Views from the Sixth: Six Things I Can’t Believe Stanford Still Hasn’t Fixed

Opinion by Anaxi Mars
Oct. 20, 2019, 8:51 p.m.

Stanford is always a work in progress. Once-cherished buildings fall into disrepair and turn into dusty old relics begging for a replacement. A shower head in our dorm breaks, and a new one takes its place within the next day. The institution replaces old, obviously broken general education requirements (Introduction to the Humanities, or IHUM) with bright sparkly new ones (Thinking Matters), which soon garner their own criticisms before going the way of the Dodo. Over time, it becomes clear that the things we were once so proud of and worked so hard to build are now broken, and are in dire need of fixing.

What does it take to get Stanford to fix something blatantly broken? Sometimes solutions are incredibly simple — tighten this bolt, nix that rule — while others require much more than submitting an online Fix-It request. If the recent lesson of CAPS is taken to heart, a lawsuit is probably your best bet. Years of executive slates, ASSU senators and even class presidents ran on platforms of overhauling CAPS and mental health policy on campus. Year after year, little more than token concessions were made, with the following year’s candidates left to parrot their predecessors. Prolonged student outcry fell on deaf ears as Stanford dragged its cement-laden feet, repeating its tired excuse that the money just wasn’t there, that these structural changes aren’t viable, and so on. When several brave, tenacious students finally filed a class-action lawsuit, the money appeared as though from thin air, and the policy changes that were once impossible have now become the foundation of the University’s plans moving forward. CAPS would have been number one on this list, but thanks to these students the verdict will be decided by my freshman and sophomore readers, who might be better judges in the future of the success of newly-implemented changes.

In honor of my six years on campus and the recent news on CAPS and mental health policy, we’ll be taking a look at six things I can’t believe Stanford still hasn’t fixed since my freshman year. While I could admittedly be posing solutions instead of remaining smugly content as a sarcastic critic, I figured that Stanford already spends millions of dollars to cook up solutions like Cardinal Conversations. Until I see some of that, this is as much free labor as they’re getting out of me. And besides, I’m the old man sixth year. Just let me wave my cane and complain about the fact that Kappa Sigma doesn’t host a bingo night.

1. The History Corner roundabout

Forget the one by the clock tower — this is the true circle of death. This place is a deathtrap. Trying to bike through here at class time is like being thrown into a washing machine filled with knives and hammers. When busy students can be persuaded to slow down here, the intersection gets more backed up than a frosh dorm sink after Eurotrash (throwback to my first year when the entire first floor of Donner flooded after someone vomited in the sink, clogged it and left the water running).

Back in my freshman year, we had just four roundabouts on campus: two near the clock tower, one on Escondido and this monstrosity. By my count, Stanford has built at least seven more, but this thing has somehow remained completely untouched. I see traffic cameras put up here every year, so Transportation has to know how bad it is. How many accidents happen here every day? 

I get it — out of all the things on this list, this might be the hardest to fix: It’s better than the old four way stop, and expanding the size of the circle means that you’d have to redo that whole nice line of bricks on Jane Stanford Way. But make no mistake: This thing is the worst.

2. The WiFi

One of the things I was most looking forward to as a pre-frosh was the mythical Internet connectivity of Stanford, located at the heart of Silicon Valley and this brave new connected world. “The connection is going to be so cutting edge! Best in the world, blazing fast, always reliable, oh golly oh man!” Of all the pre-frosh urban legends, this one might be the most naive. The Internet here is notoriously unreliable, and anecdotes of its failures range far and wide. In Gates, I’ve sat beside the plaque celebrating “The Birth of the Internet,” only to open my laptop and find the Internet down again. Last year in Hammarskjold, it was a daily occurrence for the Internet to malfunction, and for all work to cease, for ten minutes at a time. At least the downtime made us socialize.

The first time I remember using the Internet was 2002. Rutherford B. Hayes was still President, dinosaurs still roamed the Earth and the only connection available in rural East Texas, where I grew up, was dial-up. This is important for two reasons. First, the connection was slower than Stanford’s response to changing CAPS. If I wanted to load the Yahoo! homepage, I could grab water or stop to watch the sunset and still make it back with 10 minutes to spare. Second, it meant that if I wanted to use the Internet at all, I had to connect using the phone line. Enjoying RuneScape with my friends? Too bad, mom’s expecting a call, so get off the line. 

Why do I tell you this? Because sometimes the Stanford WiFi makes me miss dial-up.

3. The Chanel Miller plaque

The Brock Turner case happened my freshman year, and while the plaque is a more recent development, it has been long enough that I’m going to count it. There’s been enough ink spilled on this one. Anything I can say, others have said better. Chanel Miller sparked a national conversation on sexual assault and the privilege that protects its perpetrators. She empowered survivors globally and brought a voice unlike any other to the pursuit of justice. To quote Professor Michele Dauber: “Someday that plaque will be there. It will either be now, when this faculty can take credit. Or later when this faculty will be blamed.” Chanel Miller deserves better. Survivors deserve better. Stanford can do better. 

Of all the things on this list, this might be the only one I can call a disgrace. Put up the plaque.

4. The fountain outside Lagunita Dining

My first two years, empty fountains were a sad but common sight. Stanford shut them off in a symbolic stand against the drought, all the while using 800,000 gallons of water a day to keep the lawns green. When the fountains were turned back on late my sophomore year, bringing so much life and fun and joy and beauty, all of campus was ecstatic. The Claw, Terman, the red hoop out by Green — my friends and I explored all the fountains with childlike delight and wonder … with one exception. When we showed up in front of Lag Dining, there was just a giant white hole in the ground with a few pipes scattered around. Oh well, maybe they’ll turn it on in a few weeks!

Nope. Four years later, still a giant hole in the ground. Still a few pipes. Still no water. One of my friends submitted a fix-it request in Winter 2018, and was told by the building manager that it’s on a potential future projects list. Maybe if I’m lucky, I’ll get to finally see it in its full glory when I come back for my 25th class reunion.

5. Fossil fuel divestment

If my earlier spiel on CAPS has you wondering about how much Stanford cares about its dialogue with students, look no further than Fossil Free Stanford. They’ve been fighting the good fight for years now, pushing for Stanford to get rid of its investments in oil and gas companies. And for a minute, it looked like things were finally coming to a head. Here are two Daily headlines: “Fossil Free Stanford stages sit-in, rally at president’s office” and “Fossil Free Stanford predicts divestment by end of academic year.” Students camped outside of the President’s Office, refusing to leave until Stanford took action on its unethical investments, most of the student body on its side. It’s a good thing Stanford threatened them with Fundamental Standard violations and got them to leave early, because these headlines were from 2015 and early 2016.

President Hennessy was at least kind enough to meet with the protestors after threatening them into compliance. The Board of Trustees listened to their petition, and told them in very thoughtful, kind and deeply respectful words to please just buzz off already. Every year, Fossil Free Stanford rallies a sizable part of the student body, gets alumni to pledge not to donate, and otherwise makes its voice heard on campus. Every year, Stanford ignores them. Every year, Stanford still should have done this five years ago. For now though, climate change is clearly someone else’s problem. The Board of Trustees hasn’t listened to the drought that shutoff the fountains, nor to the wildfires that delayed Big Game, nor to the repeated failures of the campus cooling systems. Why do we continue to hope they’ll listen to the students?

Still, it’s worth a shot. Fossil Free Stanford is hosting weekly sit-ins at White Plaza on Fridays at 12 p.m. Roll through.

6. The men’s basketball team

As a former Tree, I’ve endured a lot of heartbreak in my time as a fan of Stanford athletics. But nothing breaks my heart quite like Stanford men’s basketball. We’ve been a year or two away from contending every year for six years now. We’ve spent year after year in mediocrity and squandered years and years of talent. Tired of our middling status, we fired Johnny Dawkins and replaced him with Coach Haase, who’s now in his fourth year at the helm. He’s recruited well, but winning hasn’t followed, despite my high hopes. Instead, the only time I got to root for Reid Travis in the NCAA tournament was when he transferred to Kentucky. We were bad last year, and our outlook this year is even worse. We’ve lost a solid senior to graduation in Josh Sharma, and our best player, KZ Okpala, was just traded to the Miami Heat after being drafted by the Suns. Meanwhile our top recruit from last year, Cormac Ryan, spent all summer in the gym lifting weights and transferring to Notre Dame. 

To be fair to our Men’s Basketball team, they’re not terrible. They’re average. This wouldn’t be a big deal if we were at any other school. However, compared to the rest of our athletic department, this team is an outlier. Every single other Stanford athletic squad is perennially ranked in the top 25 of its sport (with the exception of softball), and in many cases this is an understatement. Meanwhile, the men’s team hasn’t even made the NCAA tournament — loosely representing the top 68 teams in the nation — since 2013, which at this point was before even my time.

I’ve been waiting for five years. I’ve spent too long watching us get blown out again and again, and I still have nightmares about losing to Eastern Washington at home. Somehow, I still have faith that we can right the ship. Coach Haase, Daejon Davis, please — I’m begging you here, give me one good season before I go.

Correction: A previous version of this article stated that the cited Fossil Free coverage articles both came from 2015. One was published in late 2015, while the other was published early 2016. It also stated that KZ Okpala was drafted by the Heat, but Okpala was actually first drafted to the Suns, then recently traded to the Heat. Finally, the article has been updated to reflect the fact that softball is also not ranked in the top 25 of its sport. The Daily regrets these errors.

Contact Anaxi Mars at anaxi ‘at’

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