Keep Off the Astroturf!

Memorial Church is a classic Stanford landmark. Palm Drive, the entrance to campus, leads directly to the Quad, the center of which is Memorial Church. When I first drove up to Stanford, I passed down Palm Drive and observed MemChu, The Quad, and Frisbee on the Oval. The message I gleaned was: “Welcome to Stanford; may you pursue intellectual, physical, and spiritual balance and growth in this new home.” I understand why Memorial Church is some people’s favorite spot on campus: it is truly handsome and aims to serve many people’s spiritual needs as an interdenominational church.

Despite the reasons to love Memorial Church, I am somewhat apathetic about it. Rather, my “MemChu” is the small courtyard directly to the right, which I’ve heard called the Whisper Courtyard. I love this courtyard for many reasons. Most notably, it is incredibly lush with trees that form a canopy. While in the busy heart of campus, this spot feels like a hidden fairy tale world. In the center of this courtyard there are benches that form a circle. On the ground inside the circle of benches is written, “~ For the troubled may you find peace ~ For the despairing may you find hope ~ For the lonely may you find love ~ For the skeptical may you find faith ~ 1941 Frances C. Arrillaga 1995.” But the best part of the courtyard is what happens when you stand at the very center of the quote. If you speak while standing in the center, your voice will echo in such a way that only you, the speaker, will hear it.

Throughout my four years at Stanford, I have sought out the Whisper Courtyard while confused, elated, or lonely. Standing at the center, I will mutter or declare the concerns of heart and listen to the comforting echo.

However, during my first visit to the Whisper Courtyard this quarter, I saw something that enraged and deeply saddened me. The patchy grass in the courtyard had been replaced with fake grass. This change disturbed me for both shallow and more substantial reasons.

Superficially, the fake grass looks terrible and completely out of place. The difference between it and nearby patches of real grass is stark and laughable; it looks as if someone simply spray painted the ground green. In a courtyard that exists as a lush haven in the middle of a brick quad, the fake grass simply does not fit with the ambiance.

After having thought about this change a fair bit, I think I understand the rationale. While biking through the courtyard, people sometimes bike over the grass, rendering it in need of constant maintenance. To avoid continual upkeep, Stanford decided to make one large investment and lay down this fake, low-maintenance grass.

However, I argue that the existence of this fake grass is far more costly because of its resulting message. The courtyard is about the beauty of authenticity. The quote at the center talks about coming as you are and wishing that you find what you truly need. The grass undermines this message. It tells me it is not okay to feel troubled, despairing, lonely, or skeptical. I must not be honest, even to myself.

Furthermore, the fake grass represents distaste for hard work and a fear of failure. The grass tells me: “It does not matter how something comes to be as long as it looks right in the end.” This is the very principle that encourages students not to care about what they learn in a quarter as long as they receive grades that bolster their GPA; it does not matter if students believe what they argue as long as their arguments earn participation points.

My greatest concern is that this fake grass, possibly unknowingly, welcomes complacency onto this campus. If that is the message we ultimately take away, then I would rather have patchy grass or a dirt patch than this subtle celebration of fakery.

Subscribe to the Stanford Review