Welcome or Orgy? Stanford Freshmen Love 'Full Moon on the Quad'

PHOTO: Stanford University students enjoy the annual Full Moon on the Quad event.
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Gabbi Fisher, a student from Massachusetts, arrived at Stanford University this fall and quickly joined a century-old freshman tradition, kissing and being kissed by fellow students -- lots of them.

"It used to be the seniors would give a girl a peck on the cheek and give them a rose, but it's evolved into something more modern," said the 18-year-old, who hopes to study computer science or politics.

On the first full moon of the school year, students celebrate Full Moon on the Quad, a bacchanal-like celebration that draws thousands of undergraduates to one hour of pressing the flesh. Some are in body paint and others arrive in the buff.

Food trucks, iconic movies of couples kissing, music and plenty of alcohol fuel the event, and at the stroke of midnight, students are divided into groups of gay and straight and they are free to kiss with abandon -- with the consent of the recipient, of course.

By 1 a.m., the party is over.

"Oh, my God," said Fisher when asked how many men (and women) she kissed. "I lost count at 20."

In the last three decades, Full Moon on the Quad has been cancelled only one year, in 2009, when the H1N1, or swine flu, virus was rampant. This year, because of a conflict with homecoming, it was held on Oct. 22.

The administration hands out free mouthwash and makes half-hearted efforts to curtail too much open-mouth contact so as not to promote contagious college diseases like the flu or mononucleosis or, worst case, meningitis.

"The actual health hazard is probably very, very small and would be difficult to measure." -- Dr. William Schaffner

The New York Times, which recently published a story on the annual event, called it an "orgy of interclass kissing" and a "domestic example of a new field in public health 'mass-gathering medicine.'"

"It's definitely risky, but there are a hundred students who volunteer as sober monitors and look out for unwanted sexual advances," said Fisher.

"If you feel really unsafe, you can rely on them," she said. "Students who are not exactly fully participating with alcohol and kissing are there to make sure everyone has a good time and not consenting away and regretting later."

"It's quirky and a fun tradition, and no other school does anything remotely like this," she said.

PHOTO: Stanford University students enjoy the annual Full Moon on the Quad event.
Zetong Li/The Stanford Daily
PHOTO: Stanford University students enjoy the annual Full Moon on the Quad event.

Dr. William Schaffner, professor and chair of preventive medicine at Vanderbilt University, has concerns about Full Moon on the Quad, but they aren't about contracting a disease.

"Let's bring this down to the real world," said Schaffner, who noted that students get plenty of intimate contact as part of the college lifestyle.

"The emphasis on permission and mutual consent is absolutely critical," he said. "The actual health hazard is probably very, very small and would be difficult to measure."

"Certainly if we have impaired males, who tend to get more aggressive, and females tend to be more submissive or accommodating, that's where the issues come up with drinking and morning-after regrets," he said.

The 120-year-old university sanctions the event, which began in the 1900s and, after going out of fashion for some time, was resurrected in the 1980s.

"Since then, it's grown in popularity," said university spokeswoman Lisa Lapin.

"The university provides students with a lot of information related to alcohol use and safe sex -- there are booths there about both," said Lapin. "It's generally seen as a very fun tradition and one of the things students look forward to most when they arrive on campus freshman year."

Shawn Lipinski, who graduated from Stanford in 2001, said that while the event is promoted as a "rite of passage," where seniors get to kiss freshmen, most all upperclassmen join in.

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