL lives matter. By having an open dialogue the
    discussion can and should be much broader.

    According to Bill O’Rielly (whether you like him or not he presents some interesting information), “Let’s take a good look at this plague of white cops
    acting violently against blacks as Dyson puts it. In the past 50 years,
    the rate of black Americans killed by police has dropped 70 percent. In
    2012, 123 African- Americans were shot dead by police. There are
    currently more than 43 million blacks living in the U.S.A. Same year,
    326 whites were killed by police bullets. Those are the latest stats
    available. In 2013, blacks committed 5,375 murders in America; whites
    committed 4,396. Whites comprise 63 percent of the population; blacks 13

    More statistics are below
    Justifiable Homicides Committed by Police Officers, by Race of Decedent, as Reported in the
    SHR and NVSS: United States, 1976–1998
    By Race

    By age
    The 20-29 year-old age group has the highest number of people killed by
    police when looking at the other age groups, but this does not mean the
    police discriminate based on age or that 20-29 year-old lives don’t

    Men outnumber women in prison by 10 to 1
    Are police sexist and do they “target” men rather than women, since men
    comprise the majority (93%) of state and local corrections populations.
    Does this mean that men’s lives don’t matter?

    Most black males who are killed in the U.S.A are killed by other black males; black on black crime is the greatest threat to the black community. This should
    be part of the discussion too.

    Maybe the conversation/dialogue should be about police brutality and the code of silence. Maybe we could discuss why and how the code of silence is being broken by video cameras. Or read the book The Rise of the Warrior Cop

    Maybe the conversation/dialogue should be about the fact that as of October
    2013, the incarceration rate of the United States of America was the
    highest in the world, at 716 per 100,000 of the national population.
    While the United States represents about 4.4 percent of the world’s
    population, it houses around 22 percent of the world’s prisoners.[2]
    Imprisonment of America’s 2.3 million prisoners, costing $24,000 per
    inmate per year, and $5.1 billion in new prison construction, consumes
    $60.3 billion in budget expenditures. As of 2014 the high incarceration
    rates have started to modestly decline, although still remain the
    highest in the world.[3]

    If we spent more on parenting and education would we have fewer people in prison?

    Maybe we should discuss why the media is so focused on white vs black rather
    than looking at all of us as being part of the human race. As Martin
    Luther King said “Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere.”

    It would be helpful to have conversations/dialogues where each side could
    present their statistics, ideas, and why they believe changes need to be
    made. If we just yell “this is my view, end of story” then all of the
    deep, broad, enlightening information is left in the dark and we will
    continue to be angry about false information and conclusions, and/or
    come up with half-baked solutions.

    Lives should not be silenced and neither should voices. Let the winds of freedom blow and let’s work to help each other rather than silence and tear apart each other.

  • JMAR

    The University
    administration targets students it identifies as having “concerns” – then deals
    with them swiftly and decisively to clarify the students precarious stand on
    University grounds in what it considers a position of aggression instead of the
    expected gratitude. And until other students can see that the actions and
    method are intended to inflict great personal damage and isolation … then we
    will never be able to connect the dots …and the many lives

    The University employs the
    use of repeated surveys to take a pulse on just how much pain others are
    willing to ignore and if the ‘climate changes’ then so do its tactics. Over the
    years, it has become clear that public attacks are no longer socially
    sanctioned but the administration has a found a superior replacement:
    “dialogue”. Through ‘dialogue’ the
    University has been able to refine itself to mimic genuine interest and has
    learned to preemptively anticipate coalitions, discussions, protests. Make not mistake the intentional intimidation
    is still occurring – a student is individually signaled out for a closed
    meeting – just you +2 administrators, no friends, no support, no recording and
    no public transcript. It’s a clean decisive instrument – “I would like to meet
    with you to discuss your concerns” and the red flag is that a second
    administrator would also like to be present, “would you mind?”…….

    Provost John Etchemendy – 2009

    ———- Forwarded message ———-

    From: John Etchemendy

    Date: Mon, Mar 9, 2009 at 9:06 PM

    Subject: Re: Community Center
    Cuts…Please Read


Cc: John Etchemendy

    Dear Ms _______,

Our cuts were not
    across-the-board cuts. They were
the result of careful consideration by the
    University Budget Group, which spent
hundreds of hours over the last four
    months reviewing every school and
administrative unit’s budget plans. I
    understand that you feel you
are in a better position than this group to judge
    the fairness of Stanford’s
budget decisions, in spite of your lack of knowledge
    of any other unit in the
university. But you are wrong. I know that you
that you, and only you, “know what it takes to keep students
Stanford,” in spite of the fact that many people at Stanford have
successfully doing this for twenty and thirty years. But you are

    have a request. Print a copy of your message and
put it in a safe place. In
    twenty years, take it out and read
it. You will know then why I asked you to do

Thank you for your input.

John Etchemendy

Here is the refined product
    of ‘dialogue’ – mimicry and mockery.

    On Sun, Apr 19, 2015 at 12:14 PM,
    John Etchemendy ‪ wrote:

    Manny, I’d really like to understand
    your perspective on these issues, but email is not a good way to do that.
    I’d like to sit down and talk, if you’d be interested. I could meet this
    afternoon or some time tomorrow.

    Would you like to do that?


  • TheCardinalRules

    When you yell and scream, you cannot hear and you aren’t listening.

    When you block a bridge during an evening commute, you alienate a large swath of people who might otherwise be open to hearing what you have to say.

  • dingo bat

    Well put. The issues have more to do with poverty and ignorance than race per se. Achild born iinto households where the parent spends all day on Facebook and drama hasn’t a chance but to repeat crime and or welfare as life goal options. Sitting on your butt all day in prison or section 8 housing with 5 kids is not the worst thing in the world. No one is starving unless you are a child snd your useless parent is not keeping up. Even then the rest of us pick up the slack with free school lunches etc. I find corporate welfare way more offensive but come on people. Stop commiting crimes and get of your duff. Or

  • Black Grad Student

    “Dialogue about philosophy and Shakespeare is great, but dialogue about whether or not black lives matter should never be a discussion because the answer is always yes.”

    That’s 100% true. But often we’re not talking explicitly about “black lives matter” or “trans* lives matter” or any of these black/white “life or death” situations.

    We’re talking about whether it’s okay to be pro OR anti divestment, or whether the best way to support the autistic community is by participating in “Light it Up Blue” and using the word “awareness”. Or we’re talking about how we should support students with eating disorders, or mental illnesses. Or we’re talking about how to appropriately deal with allegations of sexual assault, and how to appropriately punish sexual assaulters. Or we’re talking about the lack of a visible trans* community in the Feminist, Gender, and Sexuality Studies department.

    While these are ALSO very important issues and discussions to have, they are different than saying “black lives matter” or “queer lives matter”, etc. There is no reason that the Stanford community can’t have a nuanced discussion–a “dialogue” when talking about these important issues. That’s what I fear the author has failed to recognize here.

  • Innocent Question

    Ok I have a question that is not supposed to be confrontational I actually want to know the answer so I could try to help. If no dialogue then what? Action? What action? Holding up signs only can do so much in my eyes. Why haven’t the sign holders proposed creative solutions?