Vital Signs

Racism at Stanford?

The Beethoven Poster Case

The resurgence of campus racism has been a big topic in the news for nearly a year now. According to the often-cited National Institute Against Prejudice and Violence in Baltimore, the number grows all the time. By mid-1989, the institute had reported "racist incidents" on 175 different campuses within the last three years.

I live close to Stanford University and use its libraries. I was therefore interested to read, two Octobers back, that the scourge of bigotry had moved in right next door. Like most reports on campus racism, this one was long on handwringing and short on facts. It spoke darkly of a "defaced poster of Beethoven." It wasn't clear what had been written on the poster, but the implication was that it was fiercely racist and that we were to worry about it.

That poster has dragged Stanford permanently into the camp of the racists, and has become another symbol for bigoted white people. California newspapers have repeatedly mentioned the incident, as has The New York Times, Harper's, and, most recently (the September 25, 1989 issue), Newsweek. In every instance the Beethoven poster was trotted out as evidence of the wickedness of white students, but without any hint of what really happened or why.

Stanford takes racism seriously. It puts all of its freshmen through intensive preventive seminars on the subject, and has deans for minority affairs,...

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