Federalist Society leaders received an email (that went to all students) from acting Dean of Students Jeanne Merino to stress that traumatized students could seek “safety and mental health” support resources from various individuals, including Dean Steinbach.
As previously discussed, Steinbach shocked many by condemning Judge Kyle Duncan of the United States Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit when he tried to speak at the event. Unable to speak, Duncan asked for an administrator to intervene and Steinbach stepped forward.
Steinbach promptly declared that “I had to write something down because I am so uncomfortable up here. And I don’t say that for sympathy, I just say that I am deeply, deeply uncomfortable.”
She then proceeded to denounce the exercise of free speech itself as stressful and painful for the Stanford community:
Steinbach: I’m also uncomfortable because it is my job to say: You are invited into this space. You are absolutely welcome in this space. In this space where people learn and, again, live. I really do, wholeheartedly welcome you. Because me and many people in this administration do absolutely believe in free speech. We believe that it is necessary. We believe that the way to address speech that feels abhorrent, that feels harmful, that literally denies the humanity of people, that one way to do that is with more speech and not less. And not to shut you down or censor you or censor the student group that invited you here. That is hard. That is uncomfortable. And that is a policy and a principle that I think is worthy of defending, even in this time. Even in this time. And again I still ask: Is the juice worth the squeeze?
Duncan: What does that mean? I don’t understand…
It may be even more difficult for conservative students to understand how Steinbach would help them after she denounced their effort to invite Judge Duncan to speak.
The email is also telling in its reflexive assumption that such conflicts are matters for emotional support. After Steinbach condemned Judge Duncan’s effort to speak as causing untold emotional harm to students, Stanford is now moving to deal with the emotional harm from Steinbach’s words . . . by directing them to Steinbach and others.
While the email is also meant to offer support for all students traumatized by the appearance of a conservative judge on campus, it is the inclusion of conservative students that was most jarring. Conservatives and libertarians generally have not claimed that opposing views are traumatic exposures requiring safe spaces or counseling. What they seek is free speech. However, it may be easier for Stanford to offer counseling than tolerance for a diversity of viewpoints. It could start by holding accountable those who are responsible for “deplatforming” and shouting down speakers. It would also involve adding true diversity of viewpoints on the faculty rather than an ideological echo chamber. Instead, the law school is treating conservatives like trauma victims and offering emotional support for an environment of its own creation.
It is also worth noting that Merino suggests that the best way to deal with this free speech controversy is to curtail free speech. The email suggests that “Student organizations should consider pausing their student organization social media accounts until this news cycle winds down, as the law school and university have done. Try your best not to engage on Twitter or any other social media platform, as issues tend to escalate and trolls are looking for a fight.”
I understand that shutting down social media discussions can protect students from public criticism. However, it would also tend to reduce criticism of the law school from within the community. Any controversy will draw wider commentary and criticism. Is it better to avoid that public debate as a member of this community to avoid the trauma of contradiction? This is an existential debate over an anti-free speech culture at the school. If there is a time to be heard as a student or a group (on either side of this debate), it is now.
One group that did not take the advice are the student leaders of Stanford’s chapter of the National Lawyers Guild. They reportedly commended “every single person” who helped cancel the Duncan event, calling them “Stanford Law School at its best.”
If so, the Merino letter is Stanford Law School at its best parody of itself.