By Edward Ngai
So now that it’s all over, what can we newcomers say we learned about the school we love?
First, we saw that Stanford students hold their public discourse to a far higher standard than that to which they hold their discourse in public.
Many have pointed out that the amount and severity of personal attacks levied over the course of the campaign has shocked and dismayed them. And though I will not hesitate to say that the harsh (yet almost laughable) allegations made through anonymous emails and comments were better off locked away, I remain unsure why we are so surprised they were articulated.
The ASSU president and vice president, for better or for worse, are the faces of the school. Their names are probably the most recognizable on campus (thanks, creepy emails and text messages!), and everything they do will obviously be scrutinized. Sure, it’s bush league to circulate an unsigned email calling our public figures mentally unfit. But I’m of the camp that believes that it’s how Senator Palpatine said it, not what he said, that puts him in the wrong.
Each and every point made by Senator Palpatine, including the personal attacks, we have made in person. In dining halls, we laugh off “SMD is crazy,” but over email, we trip over ourselves to suspend people for violating the Fundamental Standard.
I’m not trying to defend the cowardly Senator Palpatine, who should have signed his name at the bottom of his attack. What he did was cruel and wrong. I’m simply pointing out the gulf between what we expect of our public discourse and our far cruder standard while discoursing in public.
If I wrote, and The Daily published, Senator Palpatine’s exact words in this column, I doubt I would be disciplined for a violation of the Fundamental Standard. It’s an opinion — crude, rude, uncalled for, yes. But judging from the gossip strewn throughout dining halls this week, it’s hardly off-limits. So why is the opinion now an affront to one of the University’s most cherished values?
Senator Palpatine’s email wasn’t an opinion page, you may argue. It was an anonymous attack. True, but so are the comments on many articles that you are reading in these pages. Allegations of mental instability are commonplace in the faceless, nameless cyber-world. I, too, have been called insane, misguided and selfish. Why aren’t we tracing those comments and emails, investigating them in their great dishonor along with the attacks in SMD-gate?
Of course, it is absolutely right that we should call for these personal attacks on character to stop. But if we have laughed along with or are tacitly complicit in these Fundamental Standard-violating critiques, it would certainly be the height of hypocrisy to be feigning outrage now that the proverbial poop has hit the propeller.
Second, what has become abundantly clear is that we don’t really care anymore.
Yeah, some two-thirds of freshmen voted this year, but we did so because we wanted to support our friends and dormmates, not because we actually thought we were making a difference. Between having your brunch interrupted and having strangers walk into your room to fill dead space with long promises and platitude-filled monologues, we tuned you all out weeks before we cast our ballots. “If one more senator asks me for a minute,” I overheard last week, “I’m jumping out the [expletive] window.”
It is a harsh indictment when I say that most of us are unsatisfied with our representatives in the Senate. It is an even harsher indictment that not a single sitting senator was satisfied enough with the job to commit to returning.
And so with a collection of fresh faces, the new Executive and Senate should be out to prove that the confusion, opacity and utter irrelevance that have characterized the only ASSU the freshman class knows is merely an anomaly.
Indeed, before implementing your platforms of valuing “communities,” catalyzing “reform,” celebrating “diversity,” promoting “the arts” and increasing “wellness” among other stuff we still don’t understand, you should first do everything in your power to win back respect for the organization you have been granted the privilege to lead.
That, beyond anything you can promise us, should be a task tall enough to last you well into your term.
Ed wants to know what you think. Send him an email — preferably one that is not anonymous — at edngai “at” stanford “dot” edu.