September 30, 2009
While incoming Stanford freshmen have plenty of opportunities to explore public service opportunities–from the Haas Center’s open house to the endless rows of student groups at Activities Fair–another California university has taken a more direct approach to emphasizing public service.
On Sept. 22, almost 5,000 UCLA students flooded the Los Angeles community for the school’s first ever Volunteer Day. The event, the largest ever of its kind, sent waves through the community and drew praise from the California Secretary of Service and Volunteering as well as the Los Angeles City Council. The enthusiasm of the students poured forth as they planted trees, renovated rundown schools and picked up trash from the beaches. In short, UCLA’s day dedicated to service was a clear success, likely to become an annual tradition for the start of the UCLA school year.
In light of the success of Volunteer Day, the Editorial Board urges Stanford to follow UCLA’s lead and incorporate public service more deeply into the framework of New Student Orientation (NSO).
Universities thrive on ideas, and in this case UCLA has shown a level of tenacity and ingenuity that would be beneficial to emulate.
Stanford students come to campus as freshmen bursting with gusto and in turn are thrown into dozens of activities and events. With the energy put into dorm cheers, band run and icebreakers, why not channel some of it toward positively affecting the community? Surely if UCLA students were willing to put effort into a good cause, Stanford students would, as well. Further, spending an entire day of NSO performing public services would help bring service-minded freshmen together at the start of their freshman year. Many a friendship would form through such activities as trash pick-up, building repair and collecting goods for the needy.
Like UCLA, Stanford should not make public service a mandatory part of NSO, but a strongly encouraged aspect of it. If the event were properly advertised and promoted, it is easy to imagine Stanford students turning out in droves to better the community. Beyond the direct benefit of a single service day, a planned experience would allow students to immediately immerse themselves in service and continue to do so past the week of orientation.
This proposal would come as part of a larger trend at Stanford of infusing public service into its core mission. Examples are already becoming evident in academic programs. From a community-based learning option of PWR 2 to a two-quarter-long history course centered on homelessness and service, several departments already make an effort to integrate academic knowledge with societal work. These efforts should be applauded, but further action can be taken. Whether that means a volunteer day during NSO or the addition of a public service GER in the future, it remains for the University to decide.
Without ethics, education can only go so far in terms of creating responsible citizens. With the recent financial meltdown, the reckless greed on Wall Street has shown us all the danger of amoral advancement. To produce citizens that will “promote the public welfare,” as Leland and Jane Stanford hoped, the University must develop not only students’ intellect but also their senses of empathy and civic responsibility. And if Stanford holds its commitment to service as a core ideal, there is no better time to expand it than early in the academic year.