Contemplating the Contemplation Center

by Holly Fetter, ’13

I’d like to go on a brief rant about a piece of news in today’s Daily. The following headline fills the top right corner of the cover page: “Trustees pass funding for new center: Board signs off on 4.2 million for ‘contemplation center.’”

At first glance, I thought this was a Flipside article. 4.2 million dollars? For a “contemplation center”? What does that even mean?

But alas, it’s real. The Stanford Board of Trustees has allocated $4.2 million to build a 4,000 square-foot contemplation center “where people can sit and contemplate” while enjoying abstract expressionist art.

Don’t get me wrong – contemplation is crucial. But for most students, it’s not triggered by a piece of (albeit beautiful) artwork on a wall. We contemplate when we’re biking between classes, eating froyo, or having our beliefs challenged in a discussion section. We contemplate after arguments with roommates, or encountering microaggressions in the dining hall. We don’t need a special space for our constant contemplation to take place – especially if it’s a glorified art gallery, which might feel inaccessible to folks who don’t visit those very often.

But my problem with the new center is this: why weren’t students consulted? Each of us has a list of at least ten things that we’d like to see created at Stanford, and many of those items costs a fraction of $4.2 million. I’ve always assumed that the Board of Trustees is out of touch with the Stanford student’s reality, and the contemplation center confirms it.

As a lover of art and aesthetics, I fully support the construction of a new art space on campus. But here are a few ideas for other ways the Board could spend its money as well:

  • Build community centers for the communities that want them. Muslim students, students with disabilities, and first-generation/low income students deserve spaces of their own.
  • Fund a comprehensive study on student diversity at Stanford, since the last report was published before I was born.
  • Hire more professors of underrepresented backgrounds and fields of study in this institution.
  • Renovate every Bing Overseas Study Program site so that students with disabilities have the opportunity to study abroad.

These suggestions are by no means exhaustive, and are rooted in my deep interest in developing identity-based communities at Stanford. Each student, faculty, and staff member on this campus certainly has a list of hir own thoughts on how to spend $4.2 million to better this university. I just hope that the Board will check in with members of the Stanford community next time it decides to write such a huge check.

Holly is the ASSU Chair of Communities, working with representatives from across campus to effect change at the university. She can be reached at

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8 thoughts on “Contemplating the Contemplation Center

  1. […] Contemplating the Contemplation Center by Holly Fetter, ‘13 […]

  2. anon says:

    Agree agree agree.
    I had always thought memchu/the cantor arts center/those hidden benches in natural areas around campus were contemplation centers.

  3. How about we use the money to actually fund performing arts programs at Stanford rather than another museum? We already have those types of spaces on campus. I’m concerned with creating “student-oriented” performance space but we don’t even have adequate space for students, faculty and intellectuals who have committed themselves to the study of performance. We have an engineering quad and other departmental buildings but, for the most part, drama and dance are shortchanged at this university.

  4. Justin Lam says:

    And this is after Etchemendy said “As part of being cautious, the budget group as a whole is very hesitant to turn back any of the budget cuts we made during the 2008/2009 period. We think that’s not a wise thing to do”…( Cool.
    Definitely agree with returning community center funding to the pre-cut level as well!

  5. Stanford senior says:

    Totally agree with this. Thank you for saying what we are all thinking.

  6. Laurel says:

    I couldn’t believe this when I read about it this morning! Love your alternatives, Holly. I would also add that leaving green space undeveloped provides unique and meaningful opportunities for contemplation.

  7. Increasingly Jaded says:

    Thank you, Holly.

    Your list of alternatives for this money is great. A few more:

    1) Returning community center funding to the level before the most recent cut.
    2) Creating a student-oriented performance space. Most spaces that get used are either not intended as theatrical spaces or are under the administration of the drama department, who have very strict requirements (which usually translates to paying them enough to have one of their faculty ‘supervise’ the rehearsal and performance process. read: babysit).
    3) Restoring worker wages, benefits, etc.
    4) Hiring more accountants at SSE so that our reimbursement process actually happens.
    5) Offering at least partial financial aid to international students.

    • Alex says:

      Just to clarify on point 4- SSE is actually part of the ASSU. The Board of Trustees doesn’t have the power to hire more accountants, that has to go through the ASSU or through SSE itself, since the ASSU is an independent 501(c)3 organization.

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