OPINION: Stanford funds atheist speaker, denies support for conservative ones with policy that allows bias, stifles free speech
The Stanford University Graduate Student Council helped fund a guest lecture by atheist Richard Dawkins last fall, but this quarter denied a request for $600 to help a conservative student group shoulder the cost of a spring conference on traditional marriage.
In denying the latter request for the Stanford Anscombe Society’s “Communicating Values” conference, the student council cited its funding guidelines, which prohibit financial support to any event that makes students feel “unwelcome.”
The policy states that the student council “will not fund events or activities that … have any appearance or tone of exclusivity,” nor can it dole out money to “create an environment where a given segment of the graduate student population are made to feel unwelcome at the event due to religious, political, or other conviction.”
However, the council broke its own rules when it helped pay for the Dawkins lecture last fall. If the student council were truly committed to its official guidelines, it would have rejected the Atheists, Humanists, and Agnostics (AHA!) request to help fund his speech.
Dawkins is famous for saying that those who do not believe in evolution are “ignorant, stupid, insane, or wicked.” While I agree with Dawkins and personally find the views of the traditional marriage conference speakers detestable, the double standard applied by the council is unacceptable.
How can the Stanford Anscombe Society be ineligible for funds due to hosting speakers who are discriminatory toward the homosexual community while AHA! receives support to host a speaker who calls those who support the theories of creation and intelligent design stupid idiots?
As an educational institution, Stanford has an obligation to foster and protect intellectual discussion. It is inexcusable that certain more popular opinions that are derogatory toward a group may be freely voiced, while individuals with less favored views are silenced.
The aim of the conservative conference was to “help university students and young adults promote the values of marriage, family, and sexual integrity to the broader popular culture.” The event’s speaker list, which included several prominent opponents of same-sex marriage, was condemned on the grounds that it was discriminatory and “unwelcoming” by several members of GradQ, Stanford’s umbrella group for LGBT and allied students in the graduate and professional schools.
“The … conference is to train participants how to make secular arguments on why not to have gay marriage in the U.S. This event will hurt LGBT members at Stanford and provide an unsafe space for them,” said GradQ member Brianne Huntsman at a March graduate student council meeting.
In light of GradQ’s concerns, the council rejected the Anscombe society’s request for $600 in a 10-2 vote. GSC member Eduardo González-Maldonado stated that the student council’s funding guidelines explicitly prohibit a provision of funds to “any event that makes anyone feel unwelcome and uncomfortable.”
The student government must remove this guideline entirely. Even if the council were devoted to consistently upholding its policy of not funding any events where students are “made to feel unwelcome,” it would have an extremely stifling effect on intellectual discussion at Stanford.
It is nearly impossible to express and develop an innovative idea without offending someone along the way. Challengers to the status quo, including those who hold ridiculous or even offensive ideas, push us to consider issues from different perspectives and reflect upon our ideas more deeply. Their inclusion is crucial to maintaining a vigorous intellectual environment.
I hope that our student council takes that into account to build a better campus for the Stanford community.
College Fix contributor Devon Zuegel is a student at Stanford University.
IMAGE: Main- Darrell J. Rohl/Flickr