Lizzie Crocker, Daily Beast, April 7, 2016
In 1988, the Rev. Jesse Jackson–then a contender for the Democratic presidential nomination–joined students at Stanford in chanting, “Hey, hey, ho, ho, Western Civ has got to go!”
With that spectacle, the university promptly dropped required courses in Western Civilization. Fifteen texts–a “core list” that included Plato, Voltaire, St. Augustine, and Marx and Engels–were replaced by a more diverse canon.
It was the beginning of a wave of protests against Western culture on college campuses in the 1990s that, today, has seen a resurgence in the form of trigger warnings on syllabi, safe spaces, and policed speech.
At Stanford, a backlash against this censorious student culture is taking shape in the form of a petition to reinstate the university’s Western Civilization curriculum.
In the next two days, students will vote on a referendum proposed by the Stanford Review, an undergraduate political magazine, urging the Stanford’s Faculty Senate to require a two-quarter course for freshman “covering the politics, history, philosophy, and culture of the Western world.”
Under the new curriculum, Stanford students would “immerse themselves in the writings of Homer, Plato, Locke, Douglass, and de Beauvoir,” the petition reads. “The scientific revolutions hundreds of Stanford students use would gain historical context. We would lament the horrors of slavery and oppression–and applaud those who fought for freedom.”
According to Elliott, the idea that Stanford students should study more humanities is gaining traction on campus. The Review’s proposal for a single, Western-centric requirement, however, has provoked considerable controversy.
“There’s a small cabal of people who are unwilling to even engage in that conversation–to hear democratic, reasonable voices educating them about the Western underpinnings of our society,” said Elliott, dismissing criticism that such a course would primarily teach texts by “old white men.”
He also stressed that the Review has proposed the curriculum change in the form of a democratic vote, while other groups on campus impose demands on the administration.
Last week, a group called “Who’s Teaching Us” released a list of 25 initiatives and policy changes, including that the next school president “break both the legacy of white leadership and cisgender male leadership.”