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In defense of the Standards of Excellence

When news of Theta Delta Chi’s (TDX) un-housing pinged into my inbox a few nights ago, I wondered whether the story qualified as important breaking news, worthy of being sent to every Daily reader at 8:15 p.m.

Upon consideration, I reckon the editors wanted to tap into the campus-wide curiosity that invariably accompanies news that another fraternity has lost its housing. Such news often inspires speculation about what degree of scandal has compelled the revocation of a house, a significant form of social currency and recognition. Yet if we’re so quick to recognize the great power — and surely, therein, the great responsibility — that comes with being housed, why is there so much opposition to an organization being unhoused for meritocratic reasons? More importantly, why is so much of this opposition taking the form of attacks on meritocracy itself, namely by antagonizing the Standards of Excellence (SOE) program?

Despite recent attempts to paint the SOE program as some dystopian ploy to end all frat fun “just ’cause,” the notion that maybe organizations should be earning — not just inheriting — their housing is not a crime against socialization or diabolical bureaucracy. In fact, it seems like a solid attempt to remedy one of the troubling avenues of baseless privilege that prevails on campus — in the very architecture of the school — despite Stanford’s proclaimed commitment to diversity and equality of opportunity.

If our campus is committed to a baseline equality, how is it fair that the vast majority of students must submit to the cruel whims of the draw while a minority of students that are charming (and wealthy) enough to go Greek get prime real estate on the Row? In short, it’s not fair. It’s arbitrary, a remnant of an antiquated status quo. However, SOE seem like a useful way of mitigating, somewhat, the arbitrariness of row privilege.

As a member of Sigma Psi Zeta (SYZ), a multicultural Greek organization that earned its housing at 1047 Campus Drive two years ago through SOE, I am grateful that the University is reshaping row housing to reflect the merit of organizations when allocating scarce spaces on campus.

Every fall quarter, SYZ’s leadership spends hours compiling information about how the organization contributes to the Stanford community through scholarship and service on campus. Our presentation to SOE also delineates how decently our internal and external development processes work. We convey why it’s worth Stanford’s while to have us living together and collaborating as scholars, community change agents and friends. Exceeding expectations on SOE benchmarks has allowed us the immense privilege to have our house for two years. We do not consider ourselves entitled to it and are ecstatic when we earn it for another year.

Given the immense potential, not to mention fun, that comes with a house, I am not unsympathetic to TDX wanting to save its house. Given their longstanding connection to the space, perhaps the fraternity’s experience with the SOE have felt unfair. The SOE program is a demanding process for all organizations that go through it, and more transparency would likely be welcome. This said, SOE ought not be dragged through the dirt simply because a single organization could not meet its standards for not just one, but four consecutive years.

Four years is a long time for an organization to seek clarification on where it continually goes wrong. Four years comprise most undergraduate careers. This should make us wonder whether, even if we grant that SOE could be more transparent, TDX has really had the rug pulled out from under it. While it’s tough that its members only have a few days to craft an appeal to the administration’s decision, it’s important to remember that they are appealing a decision that has been in the realm of possibility for hundreds of days.

Perhaps by only focusing inwards, only towards TDX’s interior reforms in attempt to improve its rating, it might seem unclear why it is losing its house this year. However, SOE is — like most things at Stanford — a competitive application process. Even TDX’s petition to save its house recognizes that SOE measures Greek organizations’ “relative value” to the Stanford community. As such, perhaps TDX is not at fault. Instead, maybe the average performance of other Greek organizations, including those that are currently unhoused, has simply reached new heights and/or has the potential to surpass TDX’s sub-par performance thus far. Failure to earn your place on an increasingly meritocratic Row is not an arbitrary decision, although it might jar adherents of a traditional status quo.

The Standards of Excellence (SOE) program is Stanford’s attempt to give Greek housing privileges a semblance of fairness. And while meritocracy is often unworkable in larger society, one would hope a university campus of all places would aspire to, rather than demonize, it.

 

Contact Megha Parwani at mparwani ‘at’ stanford.edu.

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Megha Parwani

Megha Parwani

I am committed to overthinking everything and then writing about all the things I've been overthinking.