The OSA: Advocate or Oppressor?

In the final books of J.K. Rowling’s Harry Potter series, Harry, Ron and Hermione learn firsthand the dangers of bureaucracy gone bad when the wizarding world’s central government, the Ministry of Magic, falls under the aegis of Cornelius Fudge. The misguided Fudge lets his fear get the best of him, watering down classes at Hogwarts such as Defense Against the Dark Arts and Care of Magical Creatures in the name of protecting Hogwarts students from unnecessary risk.

These days, Stanford students are battling their own Ministry of Magic in the form of the Office of Student Activities. Ostensibly “dedicated to helping students make things happen by supporting student activities, student organizations, ASSU and fraternities and sororities”, the OSA has struck a sore point among students for more than five years now. The OSA has handed down many unpopular decisions recently, the most publicized being its rejection of time-honored parties and events for failing to meet new registration requirements. But more than any single unpopular decision, students are aggravated with the unprofessional—and sometimes downright rude—manner in which the OSA routinely interacts with students.

The OSA decision-making process is often as murky and tangled as the Forbidden Forest. Students attempting to complete the simplest of administrative tasks receive conflicting and varied instructions from staffers. New club proposals may be deliberated upon behind closed doors for months at a time before hopeful students are handed a flat rejection, with little to no explanation of the reasons behind the rejection.

At the end of the day, the OSA is free to make any decision it likes, and students will more or less have to follow the rules. This wouldn’t be so hard to stomach if the OSA treated students with a minimum level of respect. While most subordinate staffers are quite friendly and even sympathetic to students’ plights, Student Activities Director Nanci Howe is notorious for her patronizing and at times downright disrespectful manner. Criticisms of the OSA are difficult to publish, however, because students fear reprisal against their organization for sharing their stories.

These are not the actions of an organization aiming to “help students make things happen”. Whether or not the institutional personality of the OSA stems from Ms. Howe’s own attitude, Stanford students deserve a student activities office which will actively engage with them to find solutions to challenging situations.

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