All the Difference

Photo: Andrew Brodhead/Stanford News Service

It feels different this time.

George Floyd was killed by a police officer, with the world bearing witness through video taken by a bystander. So were Eric Garner, Philando Castile, Walter Scott, Alton Sterling and Stephon Clark, to name just some of the Black men whose killings have been documented in the smartphone era. But it was George Floyd’s slaying, coming on the heels of the killings of Breonna Taylor and Ahmaud Arbery, that sparked sustained protests of perhaps 15 million to 26 million people—which would be the greatest number in U.S. history. It was George Floyd’s slaying that brought calls for police reform onto the front page. It was George Floyd’s slaying that spurred 22-year-old Kennedy Mitchum to write to Merriam-Webster about its definition of racism—and for the dictionary to expand that definition overnight to include “a political or social system founded on racism.” 

History, of course, measures change over time, and it will take time to know whether the 2020 racial-justice protests were a turning point. But we wondered what makes a turning point. So we asked several Stanford scholars, including historians and social scientists. I won’t give away their answers, which are complex and multifaceted. But I will reveal this about what they told us: Certain aspects of this summer’s protests—including the use of technology, the disillusionment of young people with what they perceive as broken promises, decades of groundwork among interdependent civil rights movements, and an event that catalyzes public opinion—suggest that change may indeed be at hand.

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It feels different this time.

It’s September, and the Stanford campus is not dotted with red and white balloons and punctuated by the sound of Orientation volunteers yelling out “Welcome to the Farm!” Nearly all undergraduates—and their courses—are online. The university hopes to bring frosh, sophomores and new transfer students to campus in the winter, and juniors and seniors in the spring, if health and safety considerations permit. Meanwhile, the university is working to build community remotely, and students are striving to remain optimistic.

•••

It feels different this time.

For 20 years, Kevin Cool’s name has been atop this masthead. He has overseen 116 issues of Stanford—more than anyone else—and this is the final one. I know many of you developed a kinship with him through these pages, and I hope you will join me in wishing him a fulfilling retirement.

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It feels different this time.

If you receive a version of the magazine that contains Class Notes, you may notice you’ve gotten a slightly different set. The first version now contains the notes for the classes of 1932 to 1990; the second, 1985 to 2020. Every few years, we make an adjustment to rebalance the respective lengths of the versions. The good news is that Stanford graduates more alumni than it bids farewell to each year—which means we’re living a good long time. The bad news is that the rebalancing may make a few of you feel older than you’d wish. If you’re in that category, I hope you won’t fret too much. If it’s any consolation, my cohort is next.


Kathy Zonana, ’93, JD ’96, is the editor of Stanford. Email her at kathyz@stanford.edu.