If you haven’t already, I recommend you check out Stanford’s newest social networking venture: a Tumblr page called “That’s So Stanford!” The page, started as a part of Stanford’s Digital Media Internship Program, is best described as cute. It’s full of beautiful photos of campus, heartfelt messages from students about the inspiration they get from other students and other shout-outs to members of the Stanford community. It’s full of those things that you look at and go, “I know exactly what you’re talking about. That’s so Stanford.”
I’m a fan of Tumblr, and I think it’s great that Stanford now has one. But after scrolling through the posts, I found my mind drifting off and thinking about what else could be classified as so Stanford.
There a few things that all Stanford students seem to bond over: the beautiful weather (the number of screen captures I’ve seen that compare the weather here to the weather in Cambridge, where it is 32 degrees, is much too high, and yet every photo has multiple Facebook likes), petitions (this past week has been full of Senate and special fees requests in particular), and our common dislike of TSF letters.
For those of you who aren’t familiar with the acronym, TSF stands for The Stanford Fund, a collective fund of donations made to the University that is used to support financial aid, academic initiatives and students groups all over campus. In exchange for TSF funding, student groups must complete a certain number of volunteer hours, which can be done in various ways such as helping work shifts during important campus weekends, like Parents’ Weekend. In addition, groups must write a certain number of letters and postcards to donors thanking them for their donations, and these letters have become the bane of many students’ existence.
Now, don’t get me wrong — I am extremely appreciative of The Stanford Fund and all that they do for student life here on campus. In fact, I’m a part of two student groups that are funded by TSF, and if it weren’t for the generous donations that we receive, my fellow dance team members and I would have to shell out thousands of dollars to pursue our passion here at Stanford. Thanking our donors through a letter or postcard is the least that we can do.
You see, what bothers me about these TSF letters is the lack of authenticity. TSF letter writing assignments are accompanied by a list of guidelines and rules that tell us how many words we are allowed to cross out, what topics we should touch upon and how our letters should be structured. Students essentially create a template that they use to churn out a predetermined number of identical letters, which are then sent off to donors.
As I sit here, staring at my pile of TSF postcards for the quarter, I can’t help but wonder what goes through an alumni’s head when they open one of our thank-you letters. I’m sure they appreciate the thought, but they must notice that there is something robotic and dry about the content (after all, they are perceptive Stanford graduates). And what about the young alumni who recently graduated from Stanford and remember writing their own TSF letters? I find it difficult to believe that they can truly appreciate receiving one of these letters when they don’t have the fondest memories of writing them. During one particularly long TSF writing session, a friend of mine went so far as to say, “When I donate to Stanford, I’m going to specifically request that no one spend time writing me one of these letters.”
TSF should really consider finding new ways of reaching out to alumni. The Stanford Student Call Center is a great one. I had the chance to spend a few hours there once, and spending a few brief minutes on the phone with a donor felt much more meaningful than a letter, since I was allowed to progress the conversation in a direction that I felt comfortable with. No one was telling me what to say, and I managed to have several nice conversations on topics ranging from my major to my dorm. The conversations just felt genuine, and I’m sure Stanford alumni would really appreciate something more personal than the letters.
That way, they could look forward to hearing from us current students, and when other schools’ alumni express surprise at the personal connection, they can smile and say, “That’s so Stanford!”
Ravali would love to know what you think is so Stanford. Send her a genuine email (no templates!) at ravreddy “at” stanford “dot” edu.