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a group of students protest in front of Memorial Auditorium. Signs read "Stanford funds oppression", "we stand for justice." Protesters have tape over their mouths.

Who Belongs at Stanford? Discussions of a Different Sort of Education

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You’ve finished your first year of university. You have taken the required first year courses, you hope you have explored enough, you are anxious about choosing a major. You know the campus fairly well, you have perhaps made some friends, you have some sort of routine. But you have the nagging feeling that so much of this is simply an illusion. The question then becomes—do you throw your faith, mind, and your body into that illusion (everyone else seems to), or do you risk the chance of missing a step by spending some time in Sophomore College reflecting on the immediate past and the future, with others who have similar questions. 

You may feel that the generalizations you heard in Year 1 about liberal education seem remote from your life experiences; you may have wished you could have engaged in more in-depth discussions, but that there was not time or interest in approaching the subject matter as you would have wanted to. We are then faced with the very important question: What happens when “diverse” populations are recruited to places like Stanford, and then asked to constrain or reshape their diversity for the sake of belonging? 

We will discuss how this small-scale exercise in intellectual exploration can be read as a correlate for how individuals and societies work. What kinds of identities, values, stories count, and which do not?  Liberal ideologies and principles may sound nice, but liberalism tends to flounder when presented with practical real-world issues like employment, health care, police brutality, pandemics, environmental degradation, and yes, education.  

We are also planning field trips to other institutions (for example, Berkeley), to get a sense of college life elsewhere, to special museums and events that cover less represented areas of learning, and anywhere else students are interested in visiting.

There are two required texts for the course—first, Brazilian educator Paolo Freire’s Pedagogy of the Oppressed. What Freire proposes is a way of teaching and learning that is the antithesis of what he calls the “banking model of education.” The banking model works this way—schools deposit learning into your account, and you withdraw it when you need it. Little, if any thought, is placed upon what exactly that currency is, and why it’s of any value.  Freire’s pedagogy is exactly the opposite—people act together to determine their learning goals—what they want to accomplish in the world—negotiate how best to arrive at those goals. They belong to the community because they are the creators of that community. 

The second texts are essays by the seminal Black feminist scholar, bell hooks. Author of more than 30 books, hooks started life in poverty in rural Kentucky, then won admission to Stanford, and went on to be a prolific writer, educator, and activist.  She was deeply influenced by Freire. 

Ultimately, the task that both Freire and hooks addressed was to alter the condition of oppression through approaching the idea of education in a radically different manner. 

All remaining readings, activities, speakers, will be the product of our collective discussions—come to the first day of class with your ideas, thoughts, and music (see below). This summer we will aim to do the following: 

  • Get to know and trust each other, and to support each other’s explorations, questions, tentative answers. 
  • Pause and reflect on things that we feel we have not been able to really grapple with yet. 
  • Learn how others have challenged normative ideas about what an educational community might look like. 
  • Think of ways of sustaining our support for each other into the sophomore year. 

COVID Caveat


Meet the Instructor

David Palumbo-Liu

a brown skinned man with a small beard in a cardigan in front of fall foliage

David Palumbo-Liu received his college education at what was then called “San Francisco State College” and later at the University of California at Berkeley. He taught at Georgetown University for two years in the Department of English and the School of Foreign Service. He has taught at Stanford since 1990. His latest book is called Speaking Out of Place: Getting Our Political Voices Back. He is an activist as well as a scholar, and works on issues of anti-racism and anti-fascism, human rights and environmental justice. He enjoys playing and listening to music, Zen practice, and hiking. His latest piece of literary criticism reveals most of his core beliefs: “An Urgent Book for the Time Being.”