Stanford DEI dean defends her actions towards federal judge: I deployed ‘de-escalation techniques’

Stanford Law School Associate Dean for Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion Tirien Steinbach, who was placed on leave after she interrupted U.S. federal judge Kyle Duncan’s speech, penned an op-ed in the Wall Street Journal to defend her actions Thursday. 

“Student groups that vehemently opposed Judge Duncan’s prior advocacy and judicial decisions regarding same-sex marriage, immigration, trans people, abortion and other issues showed up to protest,” Steinbach recalled about the incident that took place on March 9.

Judge Duncan was supposed to give a speech to the university’s Federalist Society chapter but was unable to due to students heckling and interrupting the judge. At one point, Steinbach approached the podium and rather than try to allow Duncan to give his remarks, she instead shared her thoughts about situation. 

“Some protesters heckled the judge and peppered him with questions and comments. Judge Duncan answered in turn. Regardless of where you stand politically, none of this heated exchange was helpful for civil discourse or productive dialogue,” she noted in her op-ed. 


“In my role as Stanford Law School’s associate dean for diversity, equity and inclusion, I supported the administration’s decision not to cancel the event or move it to video, as it would censor or limit the free speech of Judge Duncan and the students who invited him. Instead, the administration and I welcomed Judge Duncan to speak while supporting the right of students to protest within the bounds of university policy.” she wrote.

However, in a statement penned Wednesday, Stanford Law Dean Jenny S. Martinez said that the protests violated university policy and constituted disruption rather than protest.

Steinbach contended that she simply used deescalation techniques she learned in her role as associate DEI dean to try to calm all parties involved.

“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. 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,” Steinbach wrote. 

During her remarks, she asked if “the juice is worth the squeeze” in the context of Duncan’s speech and sided with the protesters, telling him his work hurt people of color.

“I was referring to the responsibility that comes with freedom of speech: to consider not only the benefit of our words but also the consequences,” Steinbach said.

The heckling was disorderly and prevented Duncan from getting through his remarks as planned. The goal of protesters was to drown him out rather than foster a contentious debate.

“How we strike a balance between free speech and diversity, equity and inclusion is worthy of serious, thoughtful and civil discussion,” she continued.


“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 claimed in her op-ed.

Free speech advocacy groups have called for Steinbach to be fired for her role in preventing the judge from speaking at a student club’s registered event.

As a result of the incident, Stanford Law School will mandate free speech training for faculty and students.

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