Meeting the Moment

Photo: Toni Bird

As I write in early June, widespread protests for racial justice have erupted across the country following the death of George Floyd. These events come amid a pandemic that has upended daily life and disproportionately harmed Black people due to ongoing, systemic barriers to health access in the United States. As we look ahead to our long-term recovery, Stanford faculty, students and staff have been seeking solutions to these challenges and exploring how the university can shape the world that emerges from these crises. 

First, we have reaffirmed our commitment to supporting Stanford’s Black community. Among our initial steps, we announced that the university is establishing a Community Board on Public Safety to address issues involving safety and quality of life on campus. The Board will work with community members, university leadership and the chief of police to develop shared expectations for public safety policies that are consistent with Stanford’s values and that foster a greater sense of physical and psychological safety, especially among students of color and other marginalized communities.

At the same time, the IDEAL (Inclusion, Diversity, Equity and Access in a Learning Environment) initiative, created under our Long-Range Vision, launched a virtual forum for the campus community to hold discussions about equity, inclusion and racial justice. The IDEAL team is also providing guidance to equip our staff, managers and leaders to tackle these issues. 

We are committed to strengthening our contributions through research as well. Stanford Impact Labs, our accelerator focused on social problems, is funding research into issues like pretrial incarceration, the police-community divide, and childhood poverty and inequality. This is just a small slice of the significant research underway at Stanford to address systemic inequities. 

Stanford Impact Labs, our accelerator focused on social problems, is funding research into issues like pretrial incarceration, the police-community divide, and childhood poverty and inequality.

As we focus our attention on improving racial justice, our researchers continue to search for solutions to our other current crisis: the coronavirus pandemic. With support from Stanford’s Innovative Medicines Accelerator, Stanford researchers are exploring potentially life-saving drugs, developing diagnostic and antibody tests, and studying the spread of COVID-19 in our region. 

Our researchers are responding to other social issues created by the pandemic, as well. Under the Transforming Education initiative of our Long-Range Vision, researchers are using this period of intense experimentation with online learning to develop new models that will offer more equitable remote education, now and in the future. Stanford Impact Labs is also supporting several projects related to COVID-19, including lending evidence-based support to help communities address food insecurity and housing during the pandemic. 

As we address immediate issues related to COVID-19 and racial injustice, we are also focused on a third major challenge: the long-term threat from climate change. While there is work underway in climate and sustainability studies across Stanford’s schools and institutes, it has become clear that we can amplify our contributions by aligning people and resources more effectively. In May, we announced that we will be forming a school that brings together Stanford’s existing strengths in climate and sustainability, along with two new structures: a Sustainability Neighborhood, which will infuse sustainability into education, and the Stanford Accelerator for Global Impact in Sustainability, which will advance sustainability solutions through external partnerships and scale them for the world. 

We have lived through a difficult spring, and there are no quick solutions to the health, economic and civic problems that we face. This is the time to commit to the work of researching new treatments, developing accessible modes of remote learning, and creating more equitable and just institutions. By pursuing innovative, long-term solutions to these challenges, we have the opportunity to create a world that is safer and more equitable for all. 


Marc Tessier-Lavigne is the president of Stanford University.