Just as Public Safety gears up for another round of NSLOPPY first-years, Bwog has received word that the spring concert organized by Bacchanal (a student organization run through ABC that is also responsible for Lowlapalooza) is under administrative review.
Citing “safety concerns associated with drinking and sexual harrassment,” the four undergraduate deans have officially cancelled a proposed fall concert (which would have taken place in September) and are considering canceling the annual spring event. Student leaders have told admins that “canceling Bacchanal was a misguided way to fight sexual assault, because it simply distracted from and disguised the underlying causes of sexual violence, rather than creating a campus culture in which students could safely participate in schoolwide, community events.”
The full press release from multiple student executive boards—including the valiant battle between student leaders and the administration, some financial issues, and typical communication problems—is under the cut, along with a response from the Coalition Against Sexual Violence and No Red Tape.
We are disappointed to confirm that, despite our objections, a planned Fall Bacchanal concert that was set to take place this September has been cancelled, and this year’s Spring Bacchanal Concert has been placed under administrative review.
Following this year’s spring Bacchanal, the Bacchanal Committee met with the Activities Board at Columbia (ABC) and the four undergraduate Student Councils about the possibility of hosting the first Fall Bacchanal, in addition to the annual spring concert. The idea had first been discussed in early April and was solidified during F@CU sessions in the spring. The Office of Student Engagement, which is responsible for representing the administration to student groups and overseeing campus events, approved Fall Bacchanal on May 15th and secured Low Plaza as a concert venue. The first offer to a performer was submitted the following day and was signed off by Bacchanal’s advisor. Throughout May, June, and July, the Committee booked two more artists and was in frequent communication with the Office of Student Engagement about the event; administrators in the Office of Student Engagement themselves submitted signed offers for the three artists on June 5, June 23, and July 7. By July 8th all three artists were confirmed for a show on September 14.
Extensive planning was done by the Bacchanal Committee to ensure a safe and successful event. Further, every suggestion made to improve safety measures from Bacchanal’s advisors were met without hesitation. At no point was Bacchanal given any indication of administrative concerns until July 28, when Bacchanal CoPresident Benjamin Kornick was called into a meeting with the Bacchanal advisors from Student Engagement and the Interim Dean of Student Life. Ben was informed at the meeting that the four undergraduate deans had recently met and decided not to allow the fall show to proceed. During that meeting, no specific details were given as to the reasons behind the cancellation other than general comments about safety concerns associated with drinking and sexual harassment and that the concert was too close to the start of the school year.
The following day, the four undergraduate Councils and ABC met with members of the Bacchanal Committee to address the sudden cancellation. On Tuesday morning, Bacchanal Executive Board members sent emails to the four undergraduate deans requesting more information about the reasoning behind the cancellation. The email requested the opportunity to meet and discuss the cancellation so the committee and Councils could attempt to first understand and then address the deans’ concerns. None of these emails received any response. On Wednesday, July 30, one of the Council presidents met with their undergraduate dean and received a preliminary explanation for the cancellation. That night, representatives of the Bacchanal Committee, the executive boards of all four undergraduate student Councils, and ABC wrote a letter detailing numerous concerns regarding the cancellation, including the fact that this decision was made without any consultation with students, after approval had been given for months, and after artists had been confirmed, meaning that, in line with standard industry practice, the Bacchanal Committee would still be obligated to pay $55,000 of undergraduate student life fees to the artists whether or not they performed. The letter further stated students’ belief that canceling Bacchanal was a misguided way to fight sexual assault, because it simply distracted from and disguised the underlying causes of sexual violence, rather than creating a campus culture in which students could safely participate in schoolwide, community events. The letter also articulated several proposals to make Bacchanal a safer event for students.
This letter was sent to the four undergraduate deans on Thursday morning, signed by the executive boards of all four undergraduate Councils, the executive board of ABC, the executive board of SGB, the executive board of GBB, and all six undergraduate University Senators, addressing every concern we were made aware of from the deans’ perspectives, and addressing the deans’ lack of direct communication with the Bacchanal Committee. Council members requested that the undergraduate deans meet with the Bacchanal Committee.
On Friday, August 1st, various Council members and Bacchanal CoPresident Meredith Venerus were able to speak to other undergraduate deans. The deans outlined their concerns surrounding safety at the concert, and agreed to communicate more directly with the Bacchanal Executive Board going forward. On Monday, a formal safety proposal was submitted to the four deans, detailing effective measures to improve crowd control and fight excessive drinking. Similar details had previously been provided to Student Engagement. The proposal also suggested changes to the concert theme that would convey a positive message, address the deans’ concerns, and facilitate a change in campus culture. Other safety measures were proposed, including plans to give out backstage passes to students who participated in bystander intervention trainings provided by Sexual Violence Response and hosted by Bacchanal, to provide water stations and food inside the fences, and to bar graduate students from the event (graduate students accounted for six out of thirteen CUEMS hospital transports at Bacchanal 2013). It is also worth mentioning that we offered to move the concert to a seated venue if that was what it took to provide the security the deans required to reverse the cancellation and sign off on the event.
The letter also requested for the deans to meet with the Bacchanal Committee before deciding the fate of the event for a second time. On Friday, August 8, the Deans responded to the Bacchanal Committee and the four Councils, thanking them for their thoughtful proposals but writing that the cancellation of the Fall Concert was final and putting the status of the annual spring event in question. However, a second decision was made without meeting with the Bacchanal Committee to hear their perspective and give them a chance to alleviate any concerns. The deans agreed to cover the $55,000 that Bacchanal owed to the artists due to contracts that had already been approved. While the student group will be reimbursed, we feel this is an unacceptable waste of money that would have otherwise gone towards meeting student needs a waste that could have easily been avoided through open communication.
We are concerned and troubled by the process of this cancellation and the lack of
communication with students in making this decision. We strongly believe Bacchanal is a valuable community-building event and that this event can be held safely. Had the deans raised their concerns with the Bacchanal Committee and the four Councils earlier in the process, we could have worked together to find solutions to all concerns. Instead, approval was granted and then revoked, without consultation with any students involved. It is our sincere hope that this will be an impetus for change; we believe students should have direct and open communication with decisionmakers. We also believe that $55,000 is too steep a price to pay for miscommunication within the administration, and it is our hope that future decisions— including the approval of the annual Spring Bacchanal concert—will be conducted in collaboration with student groups.
ABC Executive Board
Bacchanal Presidents and Concert Chairs
CCSC Executive Board
ESC Executive Board
GBB Executive Board
GSSC Executive Board
SGA Executive Board
SGB Executive Board
The response from the Coalition Against Sexual Violence:
The Coalition Against Sexual Violence is deeply troubled by the Columbia administration’s choice to cancel the Fall Bacchanal concert and to place the spring concert under review. We feel strongly that this is a band-aid, not a solution, in the fight against sexual assault on Columbia’s campus. The goal of our work is and has always been to create a culture of consent on campus which makes all events and spaces safe for students — cancelling Bacchanal sends the false message that the concert is the cause of sexual violence.
Harassment and assault at Bacchanal may be more visible, but sexual violence is prevalent throughout the year, and will happen in Columbia residence halls, buildings, and events whether or not this event takes place. These incidents will still occur; they’ll just occur in EC or John Jay, instead of Low Steps. Cancelling the event only serves to ignore and distract from the true reasons for sexual violence on campus — inadequate consent education, a lack of accountability, and rape culture. Bacchanal does not create these conditions, and we feel strongly that cancelling it is a misguided decision which restricts students’ choices rather than working towards a community where we can all safely interact, learn, and grow together.
This year, the Bacchanal Committee had several proposals to make the event one which promotes a safer, responsible community, in which students hold each other accountable for their actions. These safety proposals included training dozens of students in bystander intervention (consistently found to be one of the most effective methods in fighting sexual assault) to be student safety monitors during the concert. Bacchanal suggested giving backstage meet-the-artists passes to students volunteers as an incentive to be trained in bystander intervention by Sexual Violence Response and to serve as student safety monitors, who could be placed throughout the crowd, intervene in any dangerous situations, and be easily identified by any students who felt uncomfortable at any point. This method has been effective at ensuring safety at other student events, such as GenderF*ck. Not only would this serve to make the concert environment safer, this would also provide an opportunity for dozens of people to be trained in bystander intervention, skills that they could carry out into the larger community.
Finally, CASV strongly believes that a culture of consent can only be built within a strong community deeply rooted in respect. A large, community-building event like Bacchanal acts as one of the only campus wide events that undergraduates have to bring them together. We believe Bacchanal, an important community-wide event, can and should be used as a locus of cultural change. Cancelling the concert not only distracts from the real causes of sexual violence, it prevents us from taking valuable steps that may actually combat sexual violence.
Ultimately, we’re concerned that cancelling the fall concert will only hide highly visible instances of assault and silence survivors, sweeping sexual violence back under the rug instead of taking affirmative steps to fight it.
At least one member of the Coalition is in dissent with this statement.
Update (10:09 pm): No Red Tape issued the following statement.
We are dismayed by the four undergraduate Deans’ recent decision to cancel the Bacchanal fall concert and place the spring concert under review.
We are acutely aware that sexual violence is a problem at Columbia University and that perpetrators of sexual violence often take advantage of social events, particularly those where alcohol and drug use is common, to assault members of our community. This is completely unacceptable.
However, we do not agree that canceling the event is a way to address these serious concerns.
The reason that sexual assault has been an issue at Bacchanal is not because of Bacchanal itself. It is because of rape culture. Without Bacchanal, there will still be assaults and there will still be violence on campus. It will simply be less visible. The administration’s idea that canceling Bacchanal will eliminate violence shows their complete misunderstanding of the root of violence and places blame on alcohol or drugs instead of a culture in which we do nothing when those around us are hurt.
There are concrete, tangible, practical changes that can be made to make Bacchanal–and our campus culture–safer. We stand firmly by the proposals we have made in the past for mandatory, continuous prevention programming for all students, especially bystander intervention training. By empowering every member of the Columbia community to recognize and stop violence when it occurs, we can severely curtail the social license to operate that enables perpetrators of sexual violence, which in turn will decrease violence. As student council and Bacchanal staff leaders have already suggested, training student safety monitors to maintain the safety of Bacchanal would be a fantastic way to enjoy our spring concert while ensuring that perpetrators do not take advantage of the event to violate others’ boundaries.
Strengthening and expanding Public Safety’s training program to better respond to incidents of sexual and domestic violence is also an important step that administrators can take to make Bacchanal safer. Significantly reforming our investigation and adjudication process to hold perpetrators accountable when they rape or assault other students will serve as a powerful deterrent to perpetrators if they know Columbia sees sexual violence not as a PR problem but its top priority in eradicating.
Canceling a concert does nothing to actually prevent sexual violence. Contrary to the implications of this decision, the vast majority of Columbia students are not perpetrating violence. They simply aren’t trained to prevent it or intervene when it happens. This will be the case at a dorm or fraternity party, at a local bar, or a concert off campus. If the Deans truly cared about ending violence, they would listen to students and take the steps we have outlined here and in countless meetings.
Ending violence is not easy. It will require us to try multiple initiatives and mandate serious prevention programming for the entire Columbia community. Because violence will not stop by canceling a concert. It will stop when this administration recognizes and takes serious steps to dismantle rape culture.
Note: One NRT member dissents on this issue. All others are in consensus about this statement.