Last month, Stanford Libraries and Stanford’s Department of Public Safety stopped members of the Columbae co-op from walking naked through the library during finals week. Predictably, many disagree with our actions and think the Columbae run is a tradition worth keeping.
I am on record as being a fan of many of the ways in which the Library is seen as a social icon on campus, and the nude run fits that notion in some ways. But I think we made the right, though unpopular, decision in this case.
We put up with some student traditions and pranks in the library — the book-slamming exercise that was part of New Student Orientation this year, for example — but we draw the line at activities that cause damage (Band Run) and activities that violate the Fundamental Standard. The Columbae nude run is problematic for the simple reason that some patrons and some library staff are uncomfortable with being approached by nude students. We have a responsibility to provide a safe environment for all students, and to make sure that our staff and our patrons are not placed in a situation that creates a hostile environment. The rights of students and staff to not be approached by nude strangers outweighs the dubious rights of the Columbae residents to streak thru the library.
If an individual slammed a book in the Lane room, we would simply ask them not to, but we wouldn’t throw them out of the library. If an individual stripped in the library and then started handing out candy to patrons, we would certainly ask them to leave. In fact, we have over the years responded to complaints from students of other patrons in various states of undress, and we have responded appropriately to protect the right of our patrons to study in an environment free of harassment. And although it may sound prude, it is not such a stretch to say that being offered candy by a naked stranger is a form of harassment. The fact that the Columbae run is a tradition that consists of a group of students rather than a single patron makes little difference in our responsibility to our staff and our other patrons.
My suggestion to the Columbae co-op is that they find a way to keep their tradition alive in a space where others are free to choose whether they want to be a part of it. The library is not that place.