One of the things that frustrates me the most around ASSU election season is this desire everyone seems to have to invent new programs and new things.
Everyone on this campus is pretty smart. Chances are if there is a current problem on campus, there is already a highly functioning group that is doing something to address it. As Stanford students, we love to create new programs but we can be very bad at looking around us at the good work our peers are doing and supporting already existing programs.
So – more or less off the top of my head – here’s my list of Six established Stanford organizations I’d like to see supported before an ASSU candidate creates a new one:
1. SHPRC (the Sexual Health Peer Resource Center)
In a school with so much money, it seems a little crazy that the SHPRC has to beg for Special Fees so that they can keep doing all of the amazing work they’re doing (including, but not limited to, dispensing over 21,000 condoms and conducting 90 outreaches per year) as well as pay some of their amazing practically full-time staff members the smallest of stipends. STI’s and pregnancy can be a huge problem for a university, and the SHPRC has found fun, creative, and exciting ways to tackle all of these problems and more. So let’s support them more so they can keep doing the great work they’re doing and expand their reach to even more students!
2. SARA Office (Office of Sexual Assault & Relationship Abuse Education & Response)
The SARA Office (new this year) provides consultations, outreaches, victim support, resources, and more. Under the leadership of their director, Angela Exson, the office has done AMAZING work in its first year with limited staff and resources.
I couldn’t find any references to sexual assault or relationship abuse on the executive slate platforms in the ASSU Voter Guide (although I did see mention of it on a flyer that ended up under my door). I would argue that these two issues are some of the largest issues facing college campuses today, and Stanford is no exception. With the guidance of the SARA Office, Stanford has the ability to become a leader in the way universities discuss sexual assault and relationship abuse, so let’s support the office as much as possible.
3. PHE’s (Peer Health Educators)
A lot of the platforms talk about health and wellness. Whether it’s claims of “improve Vaden” (Zimbroff-Wagstaff) or “partner with campus organizations, such as CAPS and the Bridge, and relevant nonprofits to offer students ASSU funded mental health resources” (MacGregor-Dennis & Druthi), people seem to understand that we could and should be doing more with health and wellness on campus.
The most effective thing we could to to improve overall campus health and wellness is pay PHE’s more and have PHE’s in every singe dorm. PHE’s receive comprehensive training in mental health, nutrition, sexual health, happiness, alcohol, physical health, peer counseling, and so much more. During the year, PHE’s provide constant support for their residents and put on creative and fun programming in dorms, yet are paid one tenth of what RA’s get paid. They are an integral part in connecting Stanford students to the huge number of comprehensive (and free!) health resources on campus.
So, instead of stressing about how we can do new and improved nutrition/mental health/sexual health/insert-another-category-here programs, let’s just pay PHE’s more. This will guarantee consistent quality of PHE’s (because the process will be more selective) and will compensate students for the commitment necessary to be a great PHE (time = money, and, especially for college students, time should = money).
Full disclosure: I am a PHE myself and am more than happy to talk about the incredible health and wellness work the 28 PHE’s on campus do every single day.
4. Community Centers
In the 2008 recession budget cuts, campus community centers were hit hard. Community centers facilitate amazing discussions and activism across campus through their creative and important programming. They provide student-staff jobs that build support and build student leaders across campus. And they have teeny tiny budgets. As one example, the Stanford Women’s Leadership Conference was organized on one of these small budgets and the student organizers got every single one of their speakers to come as volunteers. Imagine what else these centers could do if they got even more support and funding from the university!
Continuing on the list of centers I love, we have the Haas Center. The Haas Center has 25 years of experience under its belt, and my guess is that they have a pretty good idea about what they need to do even better work and continue to grow and serve more students and community members. So let’s ask them what they need from ASSU or other Stanford organizations instead of telling them how to best support service programs.
6. Increased pay / better working conditions for Stanford workers
Speaking of service, one of the groups that deserves the most service from students and administration is Stanford workers – dining hall workers, grounds crew, cleaning crews, etc. Every year, I see at least 5 petitions from SLAC (the Stanford Labor Action Coalition) go by my inbox with stories about how Stanford is contracting out to more employers who don’t respect workers’ rights, cutting jobs and/or benefits, shortening vacation times, or firing workers.
Stanford students (myself frequently included) like to think about service as this thing that happens overseas or in East Palo Alto, and – while in no way am I trying to downplay genuine demands for service globally – I do think we have an obligation to look at service at the most local level first and see how our practices match up to our values.
I believe that the ASSU – when done right – has the power to make changes on campus, but those changes need to come in the form of supporting already existing institutions instead of reinventing the wheel or slightly different versions of the wheel. Sure, it’s less glamorous, it’s harder to attach our name to it or to check off a clear accomplishment, but this kind of ongoing support is an infinitely more valuable contribution to the Stanford community.
This piece also posted on STATIC.