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Stanford Stories From the Archives

1980s

The 1980s were a time of struggle for social and political change both on the Farm and around the world. Many of Stanford’s institutional policies were shaped during the decade by a student body and campus community grappling with issues of racial, gender, and sexual equality. While students were motivated by national and global ideals, several events served as reminders to the campus community that meaningful change first had to be achieved at home.

In the 1980s, students continued their efforts to combat racism on a global scale by advocating for Stanford’s economic divestment from South Africa’s Apartheid regime, while at the same time residents of Stanford’s Ujamaa ethnic theme dorm experienced racial attacks brought on by their fellow students. Even as Stanford set an example nationally by instituting a Feminist Studies program in 1981, one of its first faculty members faced a long and arduous tenure battle with the theme of institutional gender discrimination at the fore.

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A Stanford Divestment Planner, Stanford out of South Africa (SoSA), April 1985

The student led anti-apartheid movement, which held large protests in 1977 against Stanford’s financial investments in South Africa, continued its efforts into the 1980s. In the spring of 1985, Stanford out of South Africa posted a sign on the door of the president’s office once again demanding divestment. In June of 1985, the university created a Commission on Investment Responsibility, comprised of faculty, students, staff, and alumni to review the university’s portfolio and create formal investment policies. Protests continued over the next few years, and Stanford retained its case-by-case review process for investments.

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Defaced “Uncle Ludwig Wants You” poster & “Avenge Ujamaa” poster, 1988

Ujamaa, the ethnic theme dorm that celebrates Black Culture and heritage, found itself at the center of multiple racial incidents in the fall of 1988. Between October 1st and 14th of 1988, two Ujamaa posters were defaced over the course of a two-week period. The incidents resulted in the “Grey Interpretation” of Stanford’s Fundamental Standard: Free Expression and Discriminatory Harassment policy. The Grey Interpretation maintains that use of racial epithets or their equivalent is a violation of the Stanford student code of conduct.

Starting in the early 1980s, students began to critique the university’s introductory “Western Culture” humanities curriculum, and demanded a more inclusive and less Eurocentric course of study. These incidents and efforts, among others, resulted in meaningful changes to Stanford’s economic investment policy, free expression and discrimination policies, tenure proceedings, and core curriculum design.

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Jesse Jackson and students protest Western Culture program on Palm Drive, photograph, 1987

By the mid-1980s, increasing dissatisfaction with the introductory humanities program known as “Western Culture” that had begun in 1980 came to the fore. The program was criticized for its lack of diversity and its predominantly Eurocentric readings. Students advocated for a curriculum that included ethnic minority and women authors. On January 15, 1987, as many as 500 students, along with the Reverend Jesse Jackson, rallied down Palm Drive chanting, "Hey hey, ho ho, Western Civ has got to go." The curriculum debate drew national attention, and in 1989 Western Culture was formally replaced with the Cultures, Ideas, & Values (CIV) program that included more inclusive works on race, class, and gender.

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The "Play"

Many who attended in the first half of the 1980s witnessed the Stanford football team and band make sports history during the Stanford-Cal Big Game of 1982 with the legendary “Play” that occurred on November 20, 1982.

Those on campus the latter half of the decade experienced the effects of the Loma Prieta earthquake, which rocked campus in 1989. Over 1,000 students were forced from their homes, and some campus buildings sustained significant damage, including the Bing Wing of Green Library, which would undergo a multi-year, 55-million-dollar restoration before re-opening in 1999.

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1989 - Loma Prieta

Students gather around a television powered by a car battery following the Loma Prieta earthquake October 17, 1989