Widgets Magazine


Stanford’s image problem

I never imagined how similar Stanford and I could be.

Throughout my teenage years, I found myself filled with self-loathing. I never quite fit in, and this feeling of difference pushed me to only care about my image and how others perceived me. I looked self-centered and acted like it too. And then I came to Stanford.

I entered Stanford focused on my image. I found myself once again wanting to make everyone like me, wanting to be popular, wanting to be something I wasn’t. At the end of freshman year, I was without many close friendships and without a sense of who I was on the inside. I felt hollow. I felt lost.

I recognize now that I had an image problem. I became too obsessed with being someone I wasn’t. It was only through the support and involvement in organizations like my a cappella group, Stanford Mixed Company, that I realized I had lost sight of what mattered the most: what I value and whom I care about.

I’m reflecting on this now because Stanford has the same problem. Instead of being concerned about the health and well-being of its students, the administration has chosen to prioritize Stanford’s image. Many institutions, particularly universities, have incentives to undermine student programs and efforts all in the name of appearance.

The recent decision to discontinue Band created great tumult not only within Stanford’s largest student group but also for its larger community. And for what? In the name of fixing the “culture” Band has created? Stanford’s controversial decisions over the past few years have made me think about the incentives institutions have to only care about their perception to the outside world. I think the University’s attack on Band and other student efforts brings us to a crossroads in examining Stanford’s protection of its image and the need for students to collectively address our problems.

Stanford took issue with the Band so it axed it. Stanford doesn’t want to look like it’s paying off survivors of sexual assault, so it creates distractions. Stanford doesn’t want to divest from fossil fuels, so it delays action and ignores student voices. In each case, the University tries to maintain total control of its image while students experience institutional betrayal. The University we love has lost sight of what matters most: its students.

Stanford’s administration needs to realize that our university is first and foremost a school built for its students. I am reminded of the story every tour guide shares, recalling Jane and Leland Stanford’s dream of creating a school that would serve all the children of California. There was never a mention of a business. There was never an ulterior motive about protecting an image. It was all about students. Unfortunately, like my own corrosive obsession with my image, Stanford has done the same to itself.

This understanding leads to a final point: the need for students to work collectively to effect change. Many will recall being told during orientation that Stanford is home and we belong here. You may also recall that we are “destined to change the world.” But part of changing the world is addressing issues here and now.  

Stanford has prioritized its image over Band. But it has also prioritized its image over sexual assault survivors, marginalized communities, the well-being of our planet — the list goes on. These are not isolated decisions but rather a systemic issue based in the institution.

For activists across campus, we have recognized this well before the University attacked our band. For those in marginalized communities, living under a system that directly opposes our survival isn’t new. But now the University has lit a fire, and many people are paying attention. Instead of working disparately, the student body needs to work together to address Stanford’s image problem. We may not all agree on every issue or have the time to actively participate in rallies, marches and letter-writing campaigns. But we have a duty as the Stanford community to lift each other up, especially in times when our own are hurting.

Let’s be proactive. Let’s work together. That’s how we’ll ensure Stanford remains the community we all love.

— Matthew Baiza ’19


Contact Matthew Baiza at mbaiza ‘at’ stanford.edu.