Once More the Double Life

This piece was originally published in September 2016 in the Stanford Daily, in a different social and political environment. While the context has undoubtedly changed, the fundamental questions posed here—and the spirit the piece was written in—have not changed in the slightest.

It’s a little hard being at Stanford when the world is falling apart.

This summer, we watched as thousands upon thousands of Indigenous people and communities gathered to oppose the Dakota Access Pipeline. We mourned the seemingly endless deaths of Black and brown people executed by police across the nation, grieved for the queer Latinx people killed in the Orlando, Florida shooting, raged at trans whistleblower Chelsea Manning’s solitary confinement sentence after her suicide attempt.

But Stanford is still Stanford. Frosh bike through White Plaza without signalling; FloMo still has ice cream; the bookstore line might as well be for a concert. As we settle into our classes and familiarize ourselves with our roommates, we might cautiously, excitedly, wearily call this campus “home” again—or, perhaps, for the first time.

There’s so much to do here. Outside of the endless seminars, labs, lectures and workshops, we’ve got hundreds of student groups vying for our attention with performances, food and community, at every hour of every day. And when we come home to our houses and dorms, we can count on theme programming, dinner events, parties and our friends to keep us awake way later than we ought to be.

Is it surprising, then, that so many of us effortlessly transition into life at Stanford without a thought of the world outside the bubble? With so much to keep us occupied, headlines become nothing more than annoying distractions about things that are far away, things that we can’t do anything about. After all, what are we undergraduates supposed to do about Syria? What are we supposed to do about Flint, Michigan? What are we supposed to do about the gentrification and displacement occurring in East Palo Alto, just a 10 minute drive from campus?

The world is falling apart far away and just next door because of systems, institutions and histories that some of us study for years and only begin to understand. What are we supposed to do? What can we do? Faced with an overwhelming and never-ending stream of bad news and tragedy, it can feel tempting to bury it under 20-unit quarters and event organizing and rehearsals and campus social life. Many of us do just that, tell ourselves that our education is more important than our empathy and tune out the world.

Many of us can’t. For those students who see themselves in the people killed by police, for those students struggling with mental health amid a dearth of available resources, for those students who worry about their sick or disabled family members or their families’ financial situations back home, being at Stanford can feel like living a double life. When our communities are constantly in a state of emergency but our professors, housemates and friends on campus carry on like nothing is wrong, we are left with nothing but that wrenching feeling in our stomachs to remind us that we are fish out of water, imposter-syndrome addicts in paradise.

Why are you at Stanford?

What is it you came here to do?

Who is it you came here to become?

So many of us start out at Stanford too busy thinking of what we are running away from and not what we are moving towards. Frosh, transfers, staff, even administrators. At some point or another, all of us must come to terms with our place on this campus and our place in this world; this troubled, complex, painful world.

As the quarter and year progresses, I am certain that this campus will heat up as it always does. Global tragedy, student activism, the presidential election, campus scandal and everything in between will punctuate our classes and late-night study groups, loom over our finals and leak into our discussion groups. We will ask ourselves how the world could have gotten like this, and what we’re supposed to do about it.

But we can do something about it. That’s why we’re here, right? That’s why we’re getting our degrees and innovating and thinking and growing and healing here, why we work long hours to take care of our residents, our students and our communities, right? I want a world where none of us must live a double life on this campus, where we can grieve and grow and fight all in the same breath. I want a Stanford that makes all of us into the people we need to be, to do the work that we want to do, to do the work that needs to be done.

That’s why we’re here, right?

Originally published in Psychology Today.


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