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An ode to student voices

Recently, one of my mother’s friends from her time in college passed away. Among the photographs and memories shared to commemorate his life were old letters he wrote to his friends from college during his time at Columbia Law. He shares memories of sneaking onto roofs and attending Friday happy hours. However, among the joyful memories and comedic tales, Harry weaves a much more salient message.

In his letters, Harry recalls reading profiles of “calculatedly interesting” students in the Law School News. These students had doctorates in molecular biology, traveled to Mongolia and worked abroad in exotic locales. A graduate of Fordham University, Harry found himself surrounded by Ivy League students with a more elite undergraduate educational background than his own during his time at Columbia. He felt unrepresented as a mediocre law student with a non-Ivy League background, and decided to change that.

“I demanded equal time for the mediocre majority — and got it,” Harry writes to his friends in near-perfect script. “They ran a four-column profile of me (complete w/ picture). In it I lambasted Columbia for filling the class [with] Ivy League snobs while ignoring NY-educated students. (‘What does Dartmouth have that Fordham doesn’t? Mooses? Why must someone run away to the middle of the woods before Columbia will take them?’ I asked rhetorically in the interview.)”

Harry writes that the profile made a splash: “It ran under the headline ‘[Harry] strives for mediocrity.’ I’m quite a novelty; I read the News, not the Times, and drink beer, not sherry. I also don’t work too hard.”

Editing Opinions for The Daily, I quickly realized there are some voices that are more frequently heard than others. Like Harry noticed at Columbia Law, most news pieces profile students with astounding professional accomplishments; stories of success garnering more attention than stories of failure or simple day-to-day academic survival. There have also been only a few published op-eds written by queer individuals, people of color and first-generation and low-income students, and there continue to be more op-eds published by men than women.

These less-heard voices of mediocre students, traditionally oppressed minorities and women make up a silent majority of campus. I wonder about this silent majority. I wonder what they are thinking and, subsequently, not saying, or writing.

When ResX proposed a new housing scheme, I wondered what students removed from the tiresome intricacies of University politics may think about the novel neighborhoods approach. When Dinesh D’Souza was invited to campus, I wondered what students who are not in campus political organizations felt about his invitation and speech. And when Georgia and Alabama passed restrictive abortion legislation, I wondered what a random selection of Stanford students thought about the controversy.  

I am proud of the work the Opinions section has done to incorporate multiple voices when talking about controversies in the Jewish community and within Greek Life. I am proud of the columns from queer individuals, Asian Americans and Jewish communities members. I am proud of the discussion of mental health issues that raised public understanding of topics, including depression and eating disorders. However, I want more: more diversity of voices, more diversity of experiences — not just in the Opinions section, but also in the News, Grind and Arts & Life sections.

We need more people who do not feel their current voices and experiences are being heard to write in to The Stanford Daily or speak to Daily staffers about their opinions and experiences — much like Harry did all those years ago when he demanded more coverage for the mediocre student.

Contact Claire Dinshaw at cdinshaw ‘at’ stanford.edu

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