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Letter to the Community: Rotten and Wrong (Stanford is)

To my custodial friends,

I feel sad seeing your tired faces. Long and worn like the road you must drive for two hours each morning, afternoon or evening, while I thought my haul across campus was bad.  It isn’t news that workers have to live in not nice areas. That’s happening everywhere, but here it’s severe. This valley is full! Where can anyone live?

Though I think you have it worse, it hurts us students too. We’re students still, but some of us are older than you. We can’t afford it here either. We’re all striving for money, and tuition sucks us dry, and rather than paying for housing some of us are moving into vans.

It’s actually shocking how fast this trend has grown. Look around campus or go down to Skid Row, and you’ll see vans, vans, vans all lined up in a row. I wonder, do the mothers know that their kid sleeps in a van? Or that he can’t buy health insurance even though he has a family, and that he doesn’t know how it’ll all work out, but he’s strong and she’s proud, so he won’t quit.

Everywhere that there are worn, tired eyes we should look at each other and come to realize we stand on common ground. Who benefits from our labor? Who has grown rich while we’ve adapted to struggle? Are we not members of the richest university in the world? On the surface, Stanford shines like pearly white smiles but tries to hide its rotten core. They’re not fooling anyone anymore. To be sure, whoever manages this money has created beautiful things, but shame on them for failing to provide a reasonable life to too many of their own students and workers. Shame on you, board of directors. Shame on you, Mr. President. Shame.

Perhaps they don’t realize what’s happening because they’re so very good at ignoring it. Dressed in their beautiful clothes, nose in the air, it seems so easy for them to walk right by the homeless, more frequent now at Town and County.

At least we students get something from all this. We get to tell the world we went to Stanford. We’ll likely get good jobs, and our friends and family will be proud like when we got our first degrees. Some of us will return for another. We’ll “co-term,” or come back for “advanced J.D./PhD’s,” and we’ll think we’re so clever, but what we don’t realize is that this overqualification in society has happened before: so says philosopher Max Weber about previous bureaucratic civilizations like ancient Egypt and less-ancient France. We must seek higher education to get the jobs that will make our families proud, to maintain the class and status that make our families proud.

We’re stuck doing this and it’s getting worse

We’re all left to figure it out, while doing Stanford’s work

Here’s an idea friends, what do you say, it’s unlivable here, workers live too far away,

the school’s grown like a cancer, and because we have let it,

there’s nowhere to go, the south bay’s at its limit,

but what if there was another way,

what if we found room for houses and filled in the Bay?

— Robbie Harding ’19

Contact Robbie Harding at robbieh ‘at’ stanford.edu.

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