Where in the world am I?
This past month has been a whirlwind. On June 1, my roommates and I popped a bottle in our new San Francisco apartment before heading to Stanford’s Class of 2017 class toast. Between the three of us we successfully stole a complete set of 8 champagne flutes.
On June 18, I sat alongside my classmates in the 105 degree heat for our commencement ceremony. The very next day, I embarked on my hour-plus commute from my new apartment to my new job working as a Software Engineering Intern on the Chrome Security team at Google Mountain View.
I have a lot to look forward to, but for a few minutes I want to take a second to take a look back.
If 18-year-old Sasha read this today I don’t know what she’d think. When I applied to Stanford, I applied as a Public Policy major and my admissions officer wrote that I “could make a positive addition to the Stanford humanities department” in his notes on my application. (As an aside, thank you Kyle! I would not be where I am today without you, and I am so grateful. I hope I haven’t let you down.) I applied as a student who unsuccessfully petitioned her high school guidance counselor to only have to take three years of science because I truly hated the discipline. I applied to Stanford as a “proud LGBT ally” who had spent her high school career doing LGBT advocacy work, but had not come to terms with her sexuality herself. I am writing this essay today as an out-and-proud bisexual technologist.
I am immensely grateful for the opportunities that Stanford has afforded me. At Stanford I took my first computer science class, and I discovered my love for the discipline. Had I attended any other university, this may have never happened. I met lifelong friends at Stanford who have supported me through my ups and my downs. Through working at the Stanford LGBT Center I met other queer students like myself, and I gained the confidence and self awareness to come out as bisexual.
Despite all of this, my years at Stanford were some of the hardest years of my life. Midway through my sophomore year I started psychiatric medication after spending the majority of my days for months on end sobbing in my bed, feeling like I was drowning. That quarter I withdrew from my first class, and I received my first C on my transcript. My engineering classes were too large for my professors to notice I was struggling or grant me extensions, and the Stanford Counseling and Psychological Services department, while staffed by kind professionals who care about their patients, is understaffed and under-resourced. As many have written about before me, navigating the Office of Accessible Education is challenging at best, and it is not immediately obvious whether disability resources are even offered to students who struggle with mental health issues. (For younger students who are wondering the same thing, your school is legally obligated to provide disability resources for mental health! Yes you deserve them, and yes you should absolutely take advantage of them.)
I mention these experiences not to negate the immense amount of privilege I have been afforded by being able to attend a university like Stanford, but because I believe a university with a $22 billion endowment has a responsibility to do better by its students. And the reality is that Stanford’s failure to properly address mental health does not affect all students equally.
A 2015 study out of Vanderbilt found that Black college students disproportionately face mental health issues. Ebony McGee a co-author of the study explains, “weathering the cumulative effects of living in a society characterized by white dominance and privilege produces a kind of physical and mental wear-and-tear that contributes to a host of psychological and physical ailments.”
We shouldn’t need a study however to explain what marginalized students on college campuses have been saying for years. If you visit the Black Community Services Center, El Centro Chicano, the Asian American Activities Center, the Native American Cultural Center, the Markaz, the LGBT Community Resources Center, the Women’s Community Center, or a First-Generation Low Income Partnership meeting on campus you will find students having conversations about the unique challenges marginalized students on campus face that their peers do not.
Challenges that marginalized students face at the university include daily microaggressions (I’ve written about some of my own experiences in the Computer Science department.) as well as lack of representation among faculty and staff. To this day, Stanford has refused to enact default mandatory expulsion for students found guilty of raping a classmate; I cannot count on one hand the number of survivors I know who were forced to live alongside or attend classes with their rapist in order to receive a diploma. Unlike our rivals across the Bay at U.C. Berkeley who actually have federal funding to lose from the Trump administration, Stanford has also refused to declare itself a sanctuary school.
Circling back to my experience, my struggles with mental health at Stanford kept me from receiving my diploma alongside my classmates on June 18. This fall, I will be returning to Stanford to finish three more classes before officially receiving my diploma. I am extremely ready to be done; I have already been telling strangers who ask that I “went” to Stanford University.
I’m optimistic about this next chapter in my life. What’s next for me? I’m hoping to take some time to decompress following graduation and travel to Japan to finally use the year of 日本語 that I took in college. After that, I’m interested in a career that will marry my interests in technology and public service. I recognize that many of the issues for marginalized people that I outlined above don’t cease to exist after college, and I hope to use my privilege to work towards solving them. I’m not sure where these lofty goals will take me yet, but I’m exited to find out.