Rename Stanford (Rylie)

Big news! It turns out I have a long-lost twin.

Her name is Rylie and we’ve recently reconnected. As fate has it, she grew up in Portland, Maine, and is currently attending Universidad Centroccidental Lisandro Alvarado (UCLA).

She writes in her spare time as well, though doesn’t have anywhere to publish. As a result, we decided she would be a guest blogger here. All her posts will be tagged “Rylie” and there should be some mention of her authorship in the title.

She’ll make the blog better because, as you will see, her interests differ from mine. Going forward, expect this blog to cover more topics from diverse perspectives.

Enjoy her first post.

A proposal to rename Stanford University.

In January 1862, Leland Stanford, then governor of California, stood in front of the state legislature and said the following:

To my mind it is clear, that the settlement among us of an inferior race is to be discouraged by every legitimate means. Asia, with her numberless millions, sends to our shores the dregs of her population. Large numbers of this class are already here; and, unless we do something early to check their immigration, the question, which of the two tides of immigration, meeting upon the shores of the Pacific, shall be turned back, will be forced upon our consideration, when far more difficult than now of disposal. There can be no doubt but that the presence among us of numbers of degraded and distinct people must exercise a deleterious influence upon the superior race, and to a certain extent, repel desirable immigration

Stanford was a bigot, and his words should be condemned in the strongest possible terms. There is no room for hateful speech in a society that prides itself on tolerance, diversity, and justice. Stanford’s remarks reveal deep flaws within his character and thought that would be inexcusable today, and as we’re coming to believe, were inexcusable then. Unfortunately, this revelation taints the entirety of Stanford’s legacy. Every scientific advancement he commissioned, every crusty institution he created, was built on a foundation of oppressive prejudice and should be discarded. It is up to us to cancel him posthumously and wipe his existence from the history books. That will show him.

The first step towards this absolute and morally irreproachable goal is to rename the institution that bears his name: Stanford University. It is ignorant and hypocritical to attach power and prestige to a name that once belonged to a bona-fide racist and outright capitalist. Complicity in calling Stanford University “Stanford” is complicity in the face of systems and structural factors that have marginalized communities of color. It’s impossible —utterly inconceivable— to use the same sound to refer to Leland Stanford and a university without espousing the entirety of the former’s political ideology. This is why Stanford University must be renamed.

Knowing Stanford was a racist who believed a marginalized group was inferior to whites makes people feel unsafe and attacked. It’s true Stanford is dead and all of the racists of his time died with him, but that’s not enough. As long as his name is uttered in any nonnegative context, it constitutes an assault on minorities and people of color. In the same way we must condone Aristotle’s view that women are inferior if we want to consider his unrelated views on logic, we must hold racist beliefs and attitudes if we are to seriously consider any single aspect of the Stanford legacy. This sound commitment is an infallible guard against racist thought. As we all know, ideas and institutions are only as good as the political ideology of their sources.

“But Rylie,” one might unreasonably ask, “Stanford isn’t even named for Leland the capitalist bigot. It was named for his son, Leland Stanford Jr. who died of typhoid at 15. Leland Sr. established the university as a grieving father wishing to honor his son.” Anyone can see this objection relies on two untenable concepts that have been used to justify marginalization and oppression for centuries. First, naming your son after yourself is the ultimate expression of narcissistic, patriarchal, insecure, toxic masculinity. In this act, Leland Sr. has symbolically transferred male power and privilege between generations, reinforcing existing oppressive structures and setting norms for his son’s behavior. For this reason, Leland Jr. has full culpability for his father’s crimes, and no university should be named after him, either. Absolving children of their father’s transgressions ignores the perverse effects of patriarchy, and allows historical crimes to go unpunished.

Second, there are no honorable deeds under capitalism. Leland Sr.’s decision to create a university in memory of his son was only possible under an exploitive system where people of color suffered for the enrichment of white males. His fortune was stained by the blood of the oppressed, meaning any act making use of it —besides full-blown redistribution— is incapable of withstanding moral scrutiny. Dissociating actions from the circumstances that enabled them is a crime in itself. We must consider Stanford’s wealth within the broader global-historical context of oppression, injustice, and exploitive capitalism. Praising one deed within the system is equivalent to approving every aspect of it.

Until the University is renamed, I call on all clear-thinking individuals to boycott interactions with it. Students should not apply to Stanford, enroll, log into their zoom classes. What’s more, we should refrain from interacting with Stanford affiliates until they have signed a pledge dedicating themselves to our cause. We are on the cusp of a social revolution, and this is an unambiguous step in the right direction.

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