Stanford Kissing Event: Fun for the Evening, But Now Students Have Stomach Flu

Where the kissing event happens, just not during the day. (rolfkleef/Flickr)

Where the kissing event happens, just not during the day. (rolfkleef/Flickr)

I’ve lived in the Bay Area for more than 20 years, but somehow missed this tradition at Stanford: Full Moon on the Quad.

As the New York Times reported Friday it’s “an event unique in American education: an orgy of interclass kissing reluctantly but officially sanctioned by the university.”

How you respond to this might depend on your age.

My initial reaction was “ewwww!”  But a (younger) colleague asked, “Is it horrible to confess to you: I’d probably join in?!?!”

The event was held last week, on Oct. 22. With thousands of students milling around waiting, the Times described what happened next:

Finally, a male senior saunters over to a group of the youngest-looking women and asks: “Hey! You freshmen? Can I kiss you?”

As the Stanford Band plays and a giant screen shows famous movie clutches, the bravest women step forward and receive the traditional welcome to one of the nation’s most prestigious universities: a big wet upperclassman smack.

I think you can guess why this is a health story.

“Days later, another tradition arrives: flu and mononucleosis, the ‘kissing disease,’ sweep the dorms,” says the Times.

It’s now been 10 days since Full Moon on the Quad or FMOTQ.

Just a few minutes after I read the Times’ piece, a release from Stanford popped up in my inbox — 52 students had come down with norovirus. That’s the virus commonly called “stomach flu” and generally causes vomiting and diarrhea.

Norovirus spreads like wildfire and risk factors for contracting the virus include having “close personal contact” with an infected person, says the CDC.

While any reasonable person might think that “an orgy of interclass kissing” would qualify as “close personal contact,” it’s also true that association does not equal causation, as a reader notes in the comments below.

The Stanford Daily is following the health story, from a different angle. On Friday the paper reported “there’s no shortage of illness going around campus” now that FMOTQ is over. And what’s the “worst, and probably most ubiquitous, symptom” of post-FMOTQ sickness? Coughing, the Daily believes. So the paper helpfully ranks five campus study spots by “coughing awkwardness.”

Yet there’s a more serious health story, too. Not surprisingly, an event that involves kissing a bunch of strangers can make people nervous. That kind of social anxiety can lead to excess alcohol consumption. The Daily reported last week that medical transports related to FMOTQ were down this year possibly due to attempts to emphasize “safe drinking vs. unsafe drinking.”

And yes, Stanford officials have tried to ban the event, The Times notes, but since they’ve been unsuccessful, the university is focusing on trying to make the event safer.

The evening is overseen by student sobriety monitors and decorated with hand-drawn signs — of the ilk that usually say “Beat Cal” — but bearing slogans like “Consent is Sexy.”

This post has been updated with more information about norovirus.

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  • MPS17

    Wikipedia states that the incumbency of norovirus is 24-48 hours. Therefore, the norovirus outbreak at Stanford cannot be related to the kissing event. It is misleading and correspondingly irresponsible and poor journalism for you to suggest otherwise (or to invite the reader to be the judge).

    • Guest

      Not really, you only heard about the outbreak on Tuesday/Wed because of the large number of cases reported within a short timespan. There is no reason to suggest that a smaller number of cases did not arise 2-3 days after Full Moon. This smaller population of infected people could have caused the large infection via a chain reaction

      • MPS17

        That’s not the right way to think about it.

        If during Full Moon the virus spread from one person or from a small set of people to another small set of people, then that’s not triggering the outbreak. To use the language of chain reaction, why focus on this one link in the chain as opposed to any other link? Bear in mind it’s a chain that goes back to the dawn of this disease.

        To make an analogy, imagine that a bunch of people who ate at some restaurant contract an infection from one of the cooks. The cook himself got it from someone else who got it from someone else by way of the pen in a voting booth which was used by someone else who had the infection who got it from someone else etc. Do we write an article about the outbreak of the disease to hundreds of people focusing on the role the voting booth played in it? Now consider that we don’t even know that the voting booth played any role, we just know there was an election ten days ago.

        The spread of this disease was either gradual, drawing attention now because its exponential growth finally reached a point of drawing alarm, in which case the link in the chain that’s of interest is who brought the disease to Stanford and where did he/she get it from (which shouldn’t have anything to do with Full Moon because that’s supposed to be a Stanford-only event), or there was some event during which one or a small set of people exposed a large number of people, in which case the other link in the chain that’s of interest is that event, which was not Full Moon because that happened too long ago.

      • http://blogs.kqed.org/stateofhealth Lisa Aliferis, KQED

        You both make fair points. I have updated the post.