The dean of diversity, equity, and inclusion at Stanford Law School is defending her actions after she participated in the disruption of a planned lecture by Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals Judge Kyle Duncan earlier this month.
In an op-ed for the Wall Street Journal, Stanford law school diversity dean Tirien Steinbach claimed that her actions at Duncan’s lecture were aimed at protecting freedom of speech and that she was attempting to help ensure the event continued as planned.
“As a member of the Stanford Law School administration—and as a lawyer—I believe that we should strive for authentic free speech,” Steinbach wrote. “We must strive for an environment in which we meet speech—even that with which we strongly disagree—with more speech, not censorship.”
The op-ed comes days after Jenny Martinez, the dean of the Stanford Law School, announced that Steinbach had been placed on leave after a video showing her berating Duncan for his legal opinions surfaced online and calls grew for the DEI administrator to be fired.
“At future events, the role of any administrators present will be to ensure that university rules on disruption of events will be followed, and all staff will receive additional training in that regard,” Martinez wrote in a letter to the law school community.
In her op-ed, Steinbach says that she was attempting to defuse the tense situation so that the lecture could continue as planned as a group of student protesters attempted to disrupt it. She said her attendance at the event came at the invitation of the Federalist Society, which sponsored the judge’s lecture.
“I stepped up to the podium to deploy the de-escalation techniques in which I have been trained, which include getting the parties to look past conflict and see each other as people,” she wrote. “My intention wasn’t to confront Judge Duncan or the protesters but to give voice to the students so that they could stop shouting and engage in respectful dialogue. I wanted Judge Duncan to understand why some students were protesting his presence on campus and for the students to understand why it was important that the judge be not only allowed but welcomed to speak.”
Steinbach added she was attempting “to defuse the situation” by acknowledging the protesters’ concerns and the Federalist Society’s purpose of inviting the judge to speak on campus.
“I reminded students that there would a Q&A session at which they could answer Judge Duncan’s speech with their own speech, as long as they were following university rules; and I pointed out that while free speech isn’t easy or comfortable, it’s necessary for democracy, and I was glad it was happening at our law school,” she wrote.
The DEI dean also addressed conflicts between diversity, equity, inclusion efforts, and freedom of speech, saying the two must “coexist in a diverse, democratic society.”
“Diversity, equity, and inclusion plans must have clear goals that lead to greater inclusion and belonging for all community members,” Steinbach wrote. “How we strike a balance between free speech and diversity, equity, and inclusion is worthy of serious, thoughtful, and civil discussion. Free speech and diversity, equity, and inclusion are means to an end, and one that I think many people can actually agree on: to live in a country with liberty and justice for all its people.”