A popular perception about Stanford is that an overwhelming majority of students are left-leaning, and that Stanford’s conservative population is limited to a few small enclaves in the Hoover Institution and certain campus groups. (Of course, that idea is oversimplifying. The last time I heard, the Stanford Conservative Society had more than 550 members.)
But over the years, I have come to a slightly different conclusion. I like to say half-jokingly that Stanford’s political spectrum can be divided into three parts. The first group is extremely left-wing and they proudly organize rallies, carry picket signs, and perform stunts in classes. The second group is explicitly conservative or libertarian and they proudly wear the label on their sleeves. The third group—a silent majority—generally toe the liberal line and sign some petitions while at Stanford. But after they graduate, they become successful and their success changes them.
Stanford students are a lot more pragmatic than most outsiders might perceive them to be. Think about the classmate who circulates anti-capitalist “Sweat-Free” petitions during spring classes, but marches off to do an internship at Goldman Sachs or JP Morgan the following summer. Or the kid who marches for “living wages” one day, but the next day correctly answers his economics exam question on the minimum wage. Think about last spring’s “Condival” protests depicting Condoleezza Rice as a war criminal. Then think about all the students currently lining up for Professor Rice’s winter class.
Even the socialists are more pragmatic then they let on to be. Nowadays, Marxism is such a pose that once you engage one in sincere discussion, there’s half a chance you’ll find that he is planning to apply to Harvard Business School’s 2+2 Program.
As Batman likes to say, “It’s not who I am underneath, but what I do that defines me.”
Stanford students are capable, energetic, and ambitious. Most of them don’t plan to become hippies and revolutionaries when they leave college. On the contrary, a silent majority choose to focus on sensible things that most students care about: keeping a high GPA, filling one’s resume with sound extracurricular activities, applying for scholarships, and planning for job interviews or graduate school. In other words, most Stanford students are guided by common sense, not political idealism.
Yes, the Stanford community predominantly defines itself as liberal or left-leaning—and people do circulate petitions once in a while. But on the whole, students’ actions suggest an incrementalist approach to life. A belief in the soundness of our institutions. A natural desire for prosperity. A fundamental conservatism of character. And that is not always a bad thing.
Chris Seck, Editor-in-Chief