During the Kennedy-Nixon presidential debate of 1960, then-Vice President Richard Nixon emphatically stated, “I know Senator Kennedy feels as deeply about these problems as I do, but our disagreement is not about the goals for America but only about the means to reach those goals.” This type of amicable rhetoric has been for the most part absent in recent American history. It seems that in the last few years our country’s leaders have forgotten a simple truth: that they’re united in their service to this nation.
This story reminds me a lot of what took place in our political community over the course of the last week. We had a situation in which two groups that are wholly dedicated to improving our community went head to head on how to enhance our special fees system. It is no secret that there is a big problem with the way that funding works today. The current system is lethargic and bureaucratic and levies one of the highest student fees in the country on our student population – three times that of Harvard and twice that of Berkeley.
Over the course of my Undergraduate Senate campaign, I had the chance to meet with the various authors of the bill and get insight into the SOCC- and FLIP-sponsored arguments against it. Justine and Olivia Moore, the two genuinely impressive sophomores who spearheaded SAFE with Dan Ashton, Billy Gallagher and Stephen Trusheim, seemed passionate, levelheaded and dedicated to improving this community. They mentioned to me that they had met with over 500 people to discuss the new funding regulations and were very hopeful that it would pass. It seems, however, that many student group representatives, especially those of SOCC, felt that their concerns, although heard, were not addressed in the actual text of the amendment, and that is why they decided to mobilize their coalition against the measure. Naturally, this came as a surprise to many who contributed to the bill, and certainly to the standing Senate who passed it unanimously, hoping to avoid the funding cuts that we will now have to oversee this year.
What came after was an unfortunate and antagonistic tension between the proponents of SAFE and its detractors. While many felt that organizations opposed to the bill had been spreading misinformation, the opponents continuously stated that they were pointing to the possibility of losing vital funding down the line. Many feared that identity groups such as the LGBT Community Resource Center would be eventually defunded if SAFE Reform passed. Some conversations even descended into vitriolic ad hominem attacks, and people I spoke to on both sides seemed to feel that power was being abused.
As a newcomer on the Stanford political scene, I was surprised to see the contradiction between intention and interpretation on both sides of the aisle. The SOCC communities are an integral part of our campus and they have been doing great work bringing our community together and ensuring that everybody has a support system on campus. Meanwhile, the executive team and the Senate have been working tirelessly to solve what is a legitimate problem in our organization. Both arguments are born from a genuine eagerness to improve this community and ensure students’ well-being.
Mutual positivity is too often lost in our national political system, so let us be wary of losing sight of our common goals in campus politics. SAFE Reform is emphatically not a zero-sum game; we can still move forward in a way that both satisfies our need to fix our broken funding system and ensures that minority groups continue to foster a sense of community on campus. All of the men and women who are putting so many hours of work into these organizations want the same thing, and we have the next year to fix it.
I came to the Senate with an agenda to implement SAFE Reform, and I personally thought that lowering student fees was overall a good thing. Although SAFE Reform has failed to pass this year, I am now excited to work with this Senate class and SAFE’s detractors to come up with a solution that satisfies all parties. I have seen good faith on both sides, and I am sure that a concerted effort from every party will pave the way to a concrete solution.
To draw a parallel ahead of 2014’s midterm elections, we must be able to overcome hurdles like SAFE Reform as a community if we expect our national leadership to do the same. The paradox is ultimately that everyone is passionate about this contentious issue for the same reason: we want to make this community better. So let’s get to work.
Anthony Ghosn was elected as a sophomore representative to the Undergraduate Senate this April. Help him hit the ground running by contacting him at anghosn “at” stanford.edu.