Creating a Vibrant Campus Life

Stanford leaders are working with students to enhance social life on campus.

May 2023

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Portrait of Marc Tessier-Lavigne

Photo: Toni Bird

In March, I joined students for Midnight Breakfast—a late-night study break before winter quarter finals and a Stanford tradition dating back more than 20 years. For two hours in the middle of the night, I served hash browns, poured orange juice, and spoke with students about the things on their minds—their nervousness about finals, their excitement for the upcoming spring break, and their feelings about social life at Stanford, which has been a hot topic this year.

Campus life is not only meaningful to students; it’s also central to Stanford’s identity. From Gaieties to fountain hopping to the Band, Stanford is known for its unique—and often quirky—student life. As students navigate their undergraduate years, strong friendships and a supportive community are crucial to their well-being. 

There have been several disruptions to campus life in recent years: some caused by pandemic restrictions, others by the university’s own actions. We are carefully listening to student feedback and working with them to rebuild a campus life that is both enriching and, yes, fun.

First, we are ramping up programming in Stanford’s neighborhoods, the central component of our new residential system. The neighborhoods, which launched in fall 2021, seek to preserve the best of Stanford’s traditions—including Greek houses and ethnic theme houses—while improving support for student well-being, providing academic enrichment, and fostering tight-knit communities within the broader campus.

Pandemic restrictions hampered programming during the neighborhoods’ first year. Now, programming has significantly increased, with students co-leading approximately 140 neighborhood events in fall and winter quarters, supported by university funding. 

A vibrant campus life requires both university support and student engagement. It is our students who make Stanford fun and lively.

We are also rethinking the balance between community cohesion and student choice within the neighborhood framework. Since the neighborhoods launched, students have been able to change neighborhoods, but with the constraints that they cannot choose their new neighborhood and, in the first year, are given lower priority for housing stock. Based on student feedback, as a pilot we have removed those constraints for fall 2023, and we are launching a task force to further evaluate how to strike the right balance going forward. 

Second, we are listening closely to feedback from students about how the university can better support their goals for campus life. This fall, Samuel Santos Jr., associate vice provost of inclusion, community, and integrative learning in Student Affairs, embarked on a listening tour to hear student perspectives on social life. 

A few themes emerged, including a desire for more diverse opportunities for events and frustration with university processes. We’ve taken steps to respond to this feedback, including providing more event space and extended hours, simplifying the party planning process, and giving grants to student organizations to host weekend events.

Third, we are studying the findings of the Social Life Accelerator Task Force, which the university launched in spring 2022 to gather feedback from students, alumni, staff, and parents. Last fall, we implemented a number of short-term recommendations based on these findings. The task force also identified principles to guide our approach to campus life, including supporting student autonomy, ensuring that we have the infrastructure to support social life, and honoring Stanford’s traditions while creating new opportunities. 

One thing is clear: A vibrant campus life requires both university support and student engagement. It is our students who make Stanford fun and lively. They bring their unique approach to so many parts of campus life: Greek organizations, ethnic theme houses, community centers, neighborhood councils, student clubs, and beyond. As they bring Stanford’s best traditions into the present day—and create new traditions for future generations—we are committed to working with them to create a campus life that is supportive, enriching, and fun.

Marc Tessier-Lavigne is the president of Stanford University.

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