“The List”: An Appeal to Stanford Students

I’ll admit it. I am not an athlete. At least not at the Division I, Stanford University sense. My mile time has never blown away the competition, and I don’t have any state titles in my honor. I will never live to see the day I face Michael Phelps in the pool, or return a serve from Serena Williams.

But over my two short quarters at Stanford University, I have met students who have done all these things. And the truth is, while they were off winning national titles, they very well could have also destroyed me on the calc midterm.

Being a freshman at Stanford University is an incredibly humbling experience. I am continually shocked by the amazing accomplishments of my peers—and make no mistake: when I talk about my peers, I make no distinction between those who are athletes and those who aren’t. The truth is, the only objectively identifiable characteristic about athletes at Stanford is that they happen to be athletes…and probably have extremely good muscle definition.

As my editor Autumn Carter just articulately outlined, the article released today by the Stanford Daily grossly misconstrued the alleged “easy course list,” made available at the AARC. Do I believe that the function of journalism is to investigate things like this on campus? Yes. Do I believe they had the right to publish it? Absolutely.

But do I also think the article sensationalized and misrepresented the course list in question? I do. And as a student at Stanford, I am disappointed in this transgression from journalistic integrity. It serves no purpose.

Contrary to what the article outlines, the classes included on the list were classes scheduled such that they could accommodate an afternoon practice schedule, particularly classes with no prerequisites. The classes were not chosen with regard to which were “easier” or not. (And by the way, is it even a useful construction at Stanford to gauge the value of certain subjects based on some subjective debate over what is “easiest” to pass?)

While providing this information to Stanford athletes may be upholding a double standard, we should consider the ethicality of a list like this by considering it for what it is, not for how we can spin it.

To me, this article raises important questions for how seriously we, as students at Stanford, should take ourselves, and our fellow students.

Could it be true that with all the privilege and intellectual ability displayed by the Stanford community, Stanford students still want to regress to the ordinary?

Sensationalist thinking like this deprives readers of a legitimate examination of the truth by deferring to group thinking. As students, we have all heard it before: If you’re smart, you probably don’t have any social skills. If you’re pretty, you’re probably from San Jose State. No truly intelligent student would make the choice to serve their country in ROTC. That person just got in because they’re minority X.

I expect this dogmatic, one-dimensional thinking from people outside of Stanford, but as a member of the Stanford student body, I am disappointed to see this type of thinking institutionalized by our most prolific newspaper.

As a student journalist, I understand wanting a lot of attention for an investigative piece. I understand really wanting to be on to something. I can see that it is exciting for this article to get picked up by ESPN, and to have it create a lot of hype and controversy.

What I don’t respect is the misrepresentation of the Stanford Athletic Department to seek these ends. The hype created by the article, more unfounded than not, did not succeed in starting an informed, inquiring conversation. Instead, the stir that has been created reflects poorly on both our athletes, and on our academic and journalistic integrity here.

Ironically, misrepresenting the truth of the AARC’s course list, however flawed it actually is, undercuts the standard of excellence that Stanford students uphold in all arenas. Investigative journalism should serve the purpose of healthy inquiry that seeks to strengthen the Stanford community by honoring the institution’s integrity.

I guess that as a freshman, I just don’t get the rush to adopt ordinary thinking, especially thinking that slanders our fellow students. This isn’t just about athletes—it is about students in ROTC, religious students, attractive students, basically students who are unique and uniquely talented in more ways than just one.

How can Stanford students continue to challenge and uphold the highest standard of excellence when we adopt a mindset that demands nothing more than the ordinary from ourselves and our fellow peers? If Stanford students defer to this sort of dogmatic thinking, then who sets the example for thinking divergently?

Maybe I’m a freshman and too idealistic. But I think that we as students at Stanford owe it to ourselves and to this institution to grant the students who are unlike ourselves the enormous honor of respect.

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