A Requiem for the Stanford Social Scene

Opinion by Harrison Hohman
Oct. 15, 2018, 1:00 a.m.

Last Saturday night, I walked alone down Mayfield Avenue. Most of the windows in the row houses were dark, and, but for a distant car or two, the street was silent. It was eerie, spectral even, and a stark reminder of just how much this campus has changed in my own time here. Ask almost anyone who was here only a few years ago, and they’ll tell you the same thing: This isn’t how things used to be.

I remember being able to walk up the same street as a freshman on any given weekend night and see half the houses alight with music and bodies and events. People would open their doors and welcome guests. One could literately hop between addresses, making half a dozen stops before heading back home. Nowadays this couldn’t be further from the truth.

The reasons for this sudden oblivion are many and varied, but their collective effect is unambiguous in its potential to destroy an essential part of student life. At its current pace of suppression-by-bureaucracy, Stanford will become unrecognizable sooner rather than later.

A major and obvious cause of this sudden dearth of social activity on campus is the evisceration of Stanford Greek life that has taken place in recent years. At the end of last spring, Sigma Chi lost its house. Since the start of this year, Kappa Alpha, Theta Delta Chi and Pi Phi have all gone onto probation for reasons of varying validity. And in the winter prior, the University awarded the former SAE (also kicked out) house to both a fraternity and two multicultural sororities (one of whom opted to leave before year’s end), effectively undermining that residence’s ability to cohesively host events.

There now remain only three fraternities left with their own houses and no probation status. This number is not nearly large enough to support the collective social burden of the campus and all its students. As freshmen and other guests are funneled towards the same houses, more negative attention will be forced onto the surviving organizations, and the positive feedback loop will continue to shrink the pool of fraternities that are left.

Amidst this unprecedented wave of suspensions and closures, one can not help but lament the toll this change has taken on the campus nightlife. For decades, fraternities have underpinned much of the social scene here. Yes, co-ops and other row houses hold occasional events, but realistically, few of these have the continuity and wherewithal to continually open their doors to the broader undergraduate community.

Unlike Greek houses, self-ops and co-ops technically cannot collect dues from residents to fund these sorts of ventures or self-select the types of members who are willing to put up with the noise, dirt and damage these events inevitably cause. The result is a campus largely bereft of social venues beyond those few remaining with Greek letters above their doors.

This problem is also compounded by the nature of Stanford and its surrounding area. Unlike many other schools, which have restaurants, bars and true “college towns” frequently within walking distance of student residences, our own campus is not blessed with such an abundance of student-friendly options. Palo Alto is a long bike- or Uber-ride away, but few want to deal with the hassle of getting there just to rewarded with its notoriously exorbitant prices for food and drinks.

San Francisco is even worse. Students are faced with paying either $100 round-trip for Ubers or $14 on a Caltrain that for the foreseeable future won’t even run weekend service to the city. Even if one has the money to go to SF for a night, the logistical restraints from doing so make it difficult if not impossible for all but the most financially and temporally liberated of students.

The on-campus social scene has always served as an antidote to all of the regional stratification — an egalitarian bubble where parties open their doors, and free all-campus events serve as a unifying force on a student body whose proclivities and financial backgrounds are often disparate. The importance of this to the campus’ collective wellbeing cannot be overstated.

I remember the shock of being a freshman, new to California and to college, and being not only allowed but genuinely welcomed into houses all across campus. And once I got there, I saw people from my dorm, people from my classes, people whom I’d only just met and more new faces than I could count, all under the same roof; it was, in a word, thrilling.

But as the University slowly makes it more and more of a liability for organizations to host these gatherings, we’ll eventually reach a point where it is no longer worth the risk of putting them on in the first place. As rules tighten and fewer groups are left with houses to host events, the collective social scene will slowly (if it hasn’t already) be reduced to a shell of its former self.

And just as the Row is becoming strangled by bureaucracy and red tape, the University has begun to tighten the snare in dorms too. Incoming RAs were informed during staff training this year of a new reporting protocol that will erode the traditional trust between student staff and their residents. It counts “drinking games” and “consuming shots” among the list of “high-risk behaviours” that must be discussed in weekly meetings with staff and that can eventually even result in expulsion from housing for offending students.

Beyond their blatant absurdity and ambiguity, the guidelines represent a total abandonment of the traditional “open-door policy” that has encouraged dorm bonding and community building for years. Although the University has promised further improvements and clarifications upon the mandate, substantial changes have not been forthcoming.

Unverifiable rumors on campus hold that all of these attacks are the result of a coordinated effort from the highest levels of the new administration to change the drinking culture at Stanford. Regardless of the validity of those whispers, what cannot be denied is that the enacted changes have resulted in the wholesale gutting of student nightlife.

I’m writing as a senior and therefore with the knowledge that whatever the University’s end game is, I will almost certainly not be a part of it. I fear however, for the younger ones — the sophomores and the freshmen and all the untold future generations that will one day call this campus home.

My time here has been filled with social and personal opportunities that have enriched my Stanford experience beyond belief. For those here in the years to come, I worry that the same will not hold true.


Contact Harrison Hohman at hhohman ‘at’ stanford.edu.

Harrison Hohman is a junior from Omaha, Nebraska majoring in Economics and Iberian-Latin American Cultures. He enjoys sports, politics, music, and other stereotypical college-age interests, and ties far too much of his self-worth to his middling abilities on the pool table . You can find him at Kappa Sig, the Huang basement or the rejected pile at Goldman.

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