vol 1: radical resistance at zoom university

how stanford's most vulnerable students look out for our own

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After 19 weeks, 3 protests, 1 bike ticket, and 1 near-arrest, I thought I’d finally mastered the precarious art of Navigating Stanford As An Institution. 

(The near-arrest is a story for later. It involves a fake Uber call, venture capitalists, and a police chase on crutches.)

By this I mean: while I’ve recently started to call Stanford my home, I’m still grappling with its unequal, harmful impacts on the rest of the world. Stanford has a racist founding history, invests unethically, feeds scarily into Silicon Valley, and gentrifies with reckless abandon. Campus culture can be incredibly unfriendly to students from communities it was originally built to exclude. Experiencing Stanford as a brown woman, I quickly learned to find refuge in community centers, take classes with faculty of color, and avoid the right-wing Hoover Institute like my life depended on it. I found mentors in older student activists: they taught me to see through Stanford’s frequent bullshit, follow the money, and protect our most vulnerable communities.

Being sent home for online spring quarter shook my growing confidence. Reforming Stanford is tough enough in-person: over Zoom, I felt helpless. But it turns out that while the forces of evil don’t stop for pandemics, neither do college activists. When Stanford refused to provide paid leave for its subcontracted campus workers — despite our 27 billion dollar endowment — we rose up online with a vengeance.

I am never prouder to be a Stanford student than I am when I see the efforts of my activist classmates — many of whom are first-generation, queer, or students of color — to protect our custodians, gardeners and cooks, whose immigrant identities make them vulnerable to exploitation. Activists coordinated a GoFundMe campaign that raised over $100,000 for stiffed workers. Students for Workers’ Rights launched a data-driven social media campaign complete with coordinated purple Instagram profiles. In a cheeky spin on the Instagram “bingo” challenge, we invited Stanford to play:

(credits to @sapphones for this social media genius!)

Plus, alumni posted stories of kindness from campus workers. Despite being massively ignored by the media, we got powerful alumni like Julian Castro, Joaquin Castro, and Abigail Disney to tweet at Stanford. We got creative and disseminated these delightfully informative graphics to use as green-screen backgrounds during Zoom lectures:

(credits — and endless respect — to Nizhoni Begay for designing these backgrounds! This is Gen-Z innovation at its finest. Forget fake tropical beaches: teen activists put damning statistics in our camera frame.)

Yesterday Stanford gave into our pressure and agreed to pay some of its workers. Obviously, this is long overdue, and the fight is not over yet. I hope, soon, that we can stop losing sleep over the fate of our workers, and start losing sleep over P-sets instead. I’m angry that we have to fight this hard for something so basic, but I’m also unbelievably proud of my classmates. We produced what’s essentially a masterclass in digital organizing amidst global catastrophe. We brought students, faculty, and alumni together to raise awareness and money for Stanford’s most vulnerable communities. (I highly recommend this Stanford Daily essay by Ethan Chua, a campus labor activist, on the radical power of mutual aid!) 

Again, it’s important to note that this resistance was coordinated mostly by leftist students who are first-generation, queer, and people of color. I know that sooner or later, when the dust of Covid-19 has settled, Stanford will be eager to claim our movement as a tale of institutional redemption. (I can’t promise to be gracious when that happens. Maybe I’m just petty.) But the truth is that college activists get an incredibly bad rap on campus. We’re too sensitive, some say — or else, we’re too divisive and angry, stirring up shit just for shit’s sake. But I think that radical resistance over Zoom University pushes back at that narrative. Say what you will about leftist college students, but we fight for our own. You can bet we’ll fight for you, too.  

sign the Students for Worker Rights petition here!

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signal-boost: My dear friend Anoushka Chander just released the single Running from the Night on Spotify. It is gorgeous, ethereal, and makes me long to fall in love with my teenage soul mate in an indie coming-of-age film. (By the way, Anoushka’s still in high school! Brown girls never fail to amaze me.) Stream it here.

what I’m reading: I loved this Washington Post article explaining how Gen-Z’s frustration with the status quo has intensified with Covid-19. Not only is this story a rare example of mainstream media taking Gen-Z narratives seriously, but it features quotes from my brilliant friend Roxie Richner, plus it was written by a former fellow Stanford English major + Stanford Daily alum! Watching my worlds of badass women collide is an underrated pleasure of life <3

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malavika