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Opining on opinions: A volume in review

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As this academic year comes to a bittersweet end, the writers and editors of the Daily’s opinions section are feeling quite nostalgic. The past two quarters have incited much campus controversy and discourse surrounding everything from freedom of speech to the rights of graduate students. We have witnessed students rallying around, petitioning on, and writing about intersectional environmental justice and campus worker’s rights, and others tackling salient campus issues by way of cartoon. Our writers have engaged with journalistic ethics and have reckoned with the intricacies of moral philosophy.

And throughout each of these on-campus happenings, the Vol. 255 opinions section has been lucky enough to be situated right at the heart of it all. In thinking retrospectively on what the past volume has had to offer for us, our section has gathered the “best of the best” of everything published from winter quarter (the beginning of Vol. 255) until now. We have carefully chosen those articles which we think best represent the diverse campus zeitgeist, those which inspired conversation and action, and those which had a lasting impact on us and, hopefully, our readers.

Jewish student community controversy

It’s impossible to look back at Volume 255 Opinions without touching on the debate about Jewish student experience on campus. One argument that generated particularly intense debate and a large readership was an op-ed by Ari Hoffman, SLS ’19: “A disgrace in the Valley–Co-sponsoring Anti-Semitism at Stanford.” In it, Hoffman condemned the invitation of cartoonist Eli Valley to campus, arguing that Valley’s artwork is anti-semitic and “so far over the line, so feral and despicable, that words fail.” Hoffman wrote, “For those students who fail to see that this event is an abomination they would never countenance against another group, I despair. The cost of solidarity must never be so steep as to be bought with a hateful coin.” Inspiring both praise and criticism from commentators across the political spectrum, including from multiple student groups on campus, Hoffman’s piece exemplifies how journalism can spark discourse between diverse political identities.

Columnist Sarah Myers also wrote on her experience being a Jewish student at Stanford in “The unbearable loneliness of being Jewish in America.” After reflecting on her Jewish identity as it manifests in conversations with friends, campus politics, and national discourse, Myers concludes: “If there’s a moral to be found here, it is perhaps that non-Jewish people need to care more about hatred, even if it’s directed at “invisible,” “small” minorities.” Her heartfelt and firm writing gave urgency to her argument on behalf of the protection of Jewish community and life.

Campus food insecurity and graduate student life

This volume, we have seen a number of insightful and creative looks at challenges that graduate students face at Stanford. As covered in the News section, high costs of living and studying in the Bay Area without guaranteed housing or a fully comprehensive stipend causes many graduate students to struggle with homelessness and hunger.

As such, we appreciated Courtney Cooperman’s thoughtful op-ed, “Mobilizing an immediate response to campus food insecurity,” which proposes a creative and feasible plan to address campus food insecurity. She reflected, “As a Row house resident, I am struggling to reconcile my comfortable life and close-knit community with the stories of malnutrition, homelessness and isolation that graduate students have so bravely shared in this publication… Mobilizing the Stanford student body around efficient, common-sense responses to food insecurity will provide tangible support for struggling students, generate momentum and highlight the need for further institutional action.” Cooperman exemplifies how op-eds can be at-once critical and constructive by elevating actionable solutions to the problems we confront as a university.

Houses and social life on campus

This volume has also seen a great deal of controversy surrounding Greek and social life at Stanford. Earlier this year, Theta Delta Chi (TDX) fraternity almost lost its housing due to low ratings it received under Stanford’s Standards of Excellence protocol, which is used to evaluate campus organizations — including Greek organizations — on the value they provide to members of the Stanford community. Harrison Hohman’s fiery piece, “TDX and the end of Greek Life at Stanford” discussed the issues with the way SOE was unfairly implemented to TDX in January. He followed up a week later with an article on how SOE is a biased system, with opaque procedures and little to hold it accountable.

Hohman’s commentary on social and Greek life on campus has consistently drawn the attention of students as well as the university administration. This article incited passionate responses from Greek and non-Greek community members alike, and a mere week after his article was published, TDX regained their house and the Office of the Vice Provost for Student Affairs released an email addressing nearly every one of his claims. Perhaps this is a coincidence, but we think Hohman’s writing ability — and the subsequent responses from University administrators — speak to his article’s influence on both campus community discourse and campus administrative politics.

Themed columns

While many of our writers and articles focus on singular, one-off opinions about campus life, our section houses a few themed columnists who write articles in a unified series. Themes like sex life, gender and literature, and philosophy have all found their home in the opinions section and at the heart of campus community — after all, who better to explain the morality of Instagram posting than a philosopher? This volume, Adrian Liu’s column, The Bent, and Melina Walling’s works in Life in Lore have particularly caught our attention.

In The Bent, Adrian tackles some of the most salient campus issues while remaining faithful to the tenets of a good philosopher. His four-part series on flakiness expanded our understanding of Stanford’s particular brand of unavailability, while providing an ethical framework for us to understand one of the most common trends in our college relationships. In explaining how we tackle everyday expressions of hypocrisy, Adrian unpacked the hypocrisy of politics-based shaming for sexual assault. Adrian manages to combine those issues which are most important and obvious to us with those philosophies that are more subtle, less known, yet just as useful. The Bent has challenged readers to think beyond just accepting the events around us as inevitable; instead, it has pushed us to think deeper about our relationships, to consider the consequences of our speech, and to reflect on how our actions contribute to our good life.

Where Adrian writes philosophy, Melina contributes with heartfelt opinions pieces that read as if they are prose and emote as if they are poetry. A true humanist by training, Melina crafts narratives around the place of humanists on Stanford’s STEM-dominated campus, reminding us that the pupils of letters and books are thriving in Silicon Valley. At the same time, Melina’s articles serve an educational purpose and teach readers about the intricacies of historical patronage, the complexities of “feminist” stickers and the sweet luxuries of being able to write poetry. Whether you are a humanist or a scientist, a fuzzy, a techie or a “fluffy,” you will immediately see the care Melina pours into her articles and understand the importance of a robust humanities community on this campus. Where the campus becomes increasingly technology-centric, Melina responds with an important voice of humanistic influence.

Mountaintop

Occasionally, amidst the op-eds focusing on the chaos and controversy of university politics, a piece is published that forces us to reflect on the larger themes of student life at Stanford. “Mountaintop,” by Terence Zhao is a spectacular example of these more general, reflective pieces that was published as part of a set of opinion pieces offering advice to incoming frosh. Zhao’s article highlights the way a student’s imperfect four-year journey, complete with setbacks and failures, frequently can seem like a smooth story arc when packaged into a neat advice column for those still in high school.

“I have no doubt that it was the mistakes I made, the failures I experienced and the detours I took in the past four years made me who I am today,” Zhao writes. “They are there for us to learn and grow along the path that we make for ourselves as we steadily ascend towards the beautiful view that awaits each of us at the mountaintop.”

Zhao’s article was chosen by the administration to be included in the materials provided to all prospective freshman during Admit Weekend. His work was a blend of personal reflection and broad directives, packaged in nostalgic remembrance for his time at Stanford — perfect for those incoming freshman unsure and unaware of the challenge ahead.

Looking back, thinking of the future

We take pride in what our section has published this volume, and are equally as inspired by the opinions submitted to us by members of the community we serve. The incisive and distinctive writings we’ve had the pleasure of publishing speaks to the diversity of thought, eye towards change and inspiring self-awareness of students. As a section, we strive to comment on those issues most salient to life as a Stanford student or affiliate. But we recognize that in doing so, we sometimes fail to capture these issues in their entirety and may lack perspectives that never reach our editing desks.

With this in mind, we are always striving to hear more from you in the upcoming volume… so write to us. Write for us. Pitch your ideas, email our editor, throw caution to the wind and opine on anything that animates you. The “best of the best” only happens with the elevation of ideas and promotion of robust discourse we hear from your mouths, to Stanford’s ears, to all of our pens.

With Daily love,
Opinions writers and editors, Vol. 255

Contact Opinions editors and writers at opinions ‘at’ stanforddaily.com.