Stanford is not for everyone, and to say the opposite is to ignore the problems many groups of students face here. Though I am incredibly grateful for having had the opportunity to study at Stanford with financial aid and am cognizant of the privilege I’ve been granted, I am also severely aware of how the university and its systems are not constructed with students like me in mind. When asked on the survey given to students as they apply to graduate whether I would recommend Stanford to potential students of the same background as me, I answered truthfully: probably not.
Most of us, when asked by outsiders about how we like Stanford, plaster synthetic smiles on our faces, raise the pitch of our voices, and give an incredibly cheerful answer along the lines of “I love it so much! I couldn’t imagine having gone anywhere else. The people here are incredible, and there are so many opportunities. You can’t beat it.” Then five hours later we post anonymously on the Facebook page “Stanford University Places I’ve Cried” about a whole concoction of issues that are common experiences amongst us. There are memes about the manufactured enthusiasm characteristic of Admit Weekend as we do the selling work for the University. But before I sound too jaded, I should highlight my first point: many of us aren’t nearly enjoying the Stanford experience as much as we make it seem — some of us more than others.
At Stanford, I’m a first-generation, low-income student on full financial aid. I am mixed race, a cisgendered female, a senior majoring in English. I’m involved in The Stanford Daily (as you can tell), work for Stanford Center for Professional Development, and before you ask, no, I do not have a job lined up yet for after graduation. Outside of Stanford’s context, I am the oldest of three, though my siblings were adopted and live halfway across the country. I was raised by gracious and giving grandparents, as my mother suffers severe mental illness and faces constant poverty, as well as many other things. My father was never involved. I come from a city that has tent cities (large communities of homeless living together under tents) coupled with unusually high foreclosure and unemployment rates and a high proportion of gang violence and meth labs. I went to a public high school that is underfunded and overpopulated, in which people slip through the cracks and in some cases, barely read by graduation. I’ve faced and dealt with depression and anxiety for eight years. In other words, I’ve had what many would call a rough upbringing, though I know many who have had it a lot worse than I have, some of whom attend Stanford.
I write all this incredibly personal information so that you can gain an understanding as to what my background is. I have overcome much, yet Stanford has been the most difficult to overcome. This is for a variety of reasons, ranging from the academics to the artificiality of Stanford. I want to make it clear what kind of challenges Stanford poses to people like me with the hopes that other students, professors and the administration can think more carefully about what they do and how they do these things, with the added hope that I can prepare prospective freshman with what they could potentially face during life here at Stanford.
My biggest issue with the University is its artificiality and the exaggerated, unrealistic view of life it tends to create. There are multiple phrases thrown around campus that try to get at exactly this, including “duck syndrome” and “the bubble.” It is no secret that Stanford cares a lot about its image, this dedication being both good and bad for its students. In its strive for exterior perfection, the University isolates itself from the rest of the world — even to the point of existing as a city separate from the surrounding Palo Alto. You could, in theory, not step off Stanford’s campus for a whole quarter and have everything provided for you. At first, this seems like a great way to make sure that students have everything they need at a close distance, which I admit is very helpful. Then, you take a closer look, and you realize you’re spending $13 for an average chicken tender combo, or that the large staff in the dining halls where you’re being fed this expensive salmon is being underpaid or that new and somewhat unnecessary buildings are under construction while several students can’t afford textbooks. Or maybe you notice the fountain memorializing the survivor of the Brock Turner assault, the one for which the University refused to accept any of the survivor’s quotes. Stanford works hard to cover things up with pretty, modern band-aids, which encourages the student body to do so as well. There is an overwhelming and inescapable urge to cover-up the reality of life and the problems it produces with things that look good: impressive internships, ground-breaking lab research, darties at Terman fountain, exciting concerts at Frost, famous speakers and visitors year-round, compostable cups and impeccable landscaping. This results in students suffering quietly, thinking that their negative emotions and experiences are unusual to the point that a Facebook page came about that had to encourage people to talk about their emotions and why they are sad. They post on Stanford University Places I’ve Cried about tragedies, but act like nothing happened when you see them in person. Essentially, there’s an artificial experience to life at Stanford that can make it nearly impossible for students to anchor themselves and weather out the storm.
And when you’re a student like me, who gets calls on the weekend about your mother being arrested again or that your family is financially struggling — when reality refuses to be ignored and covered up, the artificiality of your life here refuses to hold you up. Overtime, my experience at Stanford let me build up a false sense of the world, one in which homeless people barely exist, $22 for dinner is the norm, trips to ballets, museums and Tahoe are frequent and people are offered $150,000 starting salary straight out of college. I would let myself forget where I came from and the harsh lives most people go through. As in some mid-2000’s teen movie (Mean Girls anyone?) I was swept up in this false reality, conditioned to live as if I had money, as if I came from money. I grew complacent because I forgot the stakes, I lost that version of myself that worked extremely hard to get to a university that would cover my tuition, because I otherwise wouldn’t have even afforded community college. I lost myself in the Stanford Bubble and its attempt to make everything look nice. On the train back home over spring break, I looked over at a little girl and her tired, young, single mother who had two backpacks stuffed with clothes and realized that that was once me and my mother. That was the moment that I realized what I had let Stanford do to me.
That is why I don’t recommend Stanford to people like me, because in my past four years here, Stanford has consistently done what it could to cover up with quick fixes rather than attempt to solve the problems that its students actually face. It’s a place that makes people believe that they can be anything, then makes it increasingly difficult for certain students to accomplish that, and finally pretends that despite this and the University’s many glaring issues (CAPS, Title IX, treatment of workers, etc.), that everything is okay. Here I am ripping off that pretty band-aid: it’s okay to say no to Stanford.
Contact Arianna Lombard at ariannal ‘at’ stanford.edu.