“Protected identity harm” report filed with Stanford University administration after student photographed for reading “Mein Kampf”

January 29, 2023 • 1:20 pm

What we have here is one or two Stanford students being reported to the University administration after a photo was circulated online of one student reading Hitler’s Mein Kampf.  There are two reports of the incident, the first from FIRE and the second from the student newspaper The Stanford Daily. They’re in order below, and you can read them by clicking on the headlines.

First, the report was made to the Stanford bias reporting site designed to collect reports of incidents that might harm “protected groups”:

The Protected Identity Harm Reporting process is the University’s process to address incidents where a community member experiences harm because of who they are and how they show up in the world.

They add:

Specifically, a PIH incident is conduct or an incident that adversely and unfairly targets an individual or group on the basis of one or more of these actual or perceived characteristics: race, color, national or ethnic origin, sex, age, disability, religion, sexual orientation, gender identity or expression, veteran status, marital status or any other characteristic protected by applicable law.

The Protected Identity Harm (PIH) Reporting process, intakes information via a reporting mechanism to 1) help students who have been affected by these incidents and 2) collect data. It is not a judicial or investigative process* though we do hope to provide a path to resolution for the affected individuals or communities who need to heal.

But it is certainly an investigative process, and a quasi-judicial one as well. (In this case the protected group was Jewish people.)  And the students involved in the photo have been called to account by the administration and are certainly preparing their formal apology—if they want to stay at Stanford.

Read on:

From FIRE (my bolding):

Reading a book on a college campus should not prompt formal administrative intervention. But that’s what’s reportedly happening at Stanford University this week, after a photo of a student reading Adolf Hitler’s autobiography, “Mein Kampf,” circulated on campus last Friday.

The Stanford Daily said over the weekend that administrators were working “swiftly” with the students involved to “address” the incident. Two campus rabbis emailed Jewish students saying administrators “are in ongoing conversation with the individuals involved, who are committed to and actively engaged in a process of reckoning and sincere repair.”

Stanford was reportedly alerted to the book-reading via its Protected Identity Harm reporting system. Effectively a bias response system, Stanford says PIH reports help the university “address incidents where a community member experiences harm because of who they are and how they show up in the world.”

Now it’s not clear how many individuals were responsible for this incident, or who reported it. Presumably the “guilty party” was the person reading the book, and perhaps an accomplice who photographed that, though it’s not clear that the photo wasn’t taken surreptitiously. The “students involved” implies more than one, but this could include the student who reported the incident. I can’t find the photograph.

The Stanford Daily adds this, implying that two students collaborated on this (my bolding again):

The photo of the student reading the book was posted to another student’s Snapchat story Friday evening, according to a screenshot of the image obtained by The Daily.

University spokesperson Dee Mostofi confirmed that the Office of Student Affairs and the Office of Religious and Spiritual Life (ORL) became aware of this incident on Saturday. Mostofi added that the two offices, along with Stanford’s Hillel chapter, are working with the leaders of the residence that the students belong to address the social media post and its impact on the community.

“Swift action was taken by the leadership in the residential community where both the individuals who posted and the one pictured are members,” Kirschner and Hahn Tapper wrote. Student Affairs and ORL are actively working with students involved to address the issue and mend relationships in the community.

The FIRE article notes that the students have already been notified that they’re in trouble, and are “actively involved in reckoning and sincere repair.” Isn’t that punitive and judicial?

FIRE adds this:

Because college students should not have to report to university authorities for merely reading a book — one, by the way, that has been required reading in at least one recent Stanford humanities class and is available to borrow from the university library — FIRE asked Stanford today to provide additional clarity about the way it handles these kinds of “harm” reports on campus.

FIRE also notes that this picture doesn’t seem to violate the freedom of expression that Stanford promises to its students. Because there is an investigation and presumably the student who read the book and the picture taker are being investigated, FIRE wrote a letter to the President of Stanford, 

Part of FIRE’s letter, sent to President Marc Tessier-Lavigne on January 25:

Reading a book on a college campus should not prompt formal administrative intervention.

Despite Stanford’s insistence that its PIH Reporting process “is not a judicial or investigative process and participation in a resolution is voluntary, it is unacceptably punitive and chills expressive activity. Being “invited” by administrators with institutional disciplinary authority to engage in a formal reconciliation process to atone for reading a book—one that has been previously assigned as required reading for a Stanford class6 and is available to check out at Stanford’s library is not conducive to the campus free speech culture. Stanford deems central to the university’s functions. Nor is it consistent with California’s “Leonard Law,which requires Stanford to provide free expression.

Despite these obligations, Stanford chills student speech when the response to a PIH report involves notifying an accused student that they may have caused “harm” by merely exercising their rights.

The PIH system’s “resolution” mechanisms also raise compelled speech and thought reform concerns. Stanford “invites” accused students to meet with their accuser to engage in, for
example, “restorative justice, [a] healing circle, [or] mediation to help move towards resolution.” Stanford’s “goal” is for students to:
[I]mmediately focus on the resolution practices, but also account
Acknowledgement of Harm (and History)
Accountability and steps taken towards change (to the
extent possible)
Healing/Harm Reduction (if desired)


This presupposes that students must acknowledge their expression as “harmful” and commit not to cause “harm” in the future. In this case, students will understand that certain protected speech is nonetheless off limits, and they will self-censor.

Here’s what FIRE suggested:

If Stanford wants to provide both this PIH reporting system and promote a culture of free expression, it should undertake a cursory review of PIH complaints and first determine whether the conduct alleged constitutes protected expression. In such cases, Stanford can offer support to the complainant without notifying or involving the accused student. 

And they asked for a response from Stanford by February 1.

Now it’s entirely possible that this was designed as an anti-Semitic stunt to scare Jews. In that case, it’s reprehensible but still not a violation of free speech. (Needless to say, if the student really was reading the book out of interest, or had been assigned it, and it wasn’t a scare tactic, Stanford should stay well away from the reader and photographer.) But in either case FIRE is right: the students who read the book, and perhaps the one who took and posted the photo, were exercising their rights of free speech, which Stanford supposedly guarantees. Getting them involved in a bias reporting investigation solves nothing, but serves only to chill speech in general. (Remember, if speech is protected, offensive speech must be protected, and that includes “hate speech”.)

As a (secular) Jew, I’m very sensitive to the rise of anti-Semitism on American campuses and among the American Left. It worries me, as does the seeming embrace of “anti-Zionism” on campus.  And if Jewish students say they were harmed by seeing this photo, well, it’s perfectly fine for Stanford to offer them counseling and tons of support.  I would hope, though, that Jewish students would develop a hide thick enough to withstand a photograph like this without being traumatized. (I realize that this may be part of a campus pattern, which would make it extra bothersome.)

But Stanford should leave the students involved in the incident alone (there were probably two, since they live in the same dorm). Otherwise the “perps” are being not only investigated, but punished, for of course a note from the administration that you’re being investigated, followed by a process of “restoration” are by chilling your speech, forms of punishment. You’re being punished for saying what is legal.

h/t: Ginger K.

31 thoughts on ““Protected identity harm” report filed with Stanford University administration after student photographed for reading “Mein Kampf”

  1. This, if the reporting is correct, is insane. The have departments of both History and German studies.
    My suggestion is that people who file complaints about such things should themselves have to undergo training on freedom of speech and thought.
    If they truly believe this is some sort of offense, the logical next step would be to label the books in the libraries and collections that students will be punished for reading.

      1. When I purchased an old copy of The Bell Curve in a used bookshop a few years ago, I (half) jokingly asked if I could get it a plain brown paper bag, like they used to do for dirty magazines.

      2. I’d go a stage further, and recommend Mein Kampf as reading for all, as a brief acquaintance with it removes all doubt about Hitler’s sanity and supposed ‘genius’. As long as it is as forbidden as The Necronomicon, it will attract the wrong kind of readers. And, yes, I would include Jews in my recommendation. They, most of all, need to know it was madman responsible for the Holocaust and not a failure on their part or that of their god.

  2. “. . . the University’s process to address incidents where a community member experiences harm. . . .” First of all, shouldn’t the first part of the process be to determine whether there was harm? And, if there was, whether it is worth authorities taking cognizance of it? If seeing a person reading a particular book is a problem, the level of personal resilience and the expectation for the same is at its nadir. With the war on merit going on, how long before someone is harmed just by seeing someone reading? Is Stanford the most expensive kindergarten in the world?

    1. As pointed out in the article by FIRE it’s not the first time something like this has happened. There was a case where someone was reading a book about one of the KKKs major defeats in the 1920s (By Catholic students at Notre Dame University) and was sanctioned because a Black person saw the cover of the book.

  3. There is nothing wrong with reading anything. It is a way of finding out what the content is. I read Mein Kampf to find out what it was about. It was interesting but I only read about half of it. I think I understand Hitler’s mind a bit as a result. I didn’t agree with what it said but I have a right to know what it says and even to agree if I wish. That is called free thought. OK?

    1. We read parts of it in Western Civilization in college. I have a copy on my shelves. I also have a copy of Das Kapital.

    2. Our English teacher arranged a showing of Leni Reifenstall’s “Triumph of the Will” in school back in the days that you needed written permission from the Home Office to get access to a print, and to show it to any audience. As it was, that teacher also ran a class in “film studies”, with about 25 pupils, and his justification for showing it was for study of it’s techniques as propaganda. Which he did. But there were about 80 people packed into the classroom – the Film Studies class, a large proportion of the school’s staff, and around a dozen of us 6th year students.

      That is called free thought. OK?

      Is there any room up there on top of the bonfire? Frying tonight!

  4. Your analysis makes sense, Jerry.

    I read Mein Kampf (in English) sometime in what Americans call middle school, before the 1967 Arab-Israeli war. I was just becoming aware of the Holocaust. The Eichmann trial had been a subject of conversation at home but it would have been a few years after the fact for me to remember it. I got the book from the school library I think more to understand the man our country had not so long ago been at war with, not so much to understand his antisemitism itself, which was more of a proto-concept for me then. It is a thick tome, full of turgid rambling prose that makes no sense once and makes no sense over and over again. Maybe it reads better in German. I don’t think I was able to finish it. I didn’t take it as an instruction manual for genocide or for Lebensraum or for anything else except what not to let near the levers of power. Some of this more sophisticated analysis came from recalling it later.

    The paperback edition I read had a swastika on the cover. I suppose if I had gone around waving the cover in the faces of the handful of Jewish students at my school, someone might have wanted to have a word with 11-year-old me and wondered what I was learning at home. But nobody, least of all the librarian, objected to my reading the book.

    I also read Simon Wiesenthal’s Murderers Among Us the same year and I think the two books together cemented my views for the rest of my life. To this day I find it hard to imagine anyone finding Hitler’s book persuasive and Wiesenthal’s not but obviously many did.

    1. I think I read it when I was 12 or so, out of the same curiosity. It is not very readable even in the original language.
      I do not believe it was very persuasive even then. Hitler did not rise to power because of the book, the book became popular due to his rise to power. I suspect there were a lot of copies of various editions that sat unread in German homes before being discarded discreetly in 1945. There was an edition that was presented to newly married couples.
      I have several copies still, as well as quite a few other books published in Germany during that era. My parents studied military history, so such things were always around. Not just books, but artifacts and sound recordings. I don’t remember them ever caring if I read such things, although I was pretty clandestine about looking at the “body culture” books.
      Regardless, a lifetime of exposure to those has done nothing but made me more committed to Zionism.

      1. Hitler had a personal financial interest in ensuring that as many copies as possible were sold in Germany, see emphasis in bold.

        The first and second volumes [of Mein Kampf] appeared in an initial print run of 10,000 copies each. The NSDAP financed itself quite substantially through its own party publishing house, Franz Eher Nachfolger GmbH, in which Hitler also had a personal stake. By January 1933, 287,000 copies of the one-volume Volksausgabe had been sold at a price of RM 12 each. Hitler received 10 percent royalties for each book sold. The following one-volume edition cost RM 8 (“Volksausgabe,” from 1930).
        After that, circulation skyrocketed. According to Plöckinger, 854,127 copies were sold from January to November 17, 1933.In the whole of 1933, about 1,080,000 copies were sold.
        In 1933, an edition in Braille was published. From 1936, many registry offices gave German brides and grooms Mein Kampf instead of the Bible at the expense of the respective city treasury. It was purchased by party members and used by schoolchildren in class.

        In order not to jeopardize this lucrative business for the party publishing house and himself, Hitler obtained a special regulation from the Reichsschrifttumskammer that the book could not be sold second-hand in bookstores. By 1939, total circulation had risen to 5.45 million, reaching 10.9 million copies by 1944.
        Adolf Hitler did not have to pay taxes on his high income from the sale of the book. The Munich State Tax Office, headed by Ludwig Mirre, decided that Hitler’s status under state law did not permit taxation.


  5. My favorite feature of our mob of latter-day censors and cancelers and prior restrainers and free-speech haters is that they seem genuinely unaware of a crucial fact:

    They may fancy themselves with great righteousness to be in the “catbird’s seat” right now, but what happens when someone who does *not* share their particular views on censorship—indeed, someone who would censor (or worse) those very views—comes into power?

    That’s why free speech is the best approach, despite the difficulties that inevitably arise when giving humans free rein.

    1. They will “fortifty democracy” to make sure someone with different views does not get into power, and if someone like that does happen to come into power, they will simply switch their viewpoint from pro-censorship to anti-censorship or even from pro-democracy to anti-democracy (only the “right kind” of democracy).

  6. And yet I have no doubt nobody at Stanford would bat an eye if he had been reading the Communist Manifesto. Few seem to remember about Communists as boogeymen. Of course, I have nothing but contempt for Neo-Nazis but I’ve noticed in recent years that Nazis now seem to be the popular choice if you want to invoke a boogeyman. I’ve seen a surprising number of people on social media claiming that actual hidden Nazis are everywhere in large numbers. Every police department is supposed to have hidden Nazis, and many politicians are supposedly hidden Nazis. There is probably a Nazi hiding behind your living room couch. It’s like a new red scare. It doesn’t seem to be just the old thing of calling anyone you disagree with a “Nazi” but people very seriously seem to think there is a large Nazi underground rather than just the small groups of Neo-Nazi kooks. They especially seem to conflate Nazis with run of the mill racists and bigoted Christian fundamentalists.

    That seems to be the current climate where even intellectual curiosity about the background of the Nazi phenomenon can result in denouncement.

    1. Honestly, I’d far rather have an earnest conversation with a neo-Nazi than a Woke propagandist. There is no chance I would be converted by the NN, and I might actually learn something, as might he.

      1. I have had a lot of conversations with people who were actual Nazis, and a few with the “neo” types. That they “were” Nazis is a key detail. The ones I have spoken with did not anticipate how it turned out, and regret having anything to do with it.

        A neo-Nazi is almost always just a racist or psycopath who has adopted some of the Nazi aesthetics. It isn’t like they actually know where or what the Sudetenland was.

    2. Unless things have changed dramatically and all past forgotten, with the Hoover Institution resident — and the pix always have Hoover Tower (Hoo Tow in stanfordese) prominent, though students don’t attend there. It was and likely is still a bastion of anti-communism, but with other virtues, too. The Hoover Institution of War, Revolution, and Peace, IIRC. Wonderful view from the top, if it is open anymore. It was a Reagan admin favorite. Sidney Hook, prominent humanist whose memorial I attended at Mem Chu (Memorial Church); George Schultz; Ayaan Hirsi Ali. Formerly, at least, a bastion of traditional conservative and anti-communist as well as anti-fascist thought. No idea what it is now.

  7. The best way to combat bad ideas, of course, is not to have any contact with those ideas oneself, and to criminalize others’ attempts to learn about those ideas.

    Just as it is masks, not vaccines, that protect the population against COVID 19. In fact, virologists and epidemiologists must not under any circumstances try to understand the virus with an aim to blocking its transmission. Even the understanding, and even the intent to understand, is harmful not just to the scientist but to others, by appearing to legitimize the virus.

    By the way, the people must not even know why they’re wearing masks. People are harmed even if they have no idea they’ve been harmed.

    And even these facts must not be seriously debated, as it would add legitimacy to criminal points of view. Only priests trained in the DEA worldview can be trusted to really know what’s going on. And even they have to keep a watchful eye on one another- the possibility of wolves in sheep’s clothing and all that.

    Am I getting this right?

  8. I’m just excited to see “affected” instead of “impacted”! — “help students who have been affected by these incidents” And at Snodfart! (I can use the anagram because I spent many years there, plus it’s “punching up” now.)

    And speak of the commie manifesto — I still have a paperback copy I flaunted rebelliously in my senior year of high school back in Kristi Noemland, though in those days, George McGovern was our Senator (yes, my children, it actually happened! — you could look it up).

  9. I’m tempted to head over to Stanford campus and read Cynical Theories out in the open, just to see how many iphone cameras get pointed at me, and how long it takes before I get escorted off campus by security.

    And for Fox news reporters to want to talk to me. Woke-ism is a godsend to the rabid Right.

  10. Oy. Only if the photograph was posted for the purpose of intimidation, inciting violence, or threatening violence against a person or persons should anyone even pay attention to it. In that case, it might be a crime, and the police should be summoned. But simply reading a book is not a crime, nor can it possibly be a violation of any university policy. Posting a picture of a person reading a book unless it’s for the purpose of intimidation or threat of violence can’t possibly be a violation of anything either. Assuming that there was no purpose to threaten or incite violence, the Stanford administration should not be involved at all. Clearly their remedy is an abuse of their authority.

    I am also concerned about the rabbis getting involved, I hope that the rabbis are not advocating punishment or training for the “perpetrator.” I know how tempting it is to want to protect one’s own—and as a secular Jew I’m sensitive to even the thought of having Nazis around—but participating in an effort by Stanford to “heal” this “harm” would only make the situation worse. It would reinforce the overreach of the Stanford administration. The rabbis should talk with the Jewish student(s) involved and help them to not be so fearful about people reading disgusting books. The student who feels harmed needs to become more resilient. One gets knocked around in life sometimes, and people need to be able to cope. It’s a good learning opportunity for the fearful student, with whom I am sympathetic.

    This is so bad in so many ways. It’s just amazing how much real harm well-meaning people can do in their zeal to redress the imagined harms that the left is so concerned about.

    1. I agree that neither the police nor the university’s kangaroo court should be involved in this except, now, to apologize to the student(s) the latter is harassing. Period.

      I’m curious about what exactly happened, though. If the student reading Mein Kampf was photographed by the second student in order to get her into trouble, then the second student needs to be ostracized for grossly weasely behaviour unbecoming an adult. “I’m gonna tell on you to Mom!” when older sister sneaks in after curfew with smeared lipstick and her bra strap hanging out of her purse. The little shit will go far in our modern world, though. Unfortunately.

      But what if the two students staged the photo together, with the actor depicting herself as reading the book and the photographer disseminating it to send some sort of message? Was there a caption? Was the message intended to annoy or intimidate Jews? Or was it a troll to get a rise out of people likely to be offended? Whatever, it’s better that the students and their peers slag it out themselves, like in Grade 9. There may well be tears and yelling. But no academic discipline, surely.

      And what if the message was, “Stanford supports free speech even to the point of having this in the library.” Has anyone even raised that possibility?

  11. It was in our public HS LIBS in an area where several political publications were shelved, including Das Kapital, The Communist Manifesto, and Frank Tashlin’s The Bear That Wasn’t. We were so fortunate in our faculty, administration and librarians that I was fully briefed at age 12 to see the fundamental parallels among religions and political shams such as las Trumpistas, L. Ron Hubbard’s despicable brainchild and followers. It was part of a good education. Common Sense was there, too, thinking of Tom Paine (birthday yesterday?). I think a translation of G.J.Caesar’s Gallic Wars was in the same place.

  12. Unbelievable. Assuming the story is correct, what is the Jewish (presumably) protected group member’s issue: that another student was reading Mein Kampf on campus or that a copy of the book is kept on campus at the library? Do they shudder every time they walk past the library, just upon seeing the book cover, or only if its contents are being inspected by an obvious Nazi sympathizer? I’m sorry, I don’t know how these superpowers of offense work. And why would Stanford even have such a book in their library? Shouldn’t they have banned or burned it long ago, like any responsible university would, given the potential harm to protected groups that book covers pose? Stanford rabbis, help me out here! Or is this an anti-Semite sting operation and there are lots of copies planted around campus as bait to ensnare would be ProtoNazis?

    Please sue Stanford to hell if this student receives disciplinary action.
    (My snark is not a swipe at Jews by the way but would be identical if it was a student reading Mao, MalcolmX, Lenin, whomever).

    1. I realise you are being sarcastic, but Mein Kampf is an important historical document. Probably every university library has at least one copy, along with Das Kapital and maybe even Quotations from Chairman Mao Tse-tung.

      1. Of course Jeremy. Disciplining a student for reading a well known book of historical signicance is unconscionable. This is even worse than book burning because books can be reprinted. It is Orwellian. Policing what people read and think? The univ. president should threaten to dismantle this piddling PIH group if they ever pull this again.

        Further, it is antithetical to the global Jewish mission of “never forget,” which is why there are so many holocaust museums around the world and Auschwitz was not bulldozed under. I myself have been to Dachau and was transformed by it and I’m not even Jewish. These living monuments are a gift to humanity by the Jewish people to show us the cost of genocide, paid for in blood.

        Sorry to get so exercised over a one student’s discipline but if it’s true that this was assigned reading for a class at Stanford, then I agree with Max’s excellent suggestion in #1 – the accuser must take resilience classes or seek counciling. Maybe there should be a mechanism to identify and combat the growing epidemic of student fragility. Maybe this PIH group should have a 3 strikes law that if a student makes 3 complaints into the system, then they are discredited and referred to a councilor.

  13. This would seem to violate Stanford’s own standards. How could reading “Mein Kampf” be deemed to “adversely and unfairly target an individual or group”?

  14. Stanford’s ‘special military operation’.

    “that Russia was mobilizing to defend two pro-Russia, non-UN separatist states in Ukraine) from Ukrainian neo-Nazism”
    Inspiration perhaps?

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