Widgets Magazine


A letter to Stanford

Dear Stanford,

So here I am thinking my last column was a week ago and I’ve wrapped it up nicely when the Daily offers me a chance to write a senior reflection piece. Great, I think. Sentimental part two. But I say yes, as I do too often, and so find myself sitting at a table and staring at a blank Google doc, scraping the bottom of the metaphorical barrel for more parting words.

I’ve written a pretty hefty number of columns during my time here (82 columns, for a total of roughly 64,000 words – not counting this one). I started off writing about kink, sexuality and consent, then repurposed my column into a radical activist’s repository during my sophomore year. Junior year saw the tone of my columns shift toward a more tentative audience, as activism began to be broadly accessible to the entire student body; senior year saw this tone shift gears once more, in response to administrative changes at Stanford and in the nation.

I’ve been told that the shift in my writing has been surprising – my blunter friends tell me that it feels like my allegiances have changed. How and why would a person write about opposing administrators one year and working with them two years later? I think there’s some truth to that argument. Being an op-eds writer for four years doesn’t make one immune from the fact that opinions tend to change over time. I don’t deny that throughout my time here, my opinions have changed quite a bit, and visibly too.

When my perception of Stanford as a paradise changed in my frosh year, so too did my opinions of it. When my perception of administrators as all-knowing and good changed in my sophomore year, so too did my opinions of them. When my understanding of activism deepened, and my experience with change efforts on this campus grew, and my relationships with staff members developed, my opinions on all these things changed.

Stanford itself as changed so much in the last four years. In August 2014, I wrote with the sort of grave frankness that accompanies rhetorical bombshells that “we have privilege. All of us.” I can’t help but laugh at the melodrama of that piece, until I look at the comments section and see “stop being a fat feminist,” “the majority is supposed to be more privileged” and “no wonder you chose the ‘victim’ gender.” Different times call for different columns, I guess. The things that I wrote and the conversations which were happening in 2013 don’t have a place on campus any more, because by 2017 we’ve moved past those conversations (I would hope). I think that’s amazing.

This is around the part of the column where I say something wise, but I’m not sure if I should be calling this sort of thing “wisdom.” In my four years here, I’ve spent less time being a good student and more time getting into administrators’ business, reading through archives and signing onto the Stanford Visitor wifi from obscure corners of campus. Do a little hunting around here and you’ll stumble across extensive online archives (do you know how much work it took to find that link?) and inter-staff/faculty politics that really only affect students once the dust has long since settled. I alternate frequently between thinking that students are the hidden power of this university and thinking that we are often the most powerless, clueless and ineffective players on a chessboard that’s bigger than we think. Maybe both are true.

To reiterate: I love Stanford. I hate Stanford. Stanford has hurt me irreparably. Stanford has healed me irreversibly. I’m thrilled to wake up from this fever dream, but I’d be lying if I said I wouldn’t miss the waffle fries.

If there’s anything I want to leave behind in this last column, it’s the kind of annoying stubbornness that gets students into rooms with decision-makers and empowers our communities to fight for what we deserve. In that vein, here’s a parting checklist to close out the quarter. How do we as students move into the future?

1. Get entitled. We deserve a world-class education and communities that give us safety, allow us to thrive and teach us to grow into our best selves.
2. Get indignant about injustice. Set the bar high, and hold the world to it.
3. Learn about the process. Who makes the decisions? When? How?
4. Find your contextual power and plan personal tactics accordingly. Do you belong on the inside or not?
5. Situate yourself in time and space. Find out who else has done this before. Find out who else is doing this now.
6. Organize. Find friends, strategize, and hit hard. Hydrate. Breathe.
7. Archive, reflect and sustain. What worked and what didn’t? Who will take up the torch?
8. Repeat.

It’s been good, y’all. Lily out.

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

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!