Stanford must step up to meet crucial student needs

Aug. 28, 2020, 8:21 p.m.

Stanford’s announcement of an online fall was necessary to preserve the well-being of students, staff and the surrounding Santa Clara community. Even so, not housing students does not diminish Stanford’s responsibility to provide for a safe, productive learning environment. In fact, it perhaps heightens University responsibility, as the uncertainty the pandemic brings has only widened pre-existing equity gaps — gaps that exist between low-income and wealthy students, housing-secure and housing-insecure students, white students and students of color.

Although Stanford has provided updated resource lists in the most recent Re-Approaching Stanford email, currently, student groups including Basic Needs at Stanford are working to provide stop-gap emergency assistance to students by crowdsourcing student donations. Although we applaud their efforts, we are disappointed that this work has been left to students, and we believe the fact this fund needs to exist at all is evidence of administrative failure.

We are asking Stanford to alter the leave of absence policy to ensure low-income students taking leaves of absence receive stipends for both food and housing and provide emergency funding for unpredictable expenses.

First, we implore the University to reconsider the resources made available to students on leaves. Stanford is offering enrolled students whose room and board would normally be covered by financial aid equivalent stipends for both food and, if necessary, rent. Yet the same assistance is not being offered to students who are choosing to take a leave of absence, making the leave of absence opportunity less accessible to students who generally rely on the housing and food assistance provided by the University. Furthermore, it places students who, despite financial barriers, choose to take a leave of absence in a more financially precarious situation.

Second, we are asking Stanford to supplement Basic Needs by providing emergency, stop-gap funding to students. This funding could be used to help finance healthcare expenses, food needs or unexpected rent expenses. Although we understand that Stanford cannot provide direct cash assistance to students due to its non-profit status, we believe there are ways for Stanford to fund grants that would directly pay for some of these needs: for example, increase funding and lower the eligibility threshold for already-established resources such as the Opportunity Fund, or establish additional, similar funds. The University rescinded its application for the CARES Act in April — we now ask that Stanford ensure students are supported, as half of those funds “were to be directly applied to grants for students.”

Although we hope these three steps can be implemented in a timely manner, we also realize the current crisis underscores Stanford’s infrastructure unpreparedness. This shows the need for a Basic Needs Center, similar to the ones operational at UC Berkeley and the University of Southern California. Stanford must likewise make such a center a priority. The center could operate a central resource for information about support programs, federal and state applications for assistance — and provide emergency funding or food assistance. The center at Berkeley is buoyed by a combination of endowment funding, student dues and direct-fundraising efforts. Though students’ needs have shifted dramatically during the pandemic, these circumstances only highlight long-standing inequities in the undergraduate experience. A Basic Needs Center would institutionalize the University’s commitment to serving — and reconsidering what it means to serve — their student body. 

This crisis reveals Stanford’s priorities. Unfortunately, it is the students, not the school, who are stepping up to fill gaps in crucial needs. That should not be the case, and is why we as an Editorial Board are asking the University to change its policies around leaves of absence and create an emergency assistance program. It is time for the University to substantiate its support of the student community, not renege on its commitments.

The summer Editorial Board consists of Claire Dinshaw ’21, Layo Laniyan ’22, Elizabeth Lindqwister ’21, Adrian Liu ’20, Patrick Monreal ’22, Megha Parwani ’21 and Cooper Ryan Veit ’22.

Contact the Editorial Board at opinions ‘at’

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