By Lily Zheng
“Kardinal Kink meets in an unmarked room in Kimball Hall. The group, which recently had its petition to become recognized as a student group by the University rejected by Student Activities and Leadership (SAL), serves as a support and advocacy group for the kink community at Stanford and draws anywhere from eight to 30 attendees at their meetings.”
So begins an article in the Stanford Daily published on March 12th, 2014, on the group of students calling itself Kardinal Kink. At the time, the group’s request for Voluntary Student Organization status had just been denied, and the article’s visibility in the Daily set off whispers across campus. From Yik Yak posts (back when Yik Yak was still relevant, I guess), it was obvious that kink jokes were quickly becoming all the rage. Our mailing list that year received a consistent influx of new members, but a few embarrassed emails later revealed that many of these “new members” had been subscribed by their friends as pranks.
Still, our informal list of members grew past 50 and then past 100. As a group, the way we nurtured a culture that explicitly and intentionally centered active consent, communication and trust in our intimacy and relationships was a powerful draw. Students across campus, most of them with little to no prior experience with polyamory, BDSM or kink, joined to learn more, explore their sexual boundaries and find a welcoming community.
When Kardinal Kink became an official VSO in late May of that year, we made it our mission to expand our community, push back against misconceptions and create positive change for Stanford University. In 2015, we tabled for the first time at the New Student Orientation Fall Activities Fair (I still remember standing on a table and waving a huge BDSM Pride flag at the tourists and getting awkward leather harness tan lines). That year, we began offering informal workshops for dorms and houses around campus with titles like “How to Get Laid: Practical Consent” and partnered with the Sexual Health Peer Resource Center to put on multiple events for Sex Week. We hosted all-campus parties with explicit consent norms, started complex conversations about consent in co-ops across campus and organized teach-ins on topics ranging from feminist kink to critiques of Fifty Shades of Grey.
We’re nearing the end of the 2016-2017 academic year, and I’ve been thinking about Kardinal Kink again recently. Part of it is a selfish sort of nostalgia — I’ve been co-president for just about three years now and am getting ready to graduate — but a larger reason for writing about Kardinal Kink is because I’m genuinely proud of the work we’ve been able to do at Stanford since our founding late in the 2012-2013 academic year.
Over the past four years, Kardinal Kink has not only created spaces and a community for Stanford students interested in kink but also in many ways changed the conversations happening everywhere on campus. The model of consent we sought to import from the Bay Area kink community — one of negotiation, open communication and self-awareness — has informed larger trainings on campus through conversations with organizations like the SHPRC and the SARA Office. Our constant presence at Activity Fairs, public events and meetups has helped to normalize our existence here as an organization (albeit one that causes ProFros to double-take), and has created a unique environment at Stanford. Where else in the country are college students able to attend more-or-less public bondage workshops, learn safety practices for dominant/submissive relationships and seek peer advice on non-monogamy — and have these resources so normalized as to not bat an eye at them?
I am proud of the community we have created, of the enthusiasm and engagement from students diverse in race, gender, class, religion, sexuality and nationality linked by a shared interest in learning about and connecting around kink and healthy sexuality. The mutual respect our members have for each other and the openness of the spaces we create give me hope, not just as a fellow community member but as an organizer and activist as well. Kardinal Kink feels one of a kind, not just relative to Stanford University, but also relative to many other kink organizations — many of which are often overwhelmingly white, led by men and class-restrictive. Given that this is likely the very last time I write about kink in the Daily, can you blame me for being a little sentimental?
When I think about what we’ve done at Stanford, I think about a video posted by the Stanford Daily during Admit Weekend 2017 in which Daily staffers asked ProFros true/false questions about Stanford.“Kardinal Kink!” one ProFro exclaimed. “What do they do?” asked another. The first smiles wide. “Talk about … kink!”
And so we do.
Contact Lily Zheng at lilyz8 ‘at’ stanford.edu.