I’m, Like, Totally Profound: Stanford Rants

At the start of last week, I sent a few e-mail lists an invitation for students to anonymously vent their biggest Stanford-related frustrations by listing them on a Google Doc. There were over 100 individual responses (over 120 if you include the trolls). From what I read, students’ complaints seem to have fallen into a few big categories:

Lack of diversity

One student appeared to capture many others’ thoughts with the concise response, “Stanford is repressive of discussions about class and socioeconomic status.” Students are frustrated with what passes for the norm at Stanford, and many spoke of hiding their beliefs and backgrounds so as to avoid persecution. Those who feel most antagonized seem to be low-income students, Christians, those with conservative viewpoints and students who aren’t attracted to alcohol and the college party culture.

Academic structure

Some students hate the quarter system. Some think, “academic advising is a total joke.” Engineers wish they had more time to take classes outside of engineering. “Financial aid really hurts a large portion of middle class students.” IHUM has both good and bad points.

Social scene

Many, many students wish alcohol wasn’t such a staple of undergrad life. Palo Alto and Stanford are too expensive, and San Francisco is much less accessible than Stanford would like ProFros to think. There needs to be a central hang-out location on campus; the “student center sucks/almost does not exist.” Also, “the dating sucks.”

Work ethic

“I’m tired of kids who know how to test well, but have forgotten how to learn,” is a feeling echoed by many. Pre-meds in particular have gotten a bad rep: “Medicine is a hallowed profession. Treat it like a privilege, not a game.” And one respondent said Stanford students “only care about the world when it will help them get fellowships & scholarships, just like all those clubs they joined in high school.”

Attitudes toward life

This was the biggest section; it seemed many students think Stanford kids are too “success”-driven and not relationship-driven enough, and then those same Stanford kids complain about feeling lonely. The “Stanford Duck Syndrome” and “faking your feelings” were also mentioned a great deal, as were “ego” and “elitism.” Also, according to a few respondents, students aren’t activist enough: “Whatever happened to protests?”

Health

At CAPS, there’s “a lack of availability of appointments [and] ineffectiveness of said appointments.” At Vaden, “if you’re not an athlete, you don’t matter.” And the Bridge “has good ideas but fails at making people feel better<\p>.<\p>.<\p>.<\p>”

Biking

“For smart people, we ride bikes like idiots.” Also, “lighting around campus sucks,” as does parking.

Food

Several students want 24-hour food, several want cheaper food, several want more options and the list goes on.

Resident life

There were complaints of poor hygiene and students disrespecting custodial staff (“What, are you used to having a maid or something?”). Several were disappointed with the noisy party culture ingrained in their dorms and poor leadership by ResEd staff. A few were angry they had never gotten a single.

And so on. You can imagine that this article is a pretty small nutshell to try to contain the emotion of a hundred responses.

So why’d I set this thing up in the first place?

Well, in fact, I think this place is pretty great. I’d have left if there weren’t something more than career prospects keeping me here. Let’s let one of the responses speak for me: “I do have to say for all of the complaining I’ve done in an earlier post, I would not have changed a thing when deciding to come to Stanford if I could go back in time.”

But could Stanford be better? Absolutely, just like everything and everyone else. My big frustration is hearing so many students having the exact same conversations about what’s not working, and then seeing so few of them actually do anything about it — they’re too preoccupied, or shy, or risk-averse. So I thought, “hey, everyone whining separately isn’t accomplishing anything. Maybe everyone whining together will.”

No, a Google Doc won’t revolutionize this University. And I certainly don’t have any big “Plan for Enacting Change.” All I can really hope from this thing is that a lot of people will see it, it’ll show some people what others are thinking and it’ll get some people talking. And from what the history books tell me, it’s “getting people talking” that’s always made the world turn.

You can see all the responses for yourself at http://bit.ly/ventstanford.

What about Stanford drives you nuts? Tell Robin at robthom@stanford.edu.

About Robin Thomas

  • student

    I’m surprised no one mentioned the utter incompetence that is the Student Activities and Leadership Office and just about every employee therein.

  • troll

    I’m surprised no one mentioned that ITS TOO COLD!

  • trollenemy

    @troll: NO! ITS TOO HOT!

  • Good article

    Totally agree with the ‘lack of diversity’–Stanford focuses so much on race and then forgets that the more important factor is socioeconomic diversity (it’s kind of annoying to think that affirmative action benefits even minorities who were very privileged throughout their lives). Also the bit about Vaden–they tell you that you get 10 free appointments with CAPS, then at the end tell you that since you went on an antidepressant, you have to pay a $10 copay for every one of the appointments. Such BS.

    I’d love to know why some think that Stanford’s financial aid policy “hurts” middle income people. IMO, the only people that hurts are those who don’t want to pay, period. Less than $100k? Free tuition. Up to $200k? Significantly reduced tuition. It caps consideration of assets at around 5%. This is WAY more generous than every single financial aid policy out there, except perhaps Harvard (which is about equal). Not to mention Stanford considers many other factors in determining your aid, factors that some other schools don’t take into consideration — living expenses, high medical expenses, siblings’ college or private school (K-12) expenses, etc. Then again, I think that Stanford should work toward making the school free for everyone (as soon as the endowment gets large enough, which it soon will), like it was when it was founded; think of the message that would send to prospective students, especially low-income students. And it’d help to break down the socioeconomic barriers, because we’re all here on the “same dime.”

    I’ve never heard of anyone being mean toward custodial staff. In the past three houses/dorms I’ve lived in, people are always very cordial toward the main custodian for the building, and she’s always very nice too. Freshman year we all got our custodian (this nice Hispanic lady who didn’t speak a lot of English, but was always really pleasant) a present at Christmas to thank her and another “goodbye present” at the end of the year.

    RE: engineering students taking more outside classes–the committee on undergraduate education might fix that problem soon by decreasing the number of required classes to graduate. Engineering is one of the pivotal points against having such a large core.

    Not sure what could be done about a “central hangout location,” though that might be linked to the above comment’s complaint about the SAL, which is filled with a bunch of zealous bureaucrats who make you go through webs of red tape just to table on White Plaza.

    To put all this in perspective: if those are the complaints of Stanford students, then we’re pretty damned lucky. Do a survey at a UC school and you’ll hear things like “can’t graduate on time” or “can’t get into classes I need for my major” or “stuck in a major I hate” or “no racial diversity” or “classes are taught by TAs.”

  • Troy from Student Activities & Leadership

    @student

    I’m sorry to hear that you feel that way. If you’d like to share any thoughts or feedback directly with us, feel free to email me at tstein32 at Stanford dot edu. Seriously, I’d welcome any thoughts.

    Troy