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OPINIONS

Dr. Strangelove or: how I learned to stop worrying and love the SLE

Six and a half weeks ago, I trudged, dejected, up the stairs to Faisan, my new residence. Dadaist art adorned the walls. How appropriate for this ridiculous situation, I thought. After missing staff training due to a Stanford TAPS performance in Greece, I had been fired from my staffing position in a house I’d occupied and loved for two years prior. Then I was reassigned to Faisan. My fragile expectations for my “awesome senior year” – Row, staff, single – were abruptly dismantled. Shock therapy: a broken Stanford snowglobe.

But now I think about things differently.

The Structured Liberal Education (SLE) program at Stanford provides a forum for thorough critical engagement unparalleled elsewhere in required undergraduate classes. Though SLE’s not currently a requirement, it absolutely should be – especially for STEM majors who want to truly and deeply consider the implications and ancillary effects of what they are creating. Our undergraduate curriculum does not challenge that part of them. At best, IHUM or Thinking Matters courses engage a few critical minds with a semi-rigorous set of texts – but often, and at worst, they don’t go far enough.

Stanford undergraduates want and deserve better. Most upperclassmen that I talk to didn’t appreciate their humanities requirement because it was not rigorous enough to draw their interest.

Staring out steamy panes of glass in winter malaise, I’d often wonder why I itched with discomfort at what surrounded me. Not until very recently did I stop denying that I’d always felt intellectually repressed here.

Allow me to be clear. Any metonymic characterization of “Stanford” is a platitude – one that over-generalizes a complex, semi-cohesive conglomeration of people with very different priorities. In addition to civil engineering courses, I’ve been taking language every quarter: Spanish, Mandarin and Cantonese. At Pigott Hall, I plant myself in front of one of several colorful bulletin boards wallpapered like spilled tarot cards with posters advertising activities to engage the critical mind. I do this to remind myself that you cannot say “Stanford is anti-intellectual” without sounding like one of the puerile sentence patterns that I was forced to practice to death in intro language courses. You can be as intellectual here as you wish.

At Stanford, however, I have often confronted what I consider profoundly anti-intellectual attitudes. The stigma manifests itself in predictable ways – when I meet somebody new at a party, for example, and they ask where I live.

“Faisan.”

“One of the SLE dorms?”

“Yes.”

“Oh, that sucks.”

But my response now is, invariably, no, it does not suck. It does not prevent me from having a vibrant social life. I love SLE precisely because I have had fantastic intellectual and emotional engagement with my dormmates. Previously, I denigrated the opinions of people younger than me. I belittled their emotions. The freshman residents of Faisan, so willing to critique academia, religion, athletics, have dynamited that prejudice. People disagree with me here, and I am just another opinion.

The thing is, I think that so many of us want that. We want IHUM or Thinking Matters to be better, our conversations to be better. We want to be humbled, our prejudices aired and alleviated. We want to consider varied voices of human wisdom. We want to focus the lens on our very lives: why it might be reprehensible to take a job at, say, a missile manufacturing corporation. Critical analysis really hurts our job prospects.

To seniors, I’d say this: Please stop caring, for a minute, what other people think when you speak with nuance and erudition. I’d love to converse with the you that’s not withholding your intellect.

To Stanford University: Do not purport to provide your students with a thorough liberal education when undergraduate requirements do not fully reflect that project.

And to my freshman dormmates: Thank you for simultaneously exposing my prejudices, engaging me as an intellectual equal and making me feel welcome in our home.

As of yesterday, I have withdrawn my reassignment application and will be living in Faisan – a SLE dorm – for the rest of the year. Sometimes living away from my friends encourages me to go even more out of my way to make sure that I see them, and we don’t take it for granted when we do. I understand that Faisan may not be the place for everybody, but maybe, just maybe, if you’re wrenched from the warm quilt of your comfort zone in your years here, you’ll discover that you love running in the snow.

Taylor Brady ‘13

  • SLE!

    Amen!

  • Alum

    Excellent piece.

  • Arrillaga Center for..

    middle finger to my old life

  • Yes

    SLESLESLE no shame!!!! Because everyone else is missing out… :)

  • Real Talk

    I was in SLE. Enjoyed the program but here’s the deal: in general the people are strange and an exciting social life within the dorms is non-existent. Also outside reactions to SLE aren’t due to “anti-intellectual attitudes” but rather anti-weird-shit. Want an example? Me: walking past faisan. Dorm: Doing some dance in unison from youtube. Me: …

  • Mark Mancall

    Ya’ll were fucking noobs. Hate having to “teach” every one of you about Marx. To the writer: maybe your angst should be directed to something less trivial like disrupting the root of all oppression- capitalism – instead of occupying this medium because you lost your job.

  • Faisan Anon

    Exciting is an astonishingly subjective term…and the author didn’t claim to have the “vibrant social life” within the dorm.

    You: Fallacious argumentum ad hominem
    Faisan: http://www.stanford.edu/group/dv8/ also does this
    You: Shallow and judgmental

  • Futurama Fry

    ^ Not sure if butthurt or trying to troll

  • M.

    Great article.

  • Naranjaite

    That actually sounds sort of fun…

  • Flove

    Tackling each statement one-by-one:

    “in general the people are strange”
    Stanford students, in general, are strange. We’re all quirky. That’s what makes this place so amazing.

    “exciting social life within the dorms is non-existent”
    No matter where you are on campus, the character of a dorm changes from year to year. When you throw a bunch of random people into a dorm and say, “live together,” you never know what will happen. It depends on the people, on the staff, on random things you could never predict. For instance, the residence I live in now (on the Row) parties less often than my freshman dorm did. And yes, I was in SLE.

    “doing some dance in unison from youtube”
    So I guess everyone across the world who tried to learn Thriller via YouTube and perform it simultaneously should be labeled “weird.” If that’s weird, well then, I want to be weird, too. Also, I’d say that a dorm doing a dance together is pretty indicative of social cohesion.

    Not all people are fans of their frosh dorms. I get that. Sorry you didn’t like yours. Most people, though, come out of SLE really happy they did it, both for academic and social reasons.

  • ST

    As an alum, I now see that not taking SLE was my biggest mistake as an undergrad. I too was distraught over the kind of “anti-intellectualism” you refer to. After all, I expected that to be a given at a place like Stanford. A Humbio major and Anthro minor, I did not realize until after I graduated that I might have experienced an intellectual community if I had taken SLE. Certainly no one at Admit weekend told me this. Instead I was turned away from SLE by sneers by undergraduates who propagated the anti-SLE mentality without any real knowledge about it.

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