The Stanford social scene is dead — or, at the very least, on life support. The case for that claim is obvious enough to anyone with eyes and a few free hours on a weekend night. The case for why it should be kept alive, however, is a different one, and as far as the university is concerned, a much more difficult one to make.
In recent years, the administration has played a direct and proactive role in this slow degradation of campus nightlife. The higher-ups within this body tend to view the social scene through the lens of the statistics thrown at them during their weekly Tuesday morning meetings: MIP’s, transports, arrests. One can almost understand how, when witnessed only through this prism of data and delinquency, these decision makers could genuinely find merit in the slow strangulation of all that is fun.
What the bureaucrats so consistently fail to understand however, is that the value a social life brings to a campus an inherently unquantifiable metric. And try hard as they may, the university will never be able to regulate away students’ desires to explore the newfound freedom so essential to the American college experience. People will still want to meet new faces, to go out, to drink with their friends. This is an immutable truth.
The system as it currently exists is a far more manageable and egalitarian one than that which will arise should the trend of targeted condemnation continue.
One obvious starting point is that of money and equity. Relative to other schools, there are incredibly few financial barriers to having a social life at Stanford. All-campus parties are free, fraternities and sororities employ robust financial aid programs and there is generally a “don’t discuss it” attitude toward wealth and social standing. If the pipeline of campus social events were to be totally closed off tomorrow however, these discussions would quickly become much more uncomfortable.
Inevitably, a certain percentage of social activity would shift toward the surrounding Bay Area and its smattering of bars and nightclubs. Your average student will simply not be able to afford these excursions on a regular basis. If you think things are already separated by race and class, just wait until we have to filter out everyone who can’t pay $14 for a mojito at The Patio. Those with money will self-segregate and those without will be relegated to four years of listless weekend evenings and pumpkin painting workshops with Cardinal Nights.
Beyond the obvious financial barriers, shifting things toward Palo Alto presents its own host of problems. All those MIP’s, hospital visits and drunken misdemeanors that the university already frets over so much will be shunted beyond the gates of campus and onto the schools’ neighbors.
In the relatively sequestered bubble of Stanford, these antics tend to fly under the radar. The campus safety department takes care of things and the outside world is mostly oblivious. When, however, the Palo Alto police and the famously overbearing parents of the town get involved, that relative anonymity will no longer keep these things out of the light of day. The relationship calculus between the university and its neighboring town, historically an amicable one, will change dramatically. Something tells me that Palo Altans won’t take too kindly to the public urination, loud noises and beer cans-littered streets so visible at other traditional college towns.
There is also the question of oversight. Currently, the university can play an outsized role in how social events are planned and executed. They force the implementation of certain preventative measures, including the checking of SUID’s, registering of all social events, blocking of alternative entrances and dangerous spaces (read: roofs) and banning of hard alcohol and other substances. If fraternities or other groups fail to comply, they will become subject to the administration’s byzantine probation policies, as a number of houses have recently found.
The elimination of a cohesive, on-campus social scene will do away with all of this. Nightlife will splinter entirely: bars in Palo Alto, drinking behind closed doors, secret events and the wholesale fracturing of what was once a reasonably united student body. The police and residential staff will not know what to expect or where to focus their efforts, gatherings will be smaller and the the undergraduate community will no longer share common and collective social outlets and events.
Beyond the external effects of all this — the questions of equality and risks of fracturing campus life as it currently exists — we must also consider the wellbeing and happiness of the students here.
Stanford is a high-pressure, high-stakes place. The constant stresses of studying for exams, finding jobs and internships, competing against spectacularly talented peers and simply navigating through the college years can feel like a herculean task, and even a hopeless one — a sentiment that feels especially true if there exists nothing to look forward to at the end of a taxing week. Waking up day after day and struggling through these challenges simply isn’t possible without something on the horizon worth looking forward to.
For myself and countless others, campus nightlife has always been the answer to that void. The promise of seeing my friends, forgetting even briefly about all the stress and angst, and having a fun night out has been an invaluable tool in the constant battle we students rage against apathy and dejection. Without such things to look forward to, every facet of student life will become a less fulfilling and worthwhile version of its previous self.
Quantifying the value that the social scene brings to Stanford is an impossible task. It’s meeting new faces at a party in your dorm; it’s howling laughter at Wilbur brunch while discussing the night before; it’s fountain hopping at 3 a.m. and quiet conversations and raucous karaoke and a million other moments and memories that make it all the hard times worth it. If that’s not something this school needs to protect, I can’t imagine what is.
Contact Harrison Hohman at hhohman ‘at’ stanford.edu.