Mapping activism at Stanford

Student-produced digital map reveals decades of conflict and change on the outwardly peaceful Farm

A digital map created by Stanford undergraduates is helping to reveal what social change looks like by tracking the geospatial footprint of decades of activism on campus. 

The Stanford Activism Map, led by Andrew Lokay ’20, logs the location, type and size of protests, demonstrations and other campus political activity from the 1960s. 

When viewed on a mobile device on a stroll through Stanford, the map reveals the momentous changes that have taken place on the outwardly bucolic campus. 

“We walk around the campus not realizing what the students before us have done,” said Lokay, a French and international relations major who is involved in Stanford in Government. “There’s a perception that Stanford students don’t care, that activism isn’t common here on a daily basis. 

“Mapping is an especially effective way to show people how to look at things differently.”

The map was recently unveiled to the public at the David Rumsey Map Center at Stanford’s Green Library. As its data becomes richer, map users may draw inferences about why political action happens where it does, how location influences outcome, and how activism changes over time. 

Included are such events as 1968’s Taking the Mic, in which African-American students disrupted a Memorial Auditorium assembly with 10 demands for black inclusion at Stanford, and students’ actions around the tenure battle of history Professor Estelle Freedman in the early 1980s.

The map sorts events by size, date and kind. The antiwar April Third Movement sought to sever Stanford from classified defense research.

Many data points center on the university president’s office or in White Plaza. 

There’s also a dot at the Stanford Medical Center, where, explained Caleb Martin ’20, custodian Sam Bridges was fired April 1971 and claimed retaliatory action for his racial politics, triggering a 30-hour sit-in that ended in 24 arrests. 

“Activism is inextricably linked to place,” Lokay said. “The places were chosen to gain people’s attention and to halt the daily business of the university.”

Lokay conceived of the map during a freshman IntroSem, History 95N, “Maps in the Modern World,” which asked students to make maps of Stanford.  Diving into a project that he has been working on for most of his two years on the Farm, Lokay soon met Graduate School of Education professors John Willinsky and Tom Ehrlich, who were organizing a Stanford Libraries event to teach colleagues about the history of activism on campus. 

“Andrew came along with his map. At that point, it was in pencil,” said Willinsky, who quickly caught Lokay’s enthusiasm for the project. 

Willinsky, who directs the undergraduate program in Science, Technology and Society, obtained funding from the GSE and helped foster collaborations with the University Archives and the Stanford Geospatial Center, which provided technical guidance. Lokay recruited a student team that learned the ARCGIS mapping software and that now aims to enrich the map with input from activists in community centers across campus. 

“There was a rich vibrant tradition of action that I wasn’t aware of,” said research assistant Karissa Dong ’21, who is working on data for the 1990s and 2000s.

Ehrlich, former dean of Stanford Law School, became the project’s faculty adviser. 

“My deep conviction is that our democracy requires activism,” Ehrlich said. “Every generation must engage in democratic practices to enable our democracy to function.  Never in recent memory has there been a more important time to do so.  

“Those of us fortunate to be at Stanford, students, faculty and staff, have great privileges. Active citizenry is one of our obligations.”

On March 5, the students debuted the map on one of the Rumsey Center’s giant screens. They hosted a discussion among current activists Meghan Koushik, a second-year law student; Eva Reyes, a junior in Comparative Studies in Race and Ethnicity; and Shanta Katipamula, a junior in environmental systems engineering, on issues including workers’ rights, sexual violence and racism on campus.

The activists and the mapmakers said they share a goal of establishing that activism is ongoing while simultaneously being rooted in precedent. 

“Continuity is really important in understanding the world around you,” Katipamula said. “If you don’t know what happened four years ago, 10 years ago, you lose all credibility. That’s a huge problem, especially on the undergraduate side.” 

Said Reyes: “Future activists need to know the tactics that worked. It makes me very riled up that the demands of Taking the Mic are the same demands that Who’s Teaching Us is making 50 years later. We need to know how long-term and how hard this work is.”

“This is the first phase. We’re excited to continue engaging,” Lokay said.

-- Barbara Wilcox

Top image: Students Andrew Lokay, Shanta Katipamula and Eva Reyes discuss today's campus activism during a Rumsey Map Center event. Photo by Dylan Conn.