Letter to admin: Stop excluding student voices from decisions that impact us

Jan. 10, 2021, 9:05 p.m.

Dear Stanford administrators, 

We write to you as members of the Associated Students of Stanford University (ASSU), Stanford’s student government, representing and advocating for the needs of our student body. 

We write to you as student leaders who were excluded from every aspect of the reopening decision-making process, despite consistently requesting to provide input on how this decision would impact the financial, academic, physical and mental well-being of the Stanford community. 

We write to you as community members who have spent the last weekend of our break fielding urgent concerns from students who now don’t know where they’re going to live, how they’re going to meet academic expectations and whether they’ll be able to protect their mental health.

The decision to change plans, yet again, just 48 hours before the quarter starts, is unacceptable. You have let the Stanford community down and further eroded the trust of the students you are meant to support. Since your announcement, we’ve received countless notes from students who are feeling “emotionally manipulated” and “ashamed to be a Stanford student” in the face of this seemingly “unethical money grab.” 

In the face of widespread community fear and anxiety, the ASSU has been tasked with work that the University should have proactively done: collecting stories to understand the diversity of students’ situations, recognizing what new and exacerbated problems this update creates and analyzing how to best respond. We are heartbroken at the student testimonials we’re receiving and the irresponsibility of Stanford’s decision and the way in which it was communicated.

There are still opportunities to properly support our community now and in the future, most importantly by centering the voices of those impacted by your policies. To promote transparency and community care, we submit the following recommendations, corroborated by the anonymous responses we’ve collected to our own rapid-response form and a student petition

In the short term, we implore you to:

Provide financial support for changes in travel plans.

The burden of Stanford’s late announcement should not fall upon students and our families when the University had ample time to make this decision. As one student shares, “Stanford has done this so last minute that many students are now out hundreds of dollars in flights and many more are in limbo with nowhere to stay.” Another student specifies that “as a brown indigenous woman, it’s not easy to just ‘crash’ with people. I am concerned for my safety since I will need to find other housing.”

Extend the Leave of Absence and flex-term deadlines to at least Jan. 18.  

Students deserve more than two days to reconsider their plans. Many students previously made their plans under the expectation of an on-campus quarter. A student writes: “Because of multiple reassurances to expect to be on campus, I didn’t make any plans for winter quarter and declined certain opportunities I’d applied to. My request for special circumstances housing was denied, but I am unable to do online classes from home. Now, I have one day before the enrollment deadline to decide if I’m doing this quarter or not, and I have no time to scramble even for last-minute plans.”

Ensure that the rehousing process for those students left on campus is accessible by providing academic accommodations, funding professional movers and centering student needs. 

The lack of academic accommodation and moving support for rehoused students sets up an ableist and classist system for students forced to move without cars or peers to help. A student shares that “having to pack, move and unpack again during the quarter with classes going on sounds like a real nightmare. I don’t believe that they decided today to cancel frosh/sophs, so why didn’t they just let special circumstances people know beforehand so that we didn’t lug our suitcases and unpack for a place we’d need to move out of soon?”

In the long term, we demand that you:

Radically increase transparency of decisions around reopening by sharing the criteria that the University is monitoring and basing its decisions off of. 

Without any clear explanation of how the University could feasibly reopen in the first place, students are feeling betrayed by what seems like an “unethical decision” that “should have been communicated weeks ago.”

This update is leaving special-circumstances students on campus feeling especially misled. A student feels that “the fact that Stanford announced this decision less than two days before the start of classes makes me feel as if I’ve been tricked into coming on campus so that they could get my room & board money. What I’m most appalled about is that special circumstance move-ins were used as an experimental guinea pig for the rest of the frosh move-ins — had it been their plan all along to use the first batch of students to gauge the covid situation, then cancel housing if cases surge? Or did they just have no plans whatsoever?”

Proactively solicit community feedback during any decision-making process impacting either students or workers. We suggest continuing town halls and forming a focus group to help you gain student perspectives on complex issues.

As we’ve stated time and time again and countless others have aptly pointed out, community input was not taken into account throughout this monthslong process. Those tasked with implementing the University’s decisions, from student Residential Staff to service workers, were left with innumerable unanswered questions regarding their responsibilities and personal protection. 

Apologize for the mismanagement of the Stanford community’s safety during the entire pandemic, as demanded in students’ petition:

“From evicting Studio 2 residents in the middle of a statewide moratorium on evictions, to failing to pay subcontracted workers what they had been promised, to endangering victims of sexual violence through the campus compact, to the unmitigated disaster of the Stanford Medicine vaccination algorithm, to this deeply upsetting decision around Winter Quarter 2021, Stanford has consistently demonstrated its inability to adequately care for the campus community.” 

Now, more than ever, the University must start demonstrating radical transparency and community care in every aspect of its leadership. We expect far more from Stanford.

Vianna Vo (she/her), ’21 ASSU President
Chris Middleton ’16 J.D. ’21 (he/him), ASSU Vice President
Jianna So ’22 (she/her), ASSU Chief of Staff
Cricket X. Bidleman ’21 (she/her), Director of Communications

Contact Vianna Vo at viannavo ‘at’ assu.stanford.edu, Chris Middleton at cmiddle ‘at’ stanford.edu, Jianna So at jiannaso ‘at’ assu.stanford.edu and Cricket X. Bidleman at bidleman ‘at’ stanford.edu.

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