Widgets Magazine


Op-Ed: Vote Abstain: What It Means and Why It Makes Sense

To vote abstain is to have a nuanced opinion, to have an understanding of the implications of the vote this Thursday and Friday and to know that this vote has the greatest effect on not one, but two marginalized communities who deserve greater voice than they are being afforded. It is not a stance on ROTC and in fact brings together both sides.

As ASSU Chief of Staff, I am leading the Vote Abstain campaign because I believe it is important that as a Stanford community, we can do a better job, create a better forum and allow for a better outlet for those most affected by the ensuing decision to be made by those administrators charged with listening to student input. Let us stand together in voting abstain so that we do not trivialize the small groups of people, whether they be pro or anti ROTC, into one singular vote but rather afford them an equally powerful voice within the appropriate forums. Let us as a student body not be wrapped up in a statistic or reduced to a number in a poll, but bring the diverse complex opinions we have to the Faculty Senate and give that legitimate voice.

The ROTC situation is complicated because there are two very small and equally marginalized subsets on campus that are a part of this vote. I will be the first person to admit that the intricacies of whether it should be back on campus are numerous and at times, both sides very convincing. I try to put myself in other people’s shoes as much as possible before making a judgment, and in this, it is no different.

I am from Philadelphia, Pennsylvania and I wonder what I would think if ROTC did not permit people from my city from participating. What if I as well as my Philly peers were so explicitly affected by this program and then we as a student body voted on whether it should come back? I think it is safe to assume that I am going to lose that vote and my voice is not going to have the magnitude that it deserves because I am so explicitly affected by the measure.

My voice and my Philadelphian peers are such a small minority on campus, and yet we are very much part of the diversity that makes up Stanford. Ultimately, it is my hope that people would understand that I deserve to be heard in the forum of the Faculty Senate and not referred to as part of a statistic.

By abstaining, I personally believe it is about making sure that each person has an equally powerful voice with those making the decision. This poll is the measure of the climate of the student body. They will point to this poll, if given legitimacy, as the barometer of what Stanford students think, trivializing and ultimately, stripping us of the power to explain our opinions.

The minority voice should be able to sit on equal ground as the majority opinion, whether it is those often marginalized in the ROTC or those discriminated against in the transgender community. That way, you can go to the faculty senate and have a big voice as opposed to one vote where minorities who are most affected by the decision have disproportionate impact.

Discriminating on either side of the issue is not fair to those communities that are affected and marginalized. I am abstaining because I want to see those specific individuals not be reduced to a singular vote when proportionally they are by far the most effected subset of the population. I am not voting on ROTC; I am voting abstain because I fully understand what it means to use my voice effectively and fully understand what this ballot measure means.

I implore that you, as a Stanford voter, protect the diversity of opinions we as a student body encapsulate. Vote abstain this Thursday and Friday.


John Haskell ‘12

ASSU Chief of Staff

  • Julia

    Hi John,

    I appreciate your deep concern for the issues surrounding ROTC campus. Your assessment that these issues are complex and vary across different student constituencies is a valid one. However, I take issue with your proposed solution.

    Stanford students, both those most directly affected by ROTC’s potential return to campus and those who simply care about the issue, DO deserve to be heard by those making the ultimate decision. Fortunately, we have had several different opportunities to do so. The ad hoc committee charged with advising the faculty senate on ROTC’s return has reached out to the various members of the Stanford community in several ways. It encouraged community members to submit letters on the issue, held a faculty-staff discussion, and addressed the issue at a meeting of the undergraduate senate that was open to all faculty, staff, and students.

    Perhaps the most inclusive event was the town hall meeting, where the committee members heard directly from all students and community members who had an opinion to share. I attended the town hall and was extremely impressed by the civil, civic-minded, and deeply thoughtful opinions expressed by all who attended. The level of discussion there made me proud to be a part of the Stanford community, and I feel confident that no voices were silenced there and that the committee members present got a meaningful glimpse at the merits of both sides of the issue as Stanford students see it.

    Additionally, students who feel strongly one way or another about ROTC’s return have taken matters into their own hands and visibly broadcasted their opinions on campus, demonstrating on White Plaza and conducting online campaigns. These public actions and the subsequent coverage they received from campus publications must have been noticed. It is important, as you said, for the communities most directly affected by ROTC (such as current Stanford ROTC cadets and Stanford’s transgendered/trans ally community) to have their positions on this issue heard. I am hopeful that their voices have reached receptive ears.

    However, while ROTC affects some members of the Stanford community much more directly than others, it is the responsibility of the community as a whole to be thoughtful and responsible in deciding what values and influences we want represented in the institution we are all a part of. Yes, this decision is ultimately up to the faculty and Stanford’s administration, but my point is that indirectly, the inclusion of ROTC on campus is a change and collective statement that reflects on all of us, and we should take responsibility for our role in this decision.

    The advisory question on ROTC is designed to make this responsibility easier to shoulder. It is easily accessible to all students as part of a process that many already participate in, ensuring widespread input from a variety of student constituencies. The ASSU has made it clear that the results of this advisory poll will have no direct impact on the university’s decision. It is merely one way to engage a larger portion of the student body on this topic and gauge their opinion. Fears that the result will drastically sway the Faculty Senate’s actions in one way or another seem relatively unfounded. As a general rule, the ASSU may be effective in handling some aspects of student life, but rarely are their actions the deciding factor in any major university decisions.

    Granted, this method of surveying the student body is imperfect. There is no guarantee that the views expressed by student voters will be as informed or thoughtful as we would like; realistically, many of them won’t be. Also, the group surveyed (student voters) is self-selecting, and not every student will be represented.

    But, imperfect as it is, it’s our best option, and it’s not hurting anyone. Those who have an opinion will have their voices heard. Everyone will have one vote, and every vote will be counted. The result may not have any huge impact on Stanford’s ultimate ruling on ROTC, but to the extent that it does, it should be an accurate representation of the way that we, as a community, feel. If you abstain, you are not making a statement. You will simply not be heard at all.