Complaining: Helping Create a “Better Stanford” or Being Ungrateful?

Posted by at 5:59PM

It’s no secret: I like to complain. See here. Or here. Or here or here. You get the idea.

Is there value in complaining? I certainly hope so–otherwise, I would be wasting a significant portion of my time. Many of my complaints (and others’) have sparked discussion and entered a more general discourse, which I believe contributes to addressing the problems we face and hopefully improving the status quo. This is the general idea behind the recent “Make Stanford Better” project headed by Robin Thomas ’12. An open Google Doc for people to “vent” their criticisms of Stanford, or, as Thomas states:

I kept marinating on my own beefs with Stanford, and wanted to see how other people were feeling. Maybe if everyone’s frustrations were written down in one place, it would be easier to get some things changed.

So what frustrations were shared? Over 100 of them. Allow me, as a self-determined complaint expert, to highlight what I see as the most insightful comments:

Stanford is a great brand name, but I honestly don’t feel like I have gained meaningful academic experiences. Think about it: How many classes at Stanford can you say that you have loved? I can only name two that I haven’t found until this quarter. Winter quarter of my junior year! For a school that emphasizes following your passion and giving back, we sure do get caught up in grades. We say that we are only in competition with ourselves, but that’s untrue — at least for me. I find myself comparing myself to others, because how else are you going to measure your success? Now I know that we don’t have to compare ourselves to others, but Stanford doesn’t facilitate personal academic advancement. It’s not about learning. It’s about getting good grades, which doesn’t fulfill me if I can’t take anything away from it.

Many people on the spreadsheet agree that grades and learning are mutually exclusive: you either get good grades and learn little, or attempt to learn and get poor grades. I agree with this sentiment and how unfortunate this is, but am personally torn by it. I want to learn and I want to not care about grades, but the importance of getting good grades still pervades my life and definition of success. The definition of success also comes up a few times, but I think one important point is missed: Stanford and all of us encourage and seek out an achievement-based definition of value; in other words, the only items that carry value are those that can be quantified in terms of achievement. Socializing is inferior to being in a group because being in a group is a quantifiable and recognizable achievement but just getting to know people is not.

Stanford kids judge each other in ways that are both unfortunate and totally absurd. Kids who have no experience or contact with SLE brush it off as a socially isolating nerdfest. (By the way: we’re at Stanford; we’re all nerds, and we should be proud of that.) I didn’t do SLE because a Stanford freshman told me it would be social suicide. I have regretted the decision since. Same goes for the perception of FroSoCo and ethnically themed dorms (which many call self-segregating without knowing what it’s like to be a minority here, or realizing that a majority-white fraternity is also self-segregating); and much more. Let’s presume less about each other, and be more generous towards one and other.

This is probably true, and certainly something that we can work on on an individual level. If I were to do Stanford over again, I would strongly consider SLE as well.

I wish the arts were more of a priority here. Compared to our peer institutions, they are sadly underrepresented here. Student performing arts groups have no access to decent performing spaces. Arts in general seem to garner much less respect than other pursuits… especially athletics.

I could not agree more.

Gaieties has become a manifestation of so much that is unappealing about Stanford. My problem with the humor of Gaieties is not that it transgresses social norms – it’s with the point of view expressed behind that transgression. The point of view of Gaieties is: we’re superior in every way to the hippie public school Cal; we get drunk all the time; we’re rich; nerds – people who are overtly intellectual or talk in class – are contemptible and absurd; social and ethnic groups are precious and uppity; happiness means identifying with Stanford as an institution, going to football games, and being fratty. Gaieties is written, produced, and performed by a insulated and highly self-congratulatory community that is comprised mostly of members of greek life. They think that they’re being courageous for making fun of the easiest, most obvious, and least deserving satirical targets at Stanford. (And I know they make jokes about frats and sororities, but these jokes are gratifying, shout-outs, totally different in nature than derisive jokes about nerds and minorities.)

I don’t think Gaieties deserves mention on a list of Stanford’s most important priorities, but this is an eloquent and spot-on critique of Gaieties. If Gaieties wants to get better, it will start fresh and ditch the absurd “tradition” that means being fratty and not funny.

That more people than you would think are incredibly passive. It’s always good to have an opinion and stand by it.

Passivity and fear of discomfort are possibly the two biggest frustrations I have with Stanford students. Many times, people are so afraid of anything outside of their comfort zone or standing up for themselves that they will just accept whatever happens as correct. Seeking to better understand the world and care about it–whether it is related to campus administration, US politics, social issues, or what’s happening in Egypt–seems to be totally lost on Stanford students. Both the students and the administration can help this problem: students, by being more active; and administrators/faculty by encouraging students to challenge themselves and form an opinion as opposed to just accepting whatever happens as right and repeating it to get a good grade (see point 1).

Then there are the other comments that are shortsighted or I just disagree with. 24 hour dining is expensive and unrealistic. Stanford’s alcohol policy is not bad: it’s incredibly rewarding to actually have responsibility for your own actions and much, much safer to have support in drinking than to be hiding it. Liberalism at Stanford is not about vilifying those who disagree, it’s just that, from my point of view at least, a thought-out and moral philosophical position is only compatible with generally liberal-leaning sentiment. But that’s just me.

There is certainly room for improvement in many, if not all, aspects of Stanford, and complaining can help us, hopefully, accomplish positive change. It’s certainly worth talking about, at the very least.

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2 Responses to “Complaining: Helping Create a “Better Stanford” or Being Ungrateful?”

  1. Disgruntled says:

    While I think many of your points are valid, how do I say this directly…get over it? No seriously, get yourself over it. There is so much talk about what is wrong at Stanford and so few people who do anything about it. Don’t like the dating scene? Then start dating like a person you’d want to date. Sick of worrying about grades? Then get a C in your class just because you can and read important books instead. Afraid of being associated as a nerd? Hell I’m an athlete and I relish my status as a nerd! Join a group because you care, eat dinner alone because you need some silence, stay in on a Saturday night and read the New York Times. Stop complaining and be the change you want to see.

  2. Shanice says:

    Complaints are normal. Whether it has contribution value or criticism value is what that matters the most. All institutions have advantages and disadvantages. Who knows if other institutions are even worse than what you could imagine? Of course I support people to voice their concerns because this is the free world. But in my opinion, concentrate on the positive side and what the institution can offer us. The more we think about the negatives, the more disappointed we feel inside and that does no good to us.

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