One spring night in Otero, in a dormitory housing first-year students at Stanford University in California, a student went on a drunken rampage, tearing fliers from the bulletin boards and walls, making an unholy racket. A resident assistant (RA)—an upperclassman selected to oversee the dorm—told him to stop and was answered with curses and slurs. The RA then fetched the resident fellow, a faculty member living in a cottage close by. He was treated similarly.

The student was evicted from the dorm for his actions. As in any era at Stanford, disciplinary action was a predictable response to drunken, rude, and destructive behavior. The Residential Education staff in Otero, however, felt that the incident reflected more than one individual’s misconduct. They saw it as a failure of “community” in the dorm. More ominously, the failure involved homophobia, for the RA was openly homosexual, and the drunken student had called him names.

Lengthy dorm discussions were organized—two-and three-hour meetings, week after week—which degenerated into shouting matches over homosexuality. Detailed stories in the Stanford Daily, the student-run newspaper, kept the entire campus abreast of these exchanges. Adding to the tumult, a group of fraternity members protested the student’s expulsion, walking through the halls carrying candles and wearing hockey masks. Their protest reminded some of the Ku Klux Klan, and demands were made that the protesters, too, be disciplined.

Joanne Lin, then a first-year student in the dorm, remembers that the residence staff “had great ambitions and intentions, but it blew up in their faces. The distinctions between people drove them apart.”

Accentuate The Labels

Welcome to the world of multiculturalism and “political ...

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