Dear students,

We are writing with an update regarding the encampment on White Plaza and related issues. This comes as all of us have been following the troubling scenes of confrontation and physical conflict that have been occurring at many university campuses around the country.

Our priorities as Stanford leaders remain the same: to ensure the physical safety of students and the prevention of violence; to support the free expression of ideas and meaningful discussion of challenging issues; and to create a campus environment in which students of all backgrounds and identities are able to live and study successfully. Balancing these priorities in the current environment is challenging but important.

In this message we want to focus on three things: (1) the safety environment on campus, (2) university policies relating to the encampment, and (3) the efforts underway at Stanford to advance discourse across disagreement.

Campus safety and security

Through the many recent events that have occurred nationally, we are grateful that our campus has remained relatively peaceful physically. We continue working to support a safe environment for everyone and are monitoring the situation closely so that we can respond promptly to any developments.

One incident of concern occurred last Friday evening when the Department of Public Safety arrested a non-Stanford affiliate on White Plaza who created a disturbance, antagonized students at a vigil for those who have died in Gaza, and refused to leave when asked. We are deeply concerned about such incidents and are thankful there have been very few of them. We continue to remind visitors to our campus that they may be subject to criminal and/or civil liability for their activities here. There also have been a handful of complaints about interactions between participants in the encampment and passersby.

We want to remind everyone to avoid interactions that may escalate into physical confrontation. Following people, invading their personal space, or otherwise intimidating others (particularly on the basis of identity) unnecessarily increases fear and unease among members of our community and in some cases may violate the law.

In one other matter from last weekend, multiple instances of graffiti on university structures were reported. While we have not yet determined responsibility, these acts are being investigated and will be prosecuted, both criminally and through university disciplinary policies as relevant. These acts are damaging to our campus, they often are not easily remedied, and doing so requires the time and effort of workers who must be diverted from their normal work in support of the university.

The events of recent weeks do not change the fact that everyone in our community, of all backgrounds and beliefs, is valued and deserves to be supported. That includes Jewish and Israeli students; Muslim, Arab, and Palestinian students; and students of all faiths, traditions, and nationalities. We continue to offer resources for those who are seeking support and assistance in these unsettling times. We also have reporting mechanisms for those who experience acts of bias or harassment on campus. The First Amendment protects a wide latitude of speech, including some very offensive speech. But the university will continue to pursue action in cases of unlawful and constitutionally unprotected speech or conduct that violates the rights of others.

Policies relating to the encampment

Although the encampment in White Plaza remains limited in scope and has not escalated to more severe disruption of university activities as has occurred on some other campuses, it is important to reiterate that the encampment violates university policies.

It violates our policy on overnight camping, which is in place for the safety of our community members. Even during the daytime, the encampment also violates our policies on the use of White Plaza. These policies are intended to offer student organizations equitable access to White Plaza and are violated when one group chooses to occupy a space for its purposes alone. The university’s restrictions on the use of amplified sound are also important to prevent disruption of other activities.

Student disciplinary cases for these policy violations are proceeding through the Office of Community Standards (OCS), which provides students due process in the resolution of their cases. Additional names of students violating university policies are in the process of being submitted now. We want to be clear that not just sleeping in the tents, but also active participation in the maintenance and operation of the encampment, is a policy violation. Those referred to OCS may have their diplomas held while their cases are processed. Students should be aware that suspension for one or more quarters is a possible outcome. There are ample alternative channels for students to express their ideas without violating university policies.

We also wish to remind Voluntary Student Organizations (VSOs) and university units that the use of funds or other resources provided by the university to support the violation of university policies is not allowed. Such actions may subject a VSO to the university’s Student Group Accountability Process, and may subject university units to review for violation of the Code of Conduct. We encourage VSOs to participate in free expression activities that are in line with university policies.

Discourse across disagreement

Many students and other members of our community understandably have strong feelings and disagreements about the situation in the Middle East. We are encouraged by how many students have chosen to attend substantive academic programming on these issues in the past few weeks. Hundreds of students have attended discussions and debates convened by our academic centers and programs where there has been vigorous debate – and no disruptions.

Last week, for example, in the Democracy and Disagreement course led by Deans Paul Brest and Debra Satz, Alon Tal (a visiting fellow in the Israeli Studies Program who is a former member of the Israeli parliament) and Salam Fayyad (former prime minister of the Palestinian Authority) participated together in a class session. They discussed issues related to the conflict in front of an engaged, passionate, and peaceful audience of more than 500 students and others. While in the last several months there have certainly been examples of hateful and intolerant speech on campus, we are heartened by the participation of students in these meaningful conversations.

We want to encourage the continued focus of our community on critical inquiry and constructive dialogue across disagreements. Everyone has a part to play in that. The encampment, with its rope lines and perimeter of tents, is physically set up not to invite discussion but to shut out those who disagree. At the same time, though changing conditions in safety or the level of disruption could necessitate a different approach, in observing other universities we are concerned about how the disproportionate use of force against otherwise peaceful protesters can escalate tensions and lead to even more extreme polarization and conflict on campus.

The true work of the university is the search for knowledge, which involves engaging deeply with those who disagree, grappling with complexity and nuance, and searching for answers together. We are encouraged by how many students, staff, and faculty are engaging in these ways, and we hope to continue to provide more platforms and mechanisms for this in the months to come.


Richard Saller

Jenny Martinez