On Tuesday night Stanford students, like myself, were skimming across their overflowing inboxes, when they came across the provocatively titled “RESCUE FULL MOON ON THE QUAD.” (Full Moon on the Quad, or FMOTQ, is an annual party on the Stanford quad where students traditionally kiss other students at midnight. Or read: drunkenly make out with randos and the Tree; although kissing is not required to attend, as the University keeps telling us). The email contained a diatribe from an ASSU senator about the decision of the University administration to withdraw its support for Full Moon on the Quad. This senator condemns “Such unilateral action is another example of Stanford’s increasing paternalism towards its students.” In almost the same breath, this Senator also notes, “In fact, a Stanford without a university-supported FMOTQ is more dangerous. . . . without University assistance, it will have fewer resources to keep students safe.” Ironically, the argument that a benevolent authority needs to impose regulations on individuals because they are unable to take care of themselves is, in fact, paternalism.
To clarify: the University has not banned our beloved FMOTQ. They have simply said they will “not provide administrative or financial support”. Nothing in that phrase seems to suggest that the event could not be organized by other groups (although whether the administration will use other channels to block the party from happening remains to be seen). But many Stanford students are upset because 1. the University did not consult the student body about its decision and 2. without University assistance, FMOTQ will continue, but likely be less safe. With all the outrage, you might assume that students believe without University oversight Full Moon the Quad will devolve into a Hobbesian-esque state of nature, where terrified freshman cannot locate mouthwash and undergraduate men — realizing the gaze of a school administrator is no longer upon them — succumb to the sexual harassment urges heretofore secretly lurking inside them. (Which is sort of an odd starting point for a party. But whatever.)
These two complaints on their face seem contradictory — on the one hand, students want more influence and want the University to listen to us; on the other, we don’t trust ourselves and want the University to impose regulations on our behavior. However, upon closer examination, these seemingly opposite feelings of the student body are understandable — although they point to a disturbing trend on college campuses across the country where students are demanding more oversight — “paternalism” — from their respective university administrations. The outrage among the student body essentially boils down to a frustration about a perceived lack of influence. Students do not feel like their voices are being heard on campuses — so they proceed to direct their voices towards the administration whom they hope will implement the policies they are advocating. The result is that in the fight for more influence, students often appear to be advocating regulation of themselves.
Take for example the Halloween party controversy at Yale University last October. A group of administrators at Yale University sent out an email to the student body urging them to avoid Halloween costumes that would be considered offensive to some students; a few days later, the wife of the Yale-equivalent of an RF, Erika Christakis, wrote a counter-email questioning whether it was the role of the University to regulate Halloween costumes or whether students should take responsibility for telling others when and why they feel uncomfortable. This provoked an unexpected and incredibly emotionally-charged backlash against the two resident professors on the part of the student body; one student yelled at them when they held a “dialogue” in the residence’s courtyard: “It is not about creating an intellectual space! It is not! Do you understand that? It is about creating a home here!”
The different interpretations of the Yale event showcased the fundamental miscommunication between older and younger generations which plague us here. Many older folks penned op-eds which alleged that Yale students essentially wanted to curtail free speech and called their form of social justice “misguided.”
But what Yale students were, in my view, upset about was the lack of control they experienced over what was, for them, a private space. It is one thing for a student of color to encounter a stranger on University Avenue dressed in black-face for Halloween — maybe then Professor Christakis’ commentary about confronting individuals and starting a public discourse might be appropriate. Maybe. But the fact remains that it is a fundamentally different problem when you are sitting in your dorm room — your private space — and your roommate’s best friend walks in wearing the same costume. Students who live in dormitories do not, for the most part, get to chose their roommates, and they certainly do not get to choose their hallmates and their doormates. They are subject to the whims of Housing about who moves in and who moves out and University administrators, at least at Stanford, can enter students’ rooms at any time, without even a notification. Students have very little control over living space and who is allowed in and out of it — and if on move-in day you find your roommate has hung swastikas and a picture of Hitler, as happened as SJSU, there’s really not a lot you can do about it. I have multiple friends at Stanford who had some point have lived in their car or conveniently nearby relative’s house because a “crazy roommate” made their room unlivable, for various reasons. So while older generations are appalled at our call to regulate what they consider “public space”, University students consider dorms and college campuses to largely be “private space”, where they want to feel safe, comfortable, and protected.
So the problem is, at its core, a lack of autonomy. But the proposed solutions is where I tend to disagree with most students. There are two way of solving this problem. The first, as the Yale students did with their Halloween party and as Stanford students want the University to do with Full Moon on the Quad, you can petition the University to regulate living or private space. The University, if they listen to you, can issue fiats and limitations that, to some extent, make students feel more comfortable. Or they may sometimes make things worse (like Stanford’s policy that all University employees are mandated to report sexual assault). Or they may do nothing at all.
Or, you can just demand you get to live in your own goddamn apartment.
If students had their own living space it would solve a lot of the problems describe above. Controlling your own private space completely is much more effective than trying to influence the University to control aspects of your space for you. Of course, it’s not as simple as deciding to move off campus — cost of living in areas around Stanford are, to say the least, absurd. Most students can barely afford to live on campus. But the essential point about our response to the problem remains — that maybe the reaction to our loss of autonomy should not be to advocate for someone else to control us better, but for us to regulate ourselves.
Which brings me back to Full Moon on the Quad. A lot of the criticism about the decision is that, without University support, FMOTQ will be “a less safe, a less monitored, and a less inclusive event” which includes security, messaging on the importance of consent, lighting, food and water. But it does not seem obvious to me that any of those things cannot reasonably be provided by a student group or organization who is willing to take responsibility for the event.
The student body has consistently criticized the University for failing to live up to students’ values — to address campus assault, black lives matter, the experience of marginalized students, fossil fuel divestment, and the Israel-Palestine conflict. The administration has said it has decided that Full Moon the Quad does not reflect the University’s values (and is certainly not a reflection of where donors and tuition-paying parents want their money to go). It is very clear that there is a divergence of values between students and administration. So why is the student body trying to export our agenda to University administrators? Why are we saying, “here are our values, please implement them”?
If Stanford students believe that FMOTQ is a reflection of their values, then they should organize the event on their own — and they should do it better than the University. If we say that we believe in consent and a safe environment for all students, then it is our responsibility to implement those values. If we outsource our aspirations to benevolent dictators (i.e. the University administration), we shouldn’t be surprised when they are hijacked by individuals with with differing agendas. And if you really believe Stanford students are not capable of organizing and supervising this event without the University administration, then perhaps we need to re-evaluate whether we are mature enough to attend this event at all. This is an opportunity for us to exercise the influence we have been advocating for, and to take responsibility for ensuring this event reflects the values we purport to support.
If you believe in Full Moon on the Quad, then you should do it yourself.