Stanford gives black students preference on bus rides and movie tickets, prompting complaint

Black students given sole access to first batch of "Wakanda Forever" movie tickets, bus rides to off-campus screenings, email shows.

Published: November 25, 2022 12:12pm

Updated: November 27, 2022 6:19am

Stanford University's Graduate Student Council gave black students preference for tickets and a bus ride to a screening of the second "Black Panther" movie, prompting a federal civil rights complaint by a former senior Trump administration official.

Adam Kissel's onetime employer, the Department of Education, won't acknowledge it received a complaint about the incident, however, or commit to investigating it.

Stanford is on the hook under Title VI of the Civil Rights Act because the GSC is part of the student government, which is recognized by the university, Kissel told the department's Office for Civil Rights San Francisco division in a Nov. 18 complaint shared with Just the News. (Complainants don't have to be victims themselves.)

The GSC has "discriminated on the basis of race in a program or activity and emailed students about this discrimination," he wrote, pointing the feds to the email reprinted by The Stanford Review, the independent campus newspaper cofounded by then-student Peter Thiel, the Trump-supporting venture capitalist.

Tasked with supporting graduate student organizations and "providing community events," the GSC informed students it had organized back-to-back Nov. 10 private off-campus screenings of "Wakanda Forever," with 450 tickets available.

The first 100 tickets would be reserved for black students via online lottery, however, and the rest would be available first-come, first-serve for all races right before the first screening, the email said. Black students with lottery tickets would also get priority seating on bus rides to the theater.

"All Asian, non-Black Hispanic, white, and other non-Black graduate students at Stanford have been harmed by this discrimination," according to the complaint by Kissel, former deputy assistant secretary for higher education programs. "Please investigate and resolve this matter."

According to a Review editorial, 4% of Stanford's 9,000 graduate students are black. GSC funding comes from the $141 annual Graduate Student Activities Fee, which is being used to "discriminate against 96% of the grad student population."

The editors said they filed an "Act of Intolerance" complaint against GSC via the university's Protected Identity Harm Reporting Form, but also called on non-black students to "channel their inner Rosa Parks: get on the buses and refuse to give up your seats." 

It's not clear whether the civil rights protest materialized. The Review did not respond to queries and has not posted evidence of activism from that night to its social media. The only Stanford Daily reference to the screening appears to be a Nov. 16 report on a GSC meeting where co-social chair Leslie Luqueno said the event "received positive feedback from students."

Currently a visiting fellow in higher education reform at the Heritage Foundation, Kissel told Just the News he had received a case number from OCR San Francisco "and a request that I sign a release form, which I did." 

A Department of Education spokesperson told Just the News it can't acknowledge receipt of complaints and pointed to its public list of pending OCR investigations, which was last updated a week before the screening.

A frequent filer of OCR complaints about reverse discrimination in higher education under Title VI and Title IX, University of Michigan Flint economist Mark Perry previously cited OCR San Francisco's quick work on his complaint to shame OCR Denver when it still hadn't told him whether it would investigate his complaint a year and a half later.

When the American Enterprise Institute scholar last provided an update on his crusade in March, he said OCR had opened investigations into about half his 400-plus complaints against roughly 300 colleges, resolving 133, "mostly in my favor."

He told Just the News those figures were now 715 complaints, 306 federal investigations and 227 resolutions mostly in his favor, including some partial  victories with "legal fig leafs" that let universities publicly portray a program as "open to all, when it’s obvious they’ll continue operating the program for women (or BIPOCs)" — black, indigenous or people or color.

One of these fig leafs came in a Stanford resolution. OCR San Francisco let the university keep its Executive Program in Women's Leadership, which it still describes as "an incredible opportunity for women eight to 12 years into their careers" but now specifies in small print at the bottom is "open to all participants regardless" of sex.

"It's been a little 'hit or miss' with all of the 12 OCRs," taking anywhere from a month to a year or more for a regional office to open an investigation, Perry wrote in an email. 

Kissel emphasized the same slow pace, noting that "cases take from weeks to years for OCR regional offices to evaluate."

"SF OCR has been about average lately for response times, but they definitely have their thumbs on the scale in favor of allowing universities to continue to discriminate," Perry said, with common fig leafs including the addition of "allies" or "male advocates" to a program explicitly restricted by race or sex.

He's noticed "lately" that providing a courtesy copy of the complaint and explanatory email to a college's general counsel "often yields immediate results," as happened when Ithaca College removed a BIPOC-only event from its website a day after Perry's note to its in-house counsel.

Stanford did not respond to queries on whether the GSC's racial preferences violated the university's Title VI obligations and, if so, how it would remedy the situation, and if not, why.

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