Mixed Messages from the Top

What makes the Stanford experience so unique, and distinct from other peer institutions? An underappreciated – yet critical – element of so many positive Stanford programs: the trust and responsibility given to students by the administration. Yet despite being given an enormous amount of latitude in many respects, Stanford students are often faced with inexplicable administrative barriers. It leads one to question how we are viewed by University officials: mature adults, or feckless children in need of handholding.

Consider for a moment Stanford’s Residential Assistant program, which places juniors and seniors on the front line of defense against mental depression, and empowers them to create a safe and healthy atmosphere for some 20 residents. You would think that, conferred such distinctly “adult” responsibilities, an RA hosting an event with a bounce house would be considered relatively “safe” by the University.

Yet housing officials consider this type of activity a hazard, leading to an inexplicable double standard: the men and women who are entrusted with students’ mental and physical well being are not deemed competent enough to host a bounce house event without injury. Imagine explaining that one to the parents.

Look no farther than the recent decision to change the class drop deadline to make things “less confusing” as an example of this curious double standard. Students at Stanford are among the most talented in the nation, and have clearly been able to swim the complicated waters of deadlines and future planning throughout their lives.

Yet somehow we are deemed unable to comprehend a relatively simple system of deadlines, which is downright trivial compared to something such as a college application process (which Stanford students clearly were able to comprehend). Furthermore, it isn’t even clear that a statistically significant population of students was sampled to arrive at the conclusions prompting the switch, essentially resulting in a “big brother knows best” scenario.

Stanford’s alcohol and party policies are also full of inconsistencies. Stanford’s alcohol policy can liberally be described as “hands off”: everything from drinking games to hard alcohol can be found in public and private spaces in dorms practically every day of the week (these activities may not be technically allowed, yet usually occur unchallenged).  Fundamentally, there is an enormous amount of trust placed in students to handle substances responsibly, and to take care of fellow students.

Yet when organizations attempt to throw responsible parties, where the flow of alcohol is more regulated and thus less dangerous, this trust ceases to exist. Fraternities are often forced to jump through regulatory hoops designed to minimize the number of parties, and in some cases even result in cancellations of Stanford traditions (think Sigma Nu’s Moonsplash).

So which is it, Stanford? Are we to be treated like adults, and given opportunities to demonstrate that we are responsible and mature individuals? Or will we continue to be treated at times like little children, unable to perform even the most basic of tasks without coddling and unnecessary precautions? Students often find themselves torn between outrage and resignation as they are constrained by administrative red tape, even as they take on responsibilities far above and beyond those afforded to them by the University.

To think, Stanford students are empowered by the University to manage millions of dollars in board dues in houses on the Row. We are given the responsibility to try our peers for alleged violations in the Honor Code and Fundamental Standard. We have an independent student body government, which is self-funded by student-run enterprises. We have proven ourselves a trustworthy bunch, and deserve a more uniform and trusting University policy.

In today’s litigation laden world, it is truly unique for students to be given the responsibilities available to Stanford students to take on. We posit that these experiences contribute to Stanford’s educational value in a significant way, and Stanford students have proven time and time again that they are up for the challenge. The administration should keep in mind that seemingly innocuous policy decisions can result in significant intrusions in student life, and can create an insulting double standard that jeopardizes one of Stanford’s unique educational characteristics.

Unsigned editorials represent the views of The Stanford Review‘s Editorial Board and do not necessarily reflect opinions of The Stanford Review or its staff. The Editorial Board consists of the Opinion Editor, the Executive Editor, and the Editor-in-Chief. To submit a letter to the editor or guest op-ed, please e-mail our Opinion Editor, Matt Sprague, at mattfs@stanford.edu.

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