When I came to Stanford, I never imagined that I would write a column for The Daily.
As a painfully shy student with almost no writing experience, the thought of sharing my views in an intensely public forum terrified me — and it still does to this day.
Ultimately, I applied to be a columnist last year because many of my closest friends who work for The Daily talked me into it. It was undeniably one of the best decisions I have made in my life, one that underscores the two thoughts that I hope to share with you in my last Opinions column for the foreseeable future: do something you’re bad at regularly and recognize that some tucked-away page in a college newspaper is not the place for the deep conversations that we need on campus.
Without a doubt, the most important lesson I have learned at Stanford is humility, and The Daily has been a central part of my education. The number of frustrating hours I spent writing mediocre columns took a lot of time away from my classes and social events, but I don’t regret it for an instant. Writing for the Opinions section forced me to break out of my shell, become more engaged with campus issues and take a stand. I learned that I have limitations, but I learned even more by pressing on anyway.
At Stanford, the talent of the student body across so many disciplines is truly staggering, but the flipside of being around so many world-class engineer-athletes and poet-politicians is a fear to go out of your comfort zone and try something that you initially struggle with. Those moments, which, for me, include taking a class like CS107 or writing for The Daily, have taught me more about myself than just about any other experience at Stanford.
In the future, we should do more to encourage students nervous about working with their hands to take a class like ME101 or to persuade people who detest writing papers to give it another crack in a political science or philosophy course. The depth of the learning experience and coming out a little more aware of the world is invaluable.
However, I recognize that my reflections on writing for The Daily are rather selfish — I’ve gotten more out of being a columnist than I could ever hope to contribute because the Opinions section is inherently limited in its ability to sustain the conversations that matter.
The concept of dialogue emerged as a topic of contentious debate this year, but — regardless of one’s view on whether or not our campus environment is currently conducive to fair, honest discourse — engaging in conversation is ultimately a necessary step in making any sort of meaningful progress in understanding nuanced viewpoints.
And engaging in this conversation is something the Opinions section is simply ill-equipped to do; our columnists do an excellent job of the print-equivalent of shouting from the rooftops, eloquently presenting ideas that need to be heard, but that’s where the conversation in the paper stops. Sure, we occasionally publish responses to particular columns and op-eds, but I know from conversations with the paper’s leadership that The Daily is not interested in extending conversations beyond a simple back-and-forth as a matter of policy.
While some might additionally argue that Super Tuesday, the long-running political series, achieves a certain level of actual discourse in the paper, there is nothing more contrived than pitting a “liberal” columnist versus a “conservative” columnist. While every Super Tuesday column features deep, nuanced arguments, it is still far from a true conversation. Instead, it continues the stream of presenting two viewpoints, often different, but sometimes in unison. Overall, Super Tuesday can be extremely valuable in initiating discussions by presenting multiple cogent arguments, but it cannot go beyond bringing ideas to the table, nor should we expect it to do so.
I love the Daily. It has truly been my family on campus for the past two years. However, it is crucial for us to realize that the paper is inherently limited, by design, in its ability to facilitate campus conversation. I’m constantly blown away by the eloquence and insight in the columns and Op-Eds within the Opinions section, but the burden then falls on all of us to pick up the mantle and engage in these deep conversations in our dorms, amongst our friends, in class and, heck, even at The Daily office.
We need to go beyond the Daily and not only maintain the willingness to ponder and formulate opinions, but also seek to share them. There is no such thing as being “qualified” to be a columnist; no one can be more suited to have an opinion. We are all columnists and we should fashion ourselves in that light. I know from personal experience that it can be extraordinarily difficult to share one’s voice out loud, but that is exactly what we need to do to carry on the conversations that matter.
From Brock Turner, to Joe Lonsdale, to Silicon Shutdown, to SAE, to the Band, we’re experiencing one of the most contentious times in the history of the University, and we have a choice. We can anchor ourselves where we feel the most comfortable, or, worse, retreat into the anonymity of YikYak. Conversely, we can step up to the plate and try something that remains ever-necessary: We must be willing to initiate and carry on conversations that seek, at their core, to rebuild community on campus.
At the end of the day, we are all columnists, whether we work for The Daily or not. The paper is the best resource on campus to get ideas out there, but the state of campus conversation lives and dies with each of us and the choice to share one’s voice and seek to learn. It’s time we accept that responsibility.
Contact Vihan Lakshman at vihan ‘at’ stanford.edu.