Widgets Magazine


A Warm Welcome

Last April during Admit Weekend, a gathering of students stood in front of the stairs of Memorial Auditorium holding signs and flyers. It was the date of the much-anticipated Q&A with  President Hennessy, and we wanted to challenge the pristine, perfect image of Stanford that the University and the Admit Weekend team had crafted so meticulously. Just the night before, we chalked messages around campus to draw attention to Stanford’s complicity in a range of issues from sexual assault to the occupation of Palestine and, after a stunning and ironic burst of on-the-fly organizing from other students and faculty, saw nearly every message washed off before new admits made it to campus. Yik Yak buzzed with vitriolic statements concerning our “malicious intimidation” and the “falsehoods” we were spreading.

The next morning, we stood in front of President Hennessy’s event nonetheless, holding signs and interacting with parents and new admits. The flyers we passed out encouraged ProFros to attend a student-run event that afternoon where Stanford students from dozens of different communities came together to showcase a year of activism and the real issues that Admit Weekend tried to sweep under the rug. Dismally lacking mental health resourcesContinued inabilities to support transgender and gender-expansive students on campus. BlackLivesMatter, student protests and the Stanford 68Divestment from corporations profiting from the Israeli occupation of PalestineDiversity in teaching. I saw ProFros engaging with all of these issues and more, and felt the warm glow of community in my chest, somewhere right between my fifth and sixth ribs. It was great.

I evoke these events from last year to highlight one moment I remember most clearly: I was standing a few feet away from the steps of MemAud (shooed into the “Free Speech Area” by event staff, which apparently didn’t encompass the stairs), flyers in hand. A ProFro shrugged off the flyer I offered to him, eyes averted under the shade of a baseball cap.

“Isn’t this like biting the hand that feeds you?” he muttered, and moved past me.

Something tells me that this sentiment is not a unique one on this campus. I could feel it in the air through all of last year, like a thick miasma, each time the word “activism” was spoken. I could see it oozing out of the Yik Yak apps on our phones and taking root in Op-Eds from the Daily to the Review. And I get it. Activism can and often aims to be uncomfortable, discomfort is threatening and the very thought of challenging the conglomeration of money, privilege and academia that is Stanford feels not only foolhardy, but forbidden. I am unsurprised that other students accused us of scaring the prospective frosh away that day, though perhaps the 81.1-percent yield rate of admitted undergraduates this year — the highest in Stanford’s history — soon challenged that critique.

But admission to Stanford is not a golden ticket to the chocolate factory of privilege, and it certainly is not a free pass to avoid discomfort. As students in this university, we have a responsibility to be critical. We have a responsibility to use the resources and knowledge on campus, not simply to Make the World a Better Place™, but to understand the complex systems we weren’t taught about in high school, to come to terms with our own identities and privileges and to act decisively to challenge oppressive structures. We have a responsibility to recognize the lived and intersecting experiences of marginalized peoples and to seek out the information we do not yet know, to listen to and center those who are most impacted by various systems of injustice and to do the difficult and oft-unsung work of confronting our own prejudice and complicity.

This is not a recruiting call to join some “activist club.” Activism is not an action or a place as much as it is a framework and a mindset, a pledge to work towards justice in its many forms. Mindful and intentional work needs to be done in the workplace, in the classroom, in the bedroom and on the streets to remedy a system that murders, dehumanizes and erases us. In the last year alone, I have seen communities form and rise to the challenge, and am continually inspired by the work that is done and has been done by my peers. I look forward to renewing our pledge to do the same this year: to educate, advocate and thrive; to sustain our efforts and actions towards an intersectional justice.

So, frosh. Welcome to Stanford.

Now what are you going to do here?  


Contact Lily Zheng at lilyz8 ‘at’ stanford.edu. 

Lily Zheng

About Lily Zheng

Lily Zheng '17, is a weekly columnist for The Stanford Daily, a Social Psychology major and co-president of the student group Kardinal Kink. Her weekly column revolves around consent culture, queer and trans identity, social justice and activism. In her spare time, she enjoys wearing too much black clothing, accidentally sleeping in her makeup and spending quality time with her partners. Contact her at lilyz8 'at' stanford.edu – she loves messages!
  • skullbreathe

    Were there any “Take Personal Responsibility” protestors? That pledge would make the biggest difference on Stanford’s campus..

  • Jamal M

    Lily’s articles have deteriorated over her time at Stanford. Her views have become progressively warped as well.