The Dudes Abides: At Least It’s an Ethos

Opinion by Zack Warma
Jan. 11, 2010, 3:00 a.m.

If I may, I would like to propose a question for you to gnaw on: Who are you? Simple, terse, yet somehow strikingly elegant, these three words underscore the very foundation of student life and culture at Stanford. Allow me to clarify. I am not asking about your hometown, your ethnicity or your sexual preference, though these do tangentially play a role; what I want to know is your freshman dorm, your varsity or club team, your fraternity/sorority, what VSO you currently run and whether you prefer Stern to Lag Late Nite. In short, my inquiry is actually this: Here at the Farm, what is your identity–what set of masks do you wear for the campus to see?

So long as you have not spent the last several contiguous years living here without end, it is a bit difficult to miss the fact that Stanford exists as a bit, oh, how shall we say, disconnected, from the world at large. I am frankly of the opinion that the Stan feels more like some Zimbardian social experiment, whereby a coterie of twisted psych researchers concocted an alternate realm free of traditional social norms and replaced instead with Synergy, STS and the TOTOTTILSJUMB.

What this means for us pampered inmates is that our lives, the paths over which we tread within Campus Drive, are constructions we (the Stanford community, both past and present) have erected with our own hands. Being an ASSU hack has as little (though probably even less) relevance to society than if you are an Uj CTA or Dance Marathon VP of Development, though all three in some respect carry unique implications that we have invested them with here. I am not arguing that your activities and involvements on campus do not matter; rather, that it is easy to overlook the fact that we inhabit a place that exists very much unto itself and with very few parallels elsewhere.

The Stanford life is continually turned on “repeat.” It bears noting that, with a few notable exceptions, we are not special. In fact, we are marginal replications of archetypes that have passed through this place several times over. If you ever get a chance, go through your freshman year scavenger hunt pictures and then track down the albums of Stanford folks both a few years older and younger than you. When photos taken over a half decade apart look identical, the red flags start to arise.

I get the idea of traditions, really. I’m a history major. But we are not talking about traditions. Instead, those experiences and events that as wide-eyed frosh we are almost convinced are unique and special to just us take on a different light when placed beside the realization of their annual repetition for decades. My freshman year RA had a major impact upon my life and my understanding of Stanford, and currently in his old room is a friend of mine who is RA-ing for the same dorm, with frosh popping in for guidance and company and candy, not unlike what this old fool did two long years prior. Such a realization, while not detracting from my memories, certainly provides a new way of looking back at my time here.

Outside of the occasional presidential election, football upset or campus controversy, Stanford culture operates within an unspoken, albeit highly apparent and relatively predictable, set of norms. The arbiter of long-term success for any and all student organizations and activities hinges on the capacity to provide a sustainable model that can be replicated years down the line. I know that I sound like Waldorf and Statler here (if you know the reference, I’ll bring you to Bagel Day), but chances are that whatever wonderful and dynamic activities dictate your Stanford experience have been doing just that for others before you so many more times than any of us want to accept. We are not some massive state school that makes no claim to puffing up our individuality–here we are told that we are special. However, those grand NSO illusions lose their luster at some point.

My aim is to not depress the hell out of the campus or crush any naïve dreams. The winter gloom, our own respective demons, and the Biocore seem to accomplish that far better than I could ever manage. As the Dude would ask, then, “What’s your point Walter?” The acceptance of our own miniscule and ubiquitous roles at Stanford, I contend, is actually beneficial to succeeding and thriving here. When inane and superficial social demarcations are seen to be just that, unexpected characters and opportunities arise. Discarding prevalent campus tropes makes this strange and utterly bizarre place all the more fascinating. In short, it really ties it all together.

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