As spring quarter progresses, a familiar refrain is repeated with increasing frequency, reaching a fever pitch as May turns to June. From dining halls to IHUM sections, students, faculty, and well-meaning strangers raise the inevitable question: “So what are you doing this summer?” The inquiry itself is innocuous enough, yet it often carries with it implicit assumptions about what a Stanford student’s summer should entail. Students who brightly chirp about their plans for international research, consulting internships or Silicon Valley start-up work are met with approving nods, while students whose plans are uncertain, or who plan to go home and find a summer job, may encounter confusion, condescending sympathy or even derision. While the diverse pursuits undertaken by undergraduates are impressive, the Editorial Board advocates a broader understanding of what summer undertakings are considered valuable and important. The current culture of the Stanford summer is at best elitist and at worst classist, and Stanford students may be reluctant to pursue unconventional summer paths due to the mentality that the question “So what are you doing this summer?” consistently reinforces.
Students are asked about summer plans as early as January, when the gauntlet of interviews and applications begins in earnest. Summer, a time that was once occupied by recreational pursuits or creating memories with friends and family, is now a precious and pressing opportunity for career advancement. This, in turn, has a negative impact on campus mental health, as summer plans – and the social pressures that are associated with them – can be enormous sources of stress. If a student accepts an internship or research position that ultimately proves dull, will she view the experience as a summer wasted? Even travel or volunteer work is often discussed in terms of the instrumental value of the experience or perspective it can provide, as another tally toward personal development. Ask yourselves this: When was the last time you had a summer that didn’t have to “count” for anything?
The ramifications of this problem extend far beyond the realm of which students land a coveted internship and which do not. Indeed, our attitude toward summers strikes at the heart of what is both extraordinary and stifling about being at Stanford. Opportunities are numerous, but the sea of possibilities can sometimes drown out endeavors that don’t fit the prevailing wisdom of what a Stanford student should be doing. For example, the hierarchy of summertime activities may alienate our peers who work during their summers to support their families. Furthermore, the high value placed on internships often obscures the fact that many students simply cannot afford to accept unpaid positions.
Imagine a Stanford community in which every impulse to ask “What are you doing this summer?” was instead replaced by “What’s the most interesting thing you learned this week?”
We owe it to each other to be more invested in the current experiences of our peers, rather than placing arbitrary value on summer plans. Summer, besides offering an opportunity for career advancement, is a chance for rejuvenation, an escape from the predictable schedule of papers and midterms around which we organize our lives, and in doing so occasionally forsake or forget our passions. It also presents an opportunity to live away from the norm of instrumentality that is so often overly present on campus. The Editorial Board hopes that each of you finds a space for critical engagement, from urban boardrooms to rural ranches. Until the fall, we wish you three months of discovery and inquiry, wherever your divergent paths may lead you.