An 18-year-old goes to Stanford University. She lives in the dorms. She looks the part, talks the part, fits in just fine. But then comes the news… (cue foreboding music) She's an impostor!
Is this the plot line to “Orange County II,” a sequel to the movie that chronicled a Southern California high school senior's uphill climb to get into Stanford?
In this real-life tale, which students say played out this year, a young woman posed as a Stanford student for nearly a year, tricked her roommates into thinking she was enrolled in classes just like them, until one spring day dorm staff outed her as being a phony.
University officials are checking out the claim and aren’t releasing the student’s name while police conduct their own investigation. But dorm residents and acquaintances have identified her as Azia Kim, a recent Orange County, Calif., high school graduate. Kim could not be reached for comment.
As Stanford vows to look into how dorm security can be improved, a second impostor has been revealed, this one a woman who claimed a space in a graduate physics building -- reportedly sometimes spending the night there, using computer labs and attending classes. The woman told others she was working on a physics project that required her stay there, according to published reports.
Stanford officials say they have issued the individual a "stay-away letter," which prohibits her from campus.
Greg Boardman, vice provost for student affairs at Stanford, said in a statement that the university will not share more information while the investigations are taking place. Results will be given to the Santa Clara County district attorney, who will decide whether to prosecute, he added.
“We consider these allegations, if confirmed, to be a serious breach of security within the residence halls,” Boardman said in the statement about the Kim investigation. “We are conducting a full investigation into what occurred and how security can be improved. Stanford is a remarkably caring and friendly community. It is unfortunate that some may be able to take advantage of that trust for their own ends.”
This much is apparent from numerous reports: Kim came to Palo Alto, Calif., in the fall along with other entering freshmen. She misrepresented herself to dozens of Stanford students, moving between two residence halls over several months. Friends say Kim talked her way into staying in rooms and lounges, generally telling students that she was locked out of other housing. And since she owned no dorm keys, Kim would enter by climbing through an open window on the first floor.
Depending on whether she was living amongst freshmen or upper classmen, Kim told students she was either studying human biology or taking classes in preparation to declare the major.
"Something that's pretty consistent in everything we've heard is how thorough she was in doing research about what she was supposed to be doing as a student," said Daniel Novinson, a reporter for The Stanford Daily. "She had an incredible number of details at her disposal." That included buying books and commiserating with friends about midterms and finals, he said.
But last week, after a dorm staff member inquired about Kim's living situation, Kim was asked to leave campus.
Students who spoke to the newspaper said they were shocked to hear about Kim's situation. Amy Zhou, a Stanford student who lived with Kim, told the student newspaper that “personally, I don’t feel safe now that Stanford allowed this to happen and that they’re not doing anything to ensure the safety of their students." She did not respond to messages for comment.
A Facebook group, "Azia Kim is my hero," had attracted more than 304 members as of Monday afternoon. A student identifying himself as a Stanford sophomore wrote on the site that "all [Kim} did was just take advantage of a very laid-back and trusting Stanford culture... The mentality here is very warm and welcoming and nobody is on the lookout for a culprit, which is why she was able to hide for so long."
Novinson said students there are generally upset that outsiders might get the impression that Stanford is an unsafe place to live. "There's a concern that there's going to be an overreaction [by administrators] in responding to this."
While Kim's motive is unclear, those who knew her in high school and at Stanford have speculated in reports that she felt pressure to succeed and saw attending the university -- with an acceptance letter or not -- as one way to fulfill that goal.