In 2004, novelist Tom Wolfe penned the novel I am Charlotte Simmons, lambasting the binge drinking, sexually promiscuous, image-oriented culture of the typical American college campus. Wolfe loosely based the novel’s fictional DuPont University on research he conducted at top-tier universities across the country, including Stanford. When Wolfe returned to the Bay Area later the same year, however, he admitted that few of the novel’s worst depictions of hedonistic valueless co-eds were actually drawn from Stanford: “It was a little too nice,” he told the San Jose Mercury News, adding, “There was nothing going wrong enough to satisfy my mission.”
Wolfe’s cheery assessment of Stanford is actually not too far from the mark. In my first three years at the Farm, I’ve been consistently astounded by the diverse array of opportunities available to students who identify as conservative in any way. Whether you hold conservative values politically, culturally, or socially, Stanford contains a community to fit your interests. The following is just a brief survey of the many opportunities that conservative students of the Class of 2011 may want to take advantage of.
Social Life and Residential Education
Every Stanford student’s college experience begins with a group of enthusiastic upperclass RAs welcoming him to the University by name. This initial encounter with Stanford’s Residential Education pretty accurately reflects the quality of the entire program. Although the folks in charge of ResEd are not infallible, and occasionally will make an unpopular decision, in large part Stanford’s ResEd program is recognized as one of the best in the country.
It makes a difference in the vibrant social atmosphere pervasive throughout the entire student body. As one ’05 Stanford alumnus and Bay area resident explained, “RAs are very involved and sensitive about including everyone and being very welcoming, culturally sensitive and providing alternatives to people with different social preferences…they are creative in coming up with different types of outings.” A typical freshman will have the opportunity to attend the San Francisco Opera; watch the Giants play ball; compete in a scavenger hunt all over downtown San Francisco; learn broomball (ice hockey with the players wearing gym shoes and wielding brooms); and convert the entire first-floor hallway of her dorm into a giant Slip-n-Slide, complete with car wash soap for extra mayhem—and traditionally many do participate, considering the ResEd sponsored activities not only good fun, but an essential part of the Stanford experience. Dorm-centered intramural sports are quite popular, as well as diverse dorm workshops on anything from social dance to massage, arranged by the RAs.
Residential Education programming at other schools can suffer from a perception of “un-coolness” that leads to low participation levels. At Stanford, however, because upperclassmen RAs, HPACs, PHEs and RCCs organize and participate in most ResEd events, they have a very organic feel to them, and students encourage others to participate. For many, the spirit of finding creative ways to have fun that ResEd fosters carries on into their upperclass years. Stanford’s social dance community, for example, is very large and vibrant, and a popular alternative to typical frat parties.
When Tom Wolfe remarked upon Stanford’s squeaky clean image, part of what he was referring to was the conspicuous lack of a binge-drinking culture. Of course many Stanford students consume alcohol just like any other college-age population, but at the Farm many students prefer to find more creative ways to have fun—thus the high levels of participation in social dance and other intramural clubs and sports. Even the drinkers are generally very tolerant and supportive of non-drinkers like me. During my time at Stanford I have only once been pressured to drink, and then half in jest. I had known from my first days on campus that I didn’t view drinking as a form of entertainment, and I found many friends who not only supported that decision but agreed with it themselves.
The Hoover Institution
Contrary to popular myth, the Hoover Institution is not a bastion of neoconservative hawks. In fact, it is not a bastion of any one ideology. The independent and varied nature of the Institution’s funding means that Hoover Fellows are not selected to help promote any single shared ideology, but are free to adopt whatever position they please on current political issues. Institution Director John Raisian actively promotes Hoover’s ideological diversity by inviting scholars of all political stripes to work at the think tank. The result is that political debates among the roughly three dozen resident scholars at Hoover are often more vibrant and dynamic than such debates within the social science academic departments at Stanford.
Hoover’s mission is to “secure and safeguard peace, improve the human condition, and limit government intrusion into the lives of individuals” through its scholars’ research—hardly a partisan ideal, especially with regard to national security. Scholars hail from a wide variety of academic backgrounds, including economics, history, law, political science, and sociology. Some of the best courses I’ve taken at Stanford include courses taught by Hoover scholars.
Hoover’s archives are home to vast stores of underutilized primary source documents that the Institution has accumulated since Stanford alumnus Herbert Hoover founded it in 1919. Official files of the tsarist secret political police document the early years of revolutionaries such as Lenin, Trotsky, and Stalin. The personal papers of General Joseph Stilwell and General Albert C. Wedemeyer offer unique insights into US relations with China during WWII, immediately before the rise of Mao Zedong, that still carry interesting implications for understanding China today. For the past two years, scholars have pored over the recently donated handwritten diaries of Chiang Kai-shek, which provide an interesting counterpoint to Stilwell’s account.
Best of all, over the past three years Hoover has developed a small program to match up eager students with Hoover Fellows looking for research assistants. Since many Fellows do not teach on a regular basis, this kind of work can be a great way to develop a one-on-one relationship with objective-minded scholars who are experts in their fields.
Memorial Church stands as a resplendent testament to Leland and Jane Stanford’s commitment to a well-rounded education of the “whole person” for the common good. Today, Stanford still very much facilitates this kind of education by supporting a myriad of student religious groups on campus. As a freshman, I was pleasantly surprised to discover an active and very vibrant Catholic community at Stanford. At a time when even supposedly religion-influenced schools like Georgetown are banning staffers from outside faith ministries from campus, Stanford fosters such a wide variety of religious groups that students from any faith background are bound to find a group they fit into. Along with more than 20 Protestant Christian fellowships, student-coordinated Catholic, Eastern Orthodox, Buddhist, Hindu, Muslim, Jewish, Bahá’i, Quaker, and Unitarian groups operate on campus. The University-run Office for Religious Life does a commendable job organizing faith-related seminars, discussions, and interfaith study groups.
Last but not least, the Review provides a voice to conservative students of all stripes on campus. Our staffers run the gamut from socially left-wing libertarians to through-and-through conservatives. Weekly Sunday meetings often feature good-humored political banter, and writers enjoy a broad freedom of choice in selecting their article topics. If it sounds too good to pass up, check us out at www.stanfordreview.org or contact [email protected] to be added to our mailing list!
While Stanford has its fair share of left-wingers and across-the-board liberals, opportunities abound for the conservative student willing to take some initiative. Enjoy your first weeks at the Farm and Fiat Lux (“Let there be Light”, the motto of the Stanford Review)!