Op-Ed: A final note on student freedom

Opinion by Brendan O'Byrne
Feb. 1, 2013, 12:42 a.m.

After working over 40 hours a week for a year, the outgoing editors of The Daily get a chance to speak frankly to their readers. I’m going to tell you things I learned after working here full time, interviewing countless students, administrators and members of this community.

I disagree with this campus’s definition of activism. Events are held with the same attendees, focusing on issues that most of Stanford can’t begin to relate to or affect. I think discussion of radical issues is important and useful, but it must be coupled with coalition building and direct action. Student leaders should motivate action, broaden their base and appeal to the undecided. An activist’s most important job is to avoid the danger of echo chambers.

I recognize there is no Vietnam War now – the issues are hazier, the solutions unclear. But the issues exist, both internationally and locally here at Stanford, and we’re ignoring them.

Instead of divestment from Israel, why don’t we start by demanding Stanford make its financial investments as transparent as a public university, so we can see where our money is being spent? This would be better and more popular than focusing on Israel and Palestine, an intractable conflict that we have no control over and that polarizes our student body.

Instead of protesting the ROTC, which only a handful of students attend, why don’t we take interest in the hundreds of layoffs of minimum-wage workers at this university? Or take a look at why East Palo Alto has seen two murders so far in 2013, while across the highway, Palo Alto rarely gets more than two in an entire year?

Or we can focus our energy closer to home. In five years, without a major student movement, the Row will no longer have a house-based dining structure. Administrators have called it “cost-inefficient,” a bureaucratic kiss of death, and serious plans for a dining hall on the Row have already been floated at meetings. It’s only a matter of time now.

We don’t need to look to the future for the issues, however – an indefensible revocation of Chi Theta Chi’s lease and a bad-faith negotiation on the part of University administrators, Suites losing its decades-long tradition of student-run dining, a food truck that donates its profits to charity being forced to leave by a letter from the police, $5.5 million worth of unwanted ID scanners on the Row, a larger police presence concerned with alcohol and a bulky and growing bureaucracy dedicated to making sure Stanford’s image remains carefully manicured. These are all things worth taking action over.

The traditional lines of defense for student freedoms are eroding. The Daily is increasingly handcuffed by an unresponsive, better-funded and obstructionist administration that doesn’t respect the value of an independent student press, and we hold no legal recourses similar to those available at public institutions. The activists rarely seek to mobilize about issues that affect students here, the alumni care but don’t have the time to learn every detail and our student government is plagued by internal inefficiency and lack of student respect.

And at the same time there are parts of this University – namely Housing and Dining, under Residential & Dining Enterprises (R&DE) – that are dedicated to removing student freedom and squeezing more profit from your beds and your meals. Those who actively oppose it – most of whom are not reporters, co-op residents or leftists, but rather just students who enjoy being treated like adults – are tiring, and we are losing.

I tell you all of this because soon, you will hear something that will make you angry. Perhaps you’ll read it in our pages or hear about it from a friend. It will remind you of how students are being infantilized more and more, treated like boarders rather than residents, fed on assembly lines because it is more efficient and faced with more arbitrary restrictions placed on our residences. And you will have a choice to make.

If you choose to ignore it, to say that Stanford is good enough and doesn’t need to be perfect, that people complaining are just whining – if you rationalize rather than react, then it will continue to happen.

But whether or not you identify as an activist, if you believe what I’ve said here and you think it’s important, you must take action. Email administrators about issues you care about, write op-eds in The Daily’s pages, visit administrators’ offices and ask your friends to do the same. Disrupt something. Inconvenience someone. I want you to take a stand on an issue – any issue – and don’t budge until you are satisfied. I want you to believe that this University is governed with your consent, that there are those in this administration who still care what students have to say. You can make a difference in your four years here.

We’ve been getting our asses kicked for the past few years, and we will probably end up on the losing side of this fight. We’re outgunned and outmatched. But if parts of Stanford want to systematically revoke the power of student voices and implement bureaucracy where student-led initiative once stood, we should make it miserable for them and give them hell every step of the way.

It’s been fun editing here. Thanks for reading.

Brendan O’Byrne
Executive editor, The Stanford Daily

For Editor in Chief Billy Gallagher’s farewell note, read here.

Brendan is a senior staff writer at The Stanford Daily. Previously he was the executive editor, the deputy editor, a news desk editor and a writer for the news section. He's a history major originally from New Orleans.

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