The point of an opinions section

Opinion by Adrian Liu and Claire Dinshaw
May 1, 2020, 12:29 a.m.

At the beginning of spring quarter, The Daily’s opinions section welcomed a new group of writers into our fold. In discussing with our new members the process of writing and revising opinions articles, we were forced as editors to confront more explicitly the question, “What is an opinions article?” 

It is a pertinent question to consider now. Since COVID-19 began to concretely affect the Stanford community in early March, we have worked tirelessly alongside the rest of The Daily to publish perspectives, arguments, petitions and open letters about the coronavirus, its effect on us all and the response from both the administration and the community. The tone of the opinions section has changed: Where in the past, perspectives on myriad topics might be found on any given day or week, the section now feels more focused, more urgent. 

Part of this focus is because nearly all of the 80-some articles we’ve published since early March have been about the pandemic, in one way or another. But the pandemic has also forced attention on what was already essential and important: issues of treating workers justly, caring for the most vulnerable, defending crucial political systems, questioning the tech-focused response in our backyard. 

Questions of what is essential, made salient by the pandemic, have been the focus of the opinions section, and as we pour hours a week into maintaining the smooth functioning of the section, the question, “What is an opinions article?” dovetails with the question, “What is the point of the opinions section?” 

A look at the opinions published in national newspapers does not necessarily answer this question. The New York Times opinion section, for example, has been publishing upward of 20 articles a day. While there is always an important perspective or two, it is easy to tire of the churn of columnists speculating on the latest news cycle, the editorial board giving its latest take on how governments, institutions and individuals should respond, scholars coming out of the woodwork to explain how their theory applies to the crisis or how their plan can solve it. Taken individually, the articles are strong. As a whole, it is often unclear why we are hearing from this particular politician or academic, and also unclear what audiences are being addressed (and by the same token, which audiences are being ignored). 

It is perhaps in this chaotic media environment, where it seems as if everyone is talking and no one is listening, that the role of The Daily becomes the most clear. The Daily may not reach a national audience, or command the subscribers of national newspapers, but we do speak to and for one defined, clear audience: the Stanford community.

The voices of opinions are situated resolutely within the community. There are faculty and researchers, like Mohit Mookim and Rob Reich, who cite Reich’s research in philanthropy to urge Stanford to pay its workers. There are graduate students like Thomas Slabon, who brings his experiences as a graduate TA to bear on a powerful perspective on our Satisfactory/No Credit spring quarter. There are undergraduates of all class years, like Chloe Chow ’23, who compares coronavirus racism with the way Asian women are portrayed on TikTok; Lora Supandi ’21, who writes on the importance of Bernie Sanders’s campaign to the disenfranchised and oppressed; and Ethan Chua ’20, whose numerous op-eds have consistently pushed the administration in the direction of equity. There are even the voices of those who have only recently been admitted speaking out in favor of protecting subcontracted workers.

If the answer to, “Who is writing opinions?” can be traced back easily to the campus community, so can the answer to, “Who is the audience?” Our audience is the campus community from which the voices arise, and this comes through in the way our articles are framed. Even when articles are not direct calls to action, many of us, as Stanford students, faculty, staff and other affiliates, are in a position to listen and consider how an argument might apply specifically to us.

When Nik Marda and Jason Zhao advance arguments against overly technological approaches to the coronavirus, the audience includes an engineering community that has arguably become the center of the University. When Jessica Mi documents the racial homogeneity in the Department of Earth, there is a call toward affiliated administrators and students to heed this more closely. When Conrad Milhaupt and Noah Sveiven talk about local and service-oriented modes of engagement, they address a student body with the drive, abilities and opportunities to be convinced and to reconsider their careers. Our opinions section is thus here to address matters specific to the community, issues under our noses that the Stanford community tends to ignore, ways of thinking that have found their way into our campus culture, and possibilities open to those at Stanford in a much more real way than most possibilities are to most people. 

Our section is nothing without its staff writers as well as its op-ed contributors, and part of the point of this article is to welcome submissions from more members of the Stanford community. We write this not only to celebrate the importance of opinion writing in our community, but also to invite more. Of course, there are countless opinions and ideas and experiences yet to be represented in our section, and we can do better in this regard. As much as we ask professional newspapers who they are writing for, and who they are representing with their pen and ink, we must ask ourselves the same question. 

If your voice has not been heard, write to us. If you disagree with a piece we have published, tell us your disagreement, whether in the form of a letter to the editor or an op-ed. To the question, “What is an opinions article?” we answer: you have considered conceptions of what is important — based on your life experience, based on your time at Stanford, based on your research and expertise — share that valuable understanding with us. Tell us what we might do and why we should do it. 

In its founding documents, Stanford sought to have an impact on humanity and civilization, and although it has at times failed to live up to that goal, we know from our interactions with students, faculty and staff members that the University today attracts a community of many individuals who are passionate and intentional, individuals who want to impact the world in a myriad of positive and important ways. To provide a continued forum for these individuals — our friends, acquaintances, classmates and teachers — to discuss what matters (and why), and to do so while situated solidly in the atmosphere of Stanford’s campus and community — that is the point of the opinions section.

Adrian Liu
Claire Dinshaw
Editors of Opinions, Volume 257

Contact Adrian Liu and Claire Dinshaw at opinions ‘at’

The Daily is committed to publishing a diversity of op-eds and letters to the editor. We’d love to hear your thoughts. Email letters to the editor to [email protected] and op-ed submissions to [email protected].

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Adrian Liu '20 was Editor of Opinions in Volumes 257 and 259.Claire Dinshaw is a rising senior majoring in economics and minoring in political science and feminism, gender and sexuality studies. She is originally from Connecticut. In her free time she enjoys attempting to cook and playing Tetris. Contact at [email protected]

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