You Remind Me of Carlisle

An Open Letter to the Stanford Review

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2007 Powwow; Verizon Center; Washington, DC.

To the “Editorial” Board of the Stanford Review:

I can’t change the way you think. I understand that.

I understand that conservative opinions are not widely accepted at Stanford. I understand that it can be difficult to share an unpopular point of view. I understand that you can feel invalidated, like your opinions and your views don’t matter, like what you stand for and what you value would automatically be shut down by those who are more powerful, more respected, more important than you.

How do you think we, people of color and people marginalized by Western civilization, feel and have felt for centuries?

When I first read your petition, I thought that it was too obviously harmful to garner any support that would allow it to make any real change. Then I went and looked at the number of people who signed it

186. 186 and counting in just a few days.

I felt sick. I felt like crying. I felt so hurt and so betrayed that so many people, so many of my Stanford peers would support such a disgusting initiative. Because underneath all of your cheap rhetorical wrapping paper, there is racism. There is elitism, and classism, and hatred. Your words are filled with spite and supremacy and privilege. Your assumptions come from nowhere else but your own selves. What you call “universal” isn’t universal to those not of the mainstream Western culture. I don’t know why you didn’t ask others for their opinions before publishing this. Maybe you were scared to confront those who would be against you. Maybe it’s easier for you to publish anonymously, and then hide behind your computer screens. Maybe it’s because you know, somewhere deep down beneath your convoluted pseudo-intellectual jargon, that this proposal is wrong.

I’m not denying that Western civilization is a valid course of study. I’m not attacking the SLE program, or students who decide to dedicate their academic careers to the study of Western civilization. But the study of Western civilization is valid in the same way that other cultures are valid and worthy of study, and should be treated as such. But it’s not, and the assertions in your proposal and the current state of our education in this country prove that it is not. The United States public education system is disgustingly Eurocentric, and Stanford should not follow its pattern.

I’m upset because after years and years of studying Western civilization in the United States public education system, a student like me would be subjected to two more quarters of being force-fed white glorification when they thought a Stanford education would value and allow them to explore more diverse avenues of thought.

I’m upset that a non-Western international student would be told that their culture is not good enough and not relevant enough to succeed in today’s world. That everything they had learned in the past is meaningless. That everything they value and everything they hold close to their heart is not worth studying for every Stanford student.

I’m upset that you believe values are universal, and imply that everyone should share the same thoughts. I’m upset about this statement, because it’s obvious that you did absolutely no research into what Stanford students actually value. I’m upset that you imply that these values have a place in classroom instruction when they, in fact, stem from your own home and your own culture and your own identity.

I’m upset that you believe that someone cannot succeed in the world without a knowledge of Western civilization. I’m upset because that assumption is racist and serves to diminish all other cultures outside of the mainstream.

I’m upset that you imply the same insidiously vitriolic rhetoric that was found in the debate over Indian boarding schools in the early 20th century– the argument that in order to succeed in this country, you need to be Westernized and assimilated. Kill the Indian, save the man. You remind me of Carlisle.  

I’m upset that you assume that we, students of Stanford University, lack adequate knowledge of Western civilization while you claim that it has made the most impact and cast the most influence over all of our lives through globalization.

I’m upset that you uphold the supremacy of the Western civilization above all others through this rhetoric. I’m upset that you believe that the Western civilization “unshackled” marginalized people from oppression. I don’t know what marginalized people you are talking about. I don’t know what marginalized people you talked to, if any. Because if a knife is removed, but the wound is not treated, the victim bleeds out. And talking about removing the knife does nothing. And giving the victim a Band-Aid does nothing.  And shoving oppressive salt and squeezing racist lemon juice on the wound makes the pain worse.

I’m upset because your statement that Western civilization “unshackled” millions from oppression diminishes the resilience and the strength of the oppressed. I’m upset because that statement leads people to believe that the oppressed did nothing and do nothing in their fight for freedom and justice, and had to rely on Western ideas and Western people and Western systems to release them. If that idea is not blatantly supremacist, I don’t know what is.

I’m upset that you obviously have not done any research into the pedagogical and psychological effects that a Western civilization requirement could have. I suggest you read some literature surrounding the topic of culturally relevant and responsive pedagogy. Not everyone learns the same way, and this is because of the culture in which they are raised. Different cultures value different things. A culture does not have to value Western ideas because you claim that these ideas “freed them” from their previously savage and uncivilized ways. Here, it is again that you remind me of Carlisle.

Western civilization is our modern education system in the United States. There is a reason that multicultural educational philosophies exist, and a reason that so much push for culturally relevant pedagogy is being made. Our canonical literature is dominated by white, Western authors; when I was in high school, a piece by a black author would be treated as a special occasion. I never read anything by an American Indian author, an Asian author, or an African author. I learned about Junipero Serra and the mission system as a way to help the poor savage Indians of the United States of America stop being so dirty and sinful. I never learned about the Indian boarding schools because my teacher decided that learning about Teddy Roosevelt and William Taft and their political battle was more important because they were part of the California public education system standards. When I read your proposal out loud to my mother, I could barely hold my tears back. I can’t imagine what it would be like to sit in that classroom, especially as a freshman student of color who already feels out of place at Stanford. The fostering of Eurocentrism at Stanford is dangerous and a slap in the face to everyone who is fighting for equity on college campuses, including those at Mizzou and Yale whom you exploit in your proposal for your own political agenda.

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Graves of Native American students at the Carlisle Indian School cemetery.

I’m upset that you’re treating a proposal that would affect the lives and well-being of so many people with the same triviality that you would treat a chess match. You’re treating this as a team sport, not as an initiative for education. I do not see a syllabus. I do not see a concrete proposal for a viable class. As much as you claim that this article is not meant to inflame or cause controversy, you know that’s exactly what you’re trying to do. And that is not the way to handle education. All you care about is winning, and getting this on the ballot, and forcing our campus into agitation. For students like me who care about equity and inclusiveness, and for students like me who already feel like their culture is not being valued in their education, it feels like you’re just trying to upset us for the sake of being shocking and “independent.” You care about conflict, not conversation. Dividing us, not respecting your fellow peers for who they are. Being a winner, not an educator. And I think that’s so hateful and I cannot believe even one Stanford student, let alone a whole group of them, would act this way.

Stanford does not exist to create cookie-cutter clones baked out of factory-measured, dull, bland dough. Stanford exists to create free-thinkers. Why do you think we’re given so much liberty in the choices of our general education requirements? Why do you think we’re allowed to rank our PWR preferences and our Thinking Matters seminars? Why do you think that we’re given so much liberty in designing an education that interests us, that engages us, and that we believe will prepare us best for what we do in the future? If you want to take a Western civilization course because you believe it will help prepare you for the future or it interests you or for any other reason, go ahead. It’s your choice. But if you don’t want to take a Western civilization course because you are uncomfortable with the subject matter or you’re not interested in it or for any other reason, you shouldn’t be forced to.

I can’t change the way you think. You’re probably going to read this as some girl’s emotional rant. You’ll probably make snide remarks about how “evidence won’t convince me” because I’m too liberal and SJW and PC to care about anything else. I understand that, and I am ready for that. I am ready to be attacked for what I believe and why I believe in it. But you can’t change the way I think. You can’t tell me what I should value. You can’t tell me who to thank for where I am today. You can’t tell me that my ancestors owe their lives and their apparent freedom to Western civilization. You can’t tell me that the best way to learn is through the Western lens. You do not speak for me. You do not speak for marginalized people. You do not speak for Stanford.

So, please, for love, for inclusivity, for diversity and equity, stop arguing and start listening.

In peace,

Loralee Sepsey

If the Western Civilization proposal has affected your well-being, I encourage you to contact Counseling and Psychological Services (CAPS), the staff at one of the community centers, or attend an event at Harmony House. If you’re passionate about diversity in higher education, I encourage you to support the Who’s Teaching Us campaign. If you’d like to read the Western Civilization proposal, it can be found here. If you’d like to see an alternative petition to revamp Stanford’s humanities core, click here.

For those involved in the Stanford Review or supporting its petition, here is a list of relevant literature and articles (including those linked throughout the piece above) that I believe you should peruse.

On college campuses, students of color, and racism:

On Eurocentrism and Western civilization:

On culturally relevant pedagogy:

Photos courtesy of the Carlisle Indian School Digital Resource Center and Wikimedia

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