If someone had told me during my freshman year that I would end up writing an article in partial support of The Stanford Review, I would be surprised — and probably somewhat angry.
Let me explain.
I came into Stanford during a politically quiet year, sandwiched between the height of the Black Lives Matter movement and the election of Donald Trump. During that blissfully serene year, the only significant political turmoil on campus came when the Review dropped a particularly egregious article. For example, this one, arguing that students who help register folks to vote should instead work minimum wage jobs and send all proceeds to the Democratic Republic of the Congo to purchase mosquito nets. No, I’m not kidding.
Of course, there have always been suspicions that the Review was being wrong on purpose — at least some of the time — just to get attention. I, for one, get the feeling that certain Review articles from a few years ago were written to create controversy for controversy’s sake, and I feel like I was rightly peeved about them at the time. I certainly have not warmed to conservative ideas since I came to Stanford — arguably, the precise opposite has happened. However, since the Stanford College Republicans has assumed the role of campus’ primary conservative provocateur, I can’t help but revisit my feelings toward the Review because of how much worse things have become.
Whatever intentions these Review pieces may have been born out of, at the end of the day, they were about some issue of importance in the day. When the Review put out an article on, say, the Dakota Access Pipeline and the Standing Rock protests, it was making arguments on real policy, whether national or campus-related. These are arguments that could be researched, debated, and ones that other folks could respond to, as I did in that particular instance. And in consuming these articles, at least some of the readers will stand to learn something about the issues being talked about — as I did in researching and writing them.
Meanwhile, if there is one thing that unites the many, many, many garbage fires that the College Republicans have started around here just in the span of the past four quarters, it is how vacant of substance the group is after you get past all the drama. The College Republicans are both the instigator and the victim of all of its controversies. It is both the brave maverick in inviting a controversial speaker, but also the injured victim when that invitation is inevitably questioned in any way. The archetypal College Republicans controversy is like a Tommy Wiseau film: self-written, self-directed, self-produced and self-acted. And, as a result, whereas before, we could be arguing with the Review about DAPL, we now find ourselves arguing with the College Republicans about … the College Republicans. They’ve grabbed the spotlight of campus discourse, but in doing so, they’ve edged out actual topics that are of far more substance.
I’m not here to drum up nostalgia for a bygone era of civility and discourse that never existed because the Review was, even in terms of its disposition, not good. For example, it ran a so-called “April Fool’s joke” in 2016 “[demanding] that Stanford builds a wall around El Centro Chicano, and makes MEChA pay for it” — a stunt that is very reminiscent of something the College Republicans might do today.
But, perhaps precisely as the College Republicans assumed ownership of that style of vile stunts and took them to new, death threat-inducing heights, the Review, especially under the latest editor, seems to have gone in a different direction. And as it received less attention with the ascendance of the College Republicans, the Review arguably has gotten better.
“Gotten better” is a weird phrase to use here because, in many respects, the Review is as it has always been in the past. It continues to give conservative groups (including the College Republicans) an unearned platform for their drivel in the publication. And, of course, it continues to publish plenty of articles that are, in my view, simply wrong (see: “Why Women Can (and Should) Support Brett Kavanaugh”).
But, as someone on the left, I’m supposed to find the viewpoints expressed in a conservative magazine to be incorrect. It is perfectly natural for me to disagree with their articles, as I’m sure they will disagree with many of mine. A difference of opinions is not bad; it is, in fact, healthy. And, in its past editorship, the Review has managed to be just that — a healthy conservative voice on campus, healthy in that it is able to express its worldview without any cringeworthy stunts or antics (which, during this time, was the exclusive domain of the College Republicans).
So, as disappointed as my past self may be, I must extend some recognition to the Review in this regard. The surface reason is that the bar is, frankly, not very high. As I’ve said time and time again in this article, the Review is not good; but, the fact that it is not actively engaged in the destruction of basic human decency is (sadly) refreshing.
The Review of today also goes to show that divided politics do not necessarily have to manifest themselves in the ugly forms that we’ve unfortunately seen too much of on this campus. It shows that if we could get past provocateurs who would pull any stunt for attention, we could build a better campus political discourse where we could all say our piece, and still get along afterwards.
Contact Terence Zhao at zhaoy ‘at’ stanford.edu.