Taylor reflects on election during ‘What Matters to Me and Why’

Nicole Taylor
Nicole Taylor

NICOLE TAYLOR may have had one of the hardest jobs on campus Wednesday.

Taylor, associate vice provost and dean of community engagement and diversity, gave the “What Matters to Me and Why” talk the day after a presidential election that had many members of the campus community reeling.

The “What Matters to Me and Why” series encourages reflection within the Stanford community on matters of personal values, beliefs and motivations. It was clear from the overflow crowd in attendance on the third floor of Old Student Union that many faculty, staff and students wanted and needed to share.

Taylor said that she tore up the talk she had intended to give and started over after spending election night with the hundreds of students who gathered in White Plaza as the results of the presidential election became clear.

Many, she said, felt pain, others confusion. Still others, she said, wanted to “rise up” in indignation, but didn’t know against whom or for what purpose.

“People were looking for answers,” she said.

Taylor told those gathered for “What Matters to Me and Why” that she didn’t necessarily have answers. But she said she believes empathy is key to creating a path forward through disappointment for our divided country.

“The only way to know how to start is empathy. We have to start there,” she said.

Calling herself a “person of action,” Taylor said she finds that empathy leads to understanding. Understanding, in turn, helps people formulate action plans to address and correct inequity. She sees her job as making connections that move people forward to resolving issues of inequity.

“Equity drives what I act on,” she said. “Right here, right now, today, this morning, equity is more important than ever.

“What is equity for whoever is in front of you? That understanding leads to action.”

Understanding what is equitable for a person or for a group of people requires understanding who they are, she said.

“I won’t know what to do, I won’t know what equity means for you, I won’t know what action to take unless I understand what it means to be in your shoes, unless I understand where you’re coming from, unless I listen to you,” she said.

“We have an America where, before the election, half of the people who voted felt they weren’t listened to, that the establishment didn’t care, the establishment didn’t work for them for a lot of reasons, that people in power didn’t get it. Right or wrong, they were looking for answers,” she said. “Somebody gave them answers. Somebody gave them reasons, factual or not. They got reasons. They got answers. We didn’t have a simple counter-narrative. We had a complicated counter-narrative, an historical counter-narrative.”

Calling education “the equalizer,” Taylor suggested that much is expected of institutions such as Stanford, where students are helped to become the leaders of tomorrow.

“How are we going to use this educational institution?” she asked. “For me, underneath everything is empathy. I want whoever I am engaged with to know that I care. How can I do that unless I understand?”

She encouraged faculty, staff and students in attendance—but particularly students—to find what Gay Hendricks, author of “The Big Leap,” calls the “zone of genius.” Within that zone lies the skills that are unique to individuals and that allow them to achieve to their fullest potential.

In the days ahead, Taylor said, “We have to bring our best to this university, this country and this world. This is a wake up call. The only way to move forward is to become the genius we were born to be. Times like this require us to do the hard work.”

Addressing students in particular, Taylor told them that faculty and staff were feeling “just as confused as you are. We’re all feeling it. But we have to go from here.”

She encouraged them to “tap into empathy. We need to understand why so many people before the election were hurting, instead of just being angry.”

“What Matters to Me and Why” was one among a number of events held on campus to discuss the election. Memorial Church was the location for an afternoon gathering featuring readings and music by Talisman. Contemplation by Design offered “Contemplative Skills for Post-Election Reflection” in the early evening, featuring DERECA BLACKMON, associate dean and director of the Diversity & First-Gen Office. At the Law School, a teach-in was held with Law professors PAM KARLAN and NATE PERSILY.