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The myth of Stanford student culture


Irreverent. Wacky. Intellectual. Miserable, disaffected, peaked-in-high-school types itching to drop out and start the next Google/Instagram/Theranos-without-the-illegal-activity. Before coming to Stanford, my head was filled with all of the things I thought that its students would be like. It informed the classes I chose and the conversations I had, and most of all, it made me terrified and regretful and uncomfortable about starting here. The uncertainty of “fitting in” was at the forefront of my mind. 

Then the school year started, and all of these assumptions were turned on their heads. For every bit of information I’d heard about Stanford, there was at least one new acquaintance who proved it wrong. Don’t get me wrong: there’s no question that duck syndrome and stress culture are distinctive pieces of campus life. But it seems that so many people are hyperaware of this aspect of Stanford, and this awareness is always followed up by a rejection or an attempt to combat it. How can culture be something that everyone resents?

Another assumption I had was put into words by a professor this week: “Stanford is a factory for excellent sheep who hop onto a conveyor belt that ends at a high-paying Silicon Valley job.” It’s taken as a given that these sheep have little consideration for their social impact. It’s easy to look at Stanford from the outside and assume this, but dig deeper — the CS majors I’ve met are also writers, performers and advocates for social justice. During NSO’s Three Books presentation, the only student question that garnered applause was one about the effects of Silicon Valley startups and Stanford graduates on underrepresented, underserved communities. The vast majority of students are deeply concerned with knowing and doing what’s right.

So far, everyone that I’ve asked for advice has said the word “community.” Find a student group, find friends in your dorm, even find a faculty member. Find the place where you can be yourself and others will celebrate and love that version of you. The diversity of backgrounds and identities here means that there’s a space for every person that you can make your own and that has a culture you understand and fit into and want to be a part of. 

To me, community is what really defines Stanford culture. The Stanford that one person attends can be completely different from another student’s, and this makes it near-impossible to lump everyone into a box or within the umbrella of culture. All of the things that I’d expected to characterize Stanford turned out to be untrue, but in the process of trying to understand this school I’ve also discovered my own meaning of community. Everyone’s journey of finding theirs is a much more accurate representation of Stanford culture than sheep on a conveyor belt or chasing around the band after dark. It’s no easy task, but at the end of the day, it’s revealed that the sum of Stanford’s parts is much, much greater than the whole.

Contact Miranda Liu at mirliu ‘at’

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