Stanford Residential Education has struggled to attract students to “ideation sessions” held to pick new names for the neighborhoods. So far, at least three sessions have gone completely unattended.
The meetings, which began Jan. 23, kicked off a quarter-long process to choose neighborhood traditions, flags and crests – as well as what trees each community will be named after. Since neighborhoods began in 2021, they have operated with temporary, one-letter names and the promise to eventually build community identities.
“I feel like right now, there’s just a collection of houses that don’t really do anything together,” said Niklas Vainio ‘26, a resident of Neighborhood A.
According to Residential Education’s initial proposal from 2018, the neighborhood system was created to “foster continuity” in a “well-defined and coherent cluster of housing units.” Neighborhood councils – governing boards including staff, faculty and students – were also created to manage each community.
“The councils are very eager for students in the neighborhood to participate in the ideation sessions,” said Cole Shiflet, associate dean of Residential Education. In preparation for participants, student moderators hosting the sessions received $100 each for refreshments.
But Residential Education didn’t lure a single participant to Neighborhood A’s first session at Delta Delta Delta on Jan. 24.
Isabella Terrazis ‘25, the student moderator, camped outside for 20 minutes until she realized no one was coming.
“I was optimistic that I would have a couple of attendees because professional staff said to anticipate 10 to 20 people,” Terrazis said. “Knowing Stanford student turnout, I was thinking two or three.”
Neighborhood A’s second session at Sigma Nu encountered the same fate.
“I did not really expect many people to be here,” said student moderator Marshall Kools ‘24 after no one attended.
Kools offered his take on the absences.
“I think all neighborhoods should prove their worth before they expect people to buy into it,” Kools said. “I mean, I wouldn’t expect a friend to come help me out if I haven’t proven that I’m respectful and there for them.”
When Neighborhood O met at 675 Lomita for their first session, student moderator Sarah Smith ‘23 finally drew a larger crowd — one student.
“I live here so it was convenient,” said house resident Isobel Taylor ‘24 of her decision to attend. “Honestly, I didn’t see it advertised anywhere.”
Many students missed the weekly neighborhood newsletter about the meetings. Some students didn’t even know there was a newsletter.
“I feel like it’s expected given how little people really care about the neighborhoods that they’re placed into right now,” Taylor said. “It’s just going to take time to change the perception of it.”
Not all sessions were empty: Neighborhood S’s session in Arroyo drew about 20 students on Jan. 25. However, they may owe their success to timing – the session began right after a house meeting.
“People are here already, there’s food,” said Ginger Buck ‘25, a resident of Arroyo and member of the neighborhood council. “Stanford students are always drawn to food.”
Arroyo’s residents offered suggestions between bites of fresh pizza and sips of boba.
“The food incentive is definitely a major component,” said Wei Huan Chen ‘23, another resident of Arroyo and neighborhood council representative. “But the other main reason I think people show up is probably because they want to share their voices and perspective of what kind of identity they want Neighborhoood S to have.”
At the session, students questioned staff moderator Lydell Graham about the meaning of neighborhood identity. “I kind of felt like all the neighborhoods were the same,” said one student. “The actual system itself, where can we ask questions about it?” asked another resident. “Do we actually get to have a say?”
“I’m not necessarily sure how much can be changed,” responded Graham. “But we never know what can change until our voice is heard.” During the session, students submitted names like Sakura, Sequoia and Spruce for Neighborhood S. Participants also voted in favor of a neighborhood flag and crest, while one participant took the space to ask for neighborhood bike racks.
These sessions will continue until week five of winter quarter, with a virtual suggestion box also available. During week nine of winter quarter, students will vote on finalists for names and traditions selected by the neighborhood councils. According to Shiflett, council leaders will evaluate participation at the sessions and determine how to proceed.
Indeed, in the wake of minimal attendance, Residential Education appears to be trying new things. On Feb. 1, students dining in Casper Quad were encouraged to choose their favorite tree name for Neighborhood F in exchange for cupcakes and churros.
“It seems like it was pretty popular amongst people in the dining hall,” Kevi Johnson ‘24 said. Johnson is a staff writer for The Daily. ”Especially because of the lure of churros, and not necessarily because people had any real opinions about what Neighborhood F’s tree name should be.”
In the meantime, Mehmet Tascioglu, a Residential Education intern, hosted a session for Neighborhood T on Feb. 4 and plans to host another on Feb. 6. A week prior to his first session, Tascioglu was “optimistic” about his events.
“I believe people will be there,” Tascioglu said at the time. Tascioglu hadn’t heard about the other session’s fates and thought students would want to influence future traditions.
Along with his prediction, Tascioglu foretold a brighter reality for Stanford’s neighborhoods.
“There are literally teams of people working full-time jobs to make the neighborhood system work,” Tascioglu said. “I think that if people give it a shot and just go to the sessions and go to the events and try to build their neighborhood, it’ll end up better than they thought.”
When Feb. 4 rolled around, no one attended Tascioglu’s first session.
“I had set everything up, we were ready to go,” Tascioglu said. “Laptop stickers, snacks, everything.”
Tascioglu still believes the neighborhood system will resolve itself “in the long run.” He’s a little less confident, though, about his second session.
“I’m excited as well, but that’s a Monday morning,” Tascioglu said. “But hey, I’m ready to listen.”