I’ve always been a little obsessed with memory, with records, with the tangible remembrance of things long past. Four years ago, when Stanford asked me what mattered to me and why, I answered records: “They’re moments lifted out of life and preserved in ink and pixels — reality made transferable for comparison.”
One reason why, despite three years at this newspaper, I’ve published fewer words than many fall-quarter freshman writers have: I’m afraid that these thoughts on my current reality, when held up for comparison, will look silly in hindsight, having failed the test of time.
But then I realize that few people here really notice the record at all. The crazy thing about a university is the way we bring in thousands of students from around the world who know nothing about each other, and then recycle that population in its entirety every four years. We come in, we figure some things out, and we leave — just in time for the next class of wide-eyed freshmen to start it all over again. It’s a lovely machine for churning out the world’s next leaders, or whatever, but on the inside, to the professors and the palm trees, it’s “same shit, different day” taken to a whole new level.
Take the alcohol policy as an example. Here are some things we’ve said in defense of our god-given right to get hammered:
In 1990, after proposals to ban alcohol purchases with dorm funds: “[The policy change would result in excessive drinking] behind closed doors, and that can only increase the problem tremendously.”
In 2003, after Stanford banned alcohol in freshman dorm common spaces: “I think this new policy will make a kind of introverted drinking culture that could potentially be more dangerous, because it’s behind closed doors and you can’t see what’s going on.”
In 2012, after Stanford banned hard alcohol during summer session: “I think [the policy] is really detrimental to the staff-resident relationship.”
In 2016, after the newest ban on hard alcohol: “Alcohol consumption behind closed doors … takes away from the resident-staff trust that defines dorm communities.”
I co-wrote that last one — like most of us on campus, and as a senior who still hasn’t reached that mythical age of 21, I quite like the freedom we have to crack open a cold one, as they say, without fear of the law. But it is kind of silly, how we get worked up in the exact same way every few years and how nothing really changes — we probably still love our RAs, and we’re definitely still drinking. Alumni tell us that this place is nowhere near as fun, compared to its glory days in the ’80s and ’90s, but it’s not like anyone here remembers.
We find ourselves in these same arguments over and over again. Engineering students have been complaining about humanities grade inflation since at least 1983. We’ve been debating free and quality speech in the context of “political correctness” since that term swept the nation in the ’90s. And Full Moon on the Quad has been endangered (or at least vulnerable) for a decade and a half.
Revisiting hot topics isn’t a bad thing in itself. Situations and people change over time, and it’s always worth rethinking the things we’re used to, from new perspectives and with new nuance. (It’s also an easy way to boost the ego — catch me making fun, “original” arguments on said same shit every other week for the rest of this year!) The problem is that we don’t acknowledge that we’re revisiting at all.
In a sense, it feels like we’re trapped in a bubble of frozen time, the endless sunny days marked only by the same annual events. But you only have to look at the unending controversy of Row and Greek housing — your house probably used to be someone else’s — to realize that it’s not Stanford that doesn’t change, it’s us. We don’t pay attention to the record, and so all the lessons we each learn individually are lost in four years, and so nothing to us ever changes, like we’re retaking the same dumb class a hundred times.
Being an administrator, looking down at all of this, must be pretty exhausting.
I’m not really an activist, but if you want to get anything done at this school, consider going a little back in time. See what’s already been tried and done (how many failed student events and University initiatives are cloned each year just because nobody remembers they failed?), and then whatever you end up doing, write it down as well — maybe someone down the line will find it and learn from that.
Or nobody reads it — there’s some irony in putting this down as a Daily column, like yelling into the student-journalism abyss — but to be honest, that’s kind of comforting too. Does it matter if my thoughts don’t stand up to future judgment if nobody (except future employers — hello!) dives into these archives to judge them?
Either way, it does feel good to put it out there; adding to the record is its own kind of fun.
Contact Stephanie Chen at stephchen ‘at’ stanford.edu.