ASSU elections are around the corner. Petitions are due a week from today. People are asking themselves if they should run and what should be on their platform.
We are writing this because we believe strongly in the ASSU and its power to do a lot of good when students, committed to working on big problems, step up.
It can be tempting to make the ASSU a tool to help pursue narrow interests of the student body. But the ASSU’s mission and history, and the state of affairs on campus, require a much more ambitious and altruistic ASSU. The ASSU played a major role in anti-apartheid organizing. The ASSU President founded Earth Day. The history of the ASSU is one of bold action and a commitment to social justice – and that is what is needed now.
What are the challenges the ASSU should tackle? There are many, but here are four:
Sexual Assault: The University has made addressing sexual assault more of a priority in recent years. But its response is still insufficient. Students should be warned about dangerous locations, and houses that may harbor offenders must be handled head on. Strong support services for acute and ongoing trauma must be on campus permanently. Men and women must be trained to build a safer campus, and abusers must be held to account. The campus must be rallied to stamp out a bystander mentality.
Mental Health: The worst days at Stanford are when headlines tell us – explicitly or otherwise – that a member of our community has taken his or her life. Too many continue to suffer the pain from untreated depression, eating disorders and other struggles. Simply, we need more investment in support services that have been shown to make the biggest difference in the lives of students.
Expanding Public Service: Jane Stanford’s vision was that Stanford would shape leaders for the public good. While the Haas Center has excellent programs, efforts to support Stanford student’s strong desire to serve the public should be more deeply encouraged by the broader University community. At Stanford, there should be an exponential increase in summer service fellowships and post-grad opportunities to begin catching up with the enormous, but currently unmet, demand among students. University leadership should call students to serve and remind them of the broader responsibilities accompanying a Stanford degree. This call should be issued well before students graduate.
Igniting Political Engagement: The ASSU should rally the student body to engage in the important political fights of our time. We worked with a coalition to hold the biggest phone-bank in the state against Proposition 8. What will you organize around? Will you help pass the Dream Act? Comprehensive immigration reform? Equal rights for all? Permanent recognition of the speech rights guaranteed to the student body through Leonard Law? Whatever the cause, the ASSU has the power to make a real difference.
These are four important issues, but we’re sure each of you can identify many more. That point is that the ASSU can and must work on important problems to better people’s lives.
2013 provides an incredible opportunity for the ASSU to have powerful impact on the lives of others. Stanford recently broke the record as the first university to surpass $1 billion in donations in a single year. While most of this money is committed to certain uses, some of it is not, and this windfall reflects our overall strong financial standing. The ASSU should lobby for funds where needed. We served during the financial crisis, and many of our plans were derailed rather swiftly, as a result. We envy your opportunity to serve in this moment.
And who should run? Good question. Other than the obvious answer that we need people committed to tackling serious problems, good candidates: 1) Have led people and groups before, 2) will work extremely hard, 3) will respect the administration and students alike, 4) will have the strength to push the administration and student body to tackle issues that matter most to Stanford students and the broader community, and 5) see the great potential latent in the ASSU and will work hard to realize its promise.
We’re both grad students now. We’ve both led other organizations outside the bubble. But running the student government at Stanford remains the hardest job we’ve ever held. If you run, you’ll be in for a lot of hard work. People will assume you are in it for ego, glory, resume bullets or some combination of all the above. But if you decide to do work that really matters, you could have a serious impact. You could build a Stanford where fewer students are sexually assaulted, survivors are better supported, suicides are reduced and our students and alumni use their lives to build a better world. Run.
Jonny Dorsey and Fagan Harris
ASSU Execs, 2008-2009