Last year was tumultuous. From reforming Stanford’s sexual assault policies to Black Lives Matter and from divestment to diversity, Stanford students spoke their minds on a variety of issues. In response, the University has introduced OpenXChange, a program intended to “introduce and promote community conversations on issues of national and global concern as well as those closer to home,” according to the email President Hennessy and Provost Etchemendy sent to the Stanford community over the summer.
The Editorial Board is cautiously hopeful about what OpenXChange can offer, but remains worried about the implementation of the program. There are many areas in which the University’s efforts can be improved: Stanford’s environmental efforts, campus diversity, the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, sexual assault and support for low-income students, to name a few of the key ones. On some of these issues, the education and dialogue OpenXChange aims to provide is what is needed. On others, however, dialogue has gone on for too long. We believe that OpenXChange will be most successful if the administration in charge is able to distinguish between topics where more discussion will help and areas where action is needed. However, it is important the University implement this program through a bottom-up approach and not a top-down system.
Of initial concern is that many students are still confused about what OpenXChange entails. So far, Vice Provost Harry Elam’s community outreach has been promising. He has gone to dining halls and met with people from student government to discuss student goals and hopes for OpenXChange. Last Monday’s Listening Dinner reached 200 students and staff, an impressive first step. But it is disconcerting that, despite a fancy website, the goals of what has been presented as a communication initiative have not been clearly articulated and widely distributed.
From what has been revealed so far, we know that OpenXChange aims to facilitate discussions between members of the community, including students and the administration. Some events hosted by OpenXChange will be more educational in their nature and offer a panel discussion that offers a variety of points of view; others will focus on getting student input on University policies. A few will revolve around discussion where high-ranking University officials explain to students the reasons behind contentious University decisions.
These community conversations should have the proper balance of Education, Listening and Action.
In early November, OpenXChange is having its first Open Office Hours in response to climate change. This is an issue that could in fact benefit from additional discussion. The vast majority of the Stanford community acknowledges the severity of climate change, but there is less consensus about how to combat it. Last year, a student vote to divest from fossil fuels passed by a large margin, but the University decided to divest only from coal.
For decisions like these, providing an explanation would help educate and engage the student body. Administrative officials could have town halls and take student questions about their decision to not fully divest from fossil fuels. The reality is that there are economic tradeoffs to divestment. Additionally, the University is taking strong actions to dramatically reduce its carbon footprint, an effort that will arguably have more impact than divestment would. Students are certainly entitled to reject this rationale and demand further divestment, but there is a reasonable conversation to be had about what is the best way for Stanford to devote its resources to protect the environment.
On an issue like support for minority groups on campus, there is less room for debate. It’s time for action. For example, students have long been concerned over the woefully low number of minority faculty members, and it is frankly disappointing that this is still an unresolved issue. Students have made their needs clear, and University administrators should listen and take action now. This is not something that should require educating students about the importance of diversity, or holding listening tours so administrators can hear once again how difficult it can be to never have a professor who looks like you. In this case, more dialogue is not the remedy.
If, as students, we are going to make demands of the administration, however, we must also do our part. So far, a lot of the campus reaction has ranged from disinterest to disgust about what OpenXChange purports to offer. We would like to caution students from overreacting and being too quick to judge OpenXChange. To succeed in college and the world, having an open mind is critical. It is ironic that some students are viciously attacking what others argue is one of their best avenues to pursue change in the University. Don’t get mad, get even — push OpenXChange to give you what you need.
OpenXChange has the potential to heal, or at least address, the wounds from last year. It is now incumbent on both the students and administrators to make this program. As members of the Stanford family, we are capable of achieving extraordinary feats. If we put our minds to making OpenXChange work, it will.