On the Open Door Policy

There’s a lot going on at Stanford right now. Election petitions are in season, we’re getting a new president, and everyone is once again realizing that dead week is a myth.

Normally, I would block out all the news and focus on that sunny day in Texas two weeks from now when my puppy realizes I haven’t moved to Siberia and can take him for walks and feed him tacos again.

But today, I found that something I hold dear has been threatened: Stanford’s open door policy.

I’m going to be an RA next year. In a four-class dorm, I’m going to have to deal with a potential hard liquor ban in the most uncomfortable way. There will be freshmen on my floor. But I’ll get to that.

One problem is that there will be people on my floor who are over 21: people who can go out to the Dutch Goose and order an Old Fashioned right this instant.

Who am I, a nineteen-year-old who doesn’t have that privilege, to tell them what to do?

Who am I, someone who has not one but two (sorry, mom) bottles of Wild Turkey on my shelf, to, six months from now, tell someone that they can’t do just that?

Who am I, someone who made more than my share of mistakes as a freshman, to restrict my freshmen to the point that they can’t try those things out for themselves?

I didn’t sign up to be a policeman. The whole extended adventure of the staff selection process was joyful to me because, at Stanford, being an RA is not about being a policeman. I want to be a teacher and a builder of communities. I want to help my residents when they need it and celebrate with them when they don’t. I want my residents and especially my freshmen to revel in the fact that they chose a school that treats them as adults who can make adult decisions, and acknowledges that sometimes they fail.

You might respect the police. You might follow the rules of the police. But when you feel homesick and you’re having romantic problems and you’ve gained 10 lbs and your friends here aren’t quite like your friends at home — are you going to vent all that to the police? By making RAs into policemen, we are necessarily hurting the staff’s ability to help students with everything other than drinking.

In real life, we can justify these harms because the police aren’t therapists and they keep us safe.

But I believe that this plan doesn’t. Banning vodka doesn’t lead to less vodka; it leads to vodka hidden in a closet that is chugged behind a closed door. It leads to a tiny freshman girl puking up vodka or passing out behind a closed door and a group of bewildered freshmen afraid to ask for help because they might all get in trouble for having liquor in the first place.

And all of a sudden, having hard alcohol is just as cool as it was in 10th grade for some folks. I may be a miscreant, but banning something is the easiest way to make me do it. Perhaps some freshmen are as foolish as I am.

The RAs-as-policemen approach actually makes our freshmen less safe.

So since I, and probably many other staff, don’t believe that banning liquor solves problems of safety and actively will damage our relationship as mentors with the residents, the policy is not likely to be effectively enforced.

“But Stanford would never try and stop something from happening that will happen anyway”, you might exclaim. But the two weeks I spent vaguely sick in October would prove you wrong. I don’t think Full Moon is going to end if the administrators turn off the lights and stop serving mouthwash as hors-d’oeuvres. I’ll be there. And now that I’ve announced that, so will many of you.

Just as some students will gather under the full moon in the quad next October, many staff would rather teach than police. I believe that the open door policy is not only the best way forward, but also reflects the high expectations and commensurate trust placed in Stanford students. Why, then, would the administration loudly propose changes that undermine our core values?

I defer to you, Mr. Boardman, Provost Etchemendy, and President Hennessy.

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