Mug Night shutdown casts doubt over future campus-sponsored events

Juliette Pope/The Miscellany News.

On the evening of Saturday, April 24, Vassar’s annual Middle School Mug Night was abruptly shut down by Campus Activities officials due to crowd control issues and violations of COVID-19 guidelines. The events that unfolded at Middle School Mug Night led to the subsequent cancellation of the Misc Music Festival and has left the Vassar student body uncertain about the fate of other major campus-sponsored events.

Middle School Mug Night, a concert held on Ballantine Field, rapidly grew overwhelmed as more and more students gathered, making it increasingly difficult for the audience to follow social distancing guidelines. Amidst the confusion, a video of the scene was sent to President Elizabeth Bradley who called Associate Director of Campus Activities Will Rush and other Campus Activities Office representatives to shut down the event, according to VCDJ Co-President Lucy Posner ’21. 

In a written statement sent to the Miscellany News, Dean Carlos Alamo-Pastrana declared the official reason for the termination of the event: “We [Vassar administration] always work to be flexible with students when it is appropriate to do so. The challenge with the Middle School Mug night is that the event was overwhelmed with a large number of students within a very small window which limited any flexibility.”

The host of the event, Vassar College DJs (VCDJ), received backlash on social media from students for the Mug Night incident. Posner defended the organization: “I don’t appreciate the onus being placed entirely on us … Our number one priority is keeping the regulations while also making this semester feel somewhat normal and fun.” She claimed that when it comes to organizing Mug Night, VCDJ is only responsible for setting up their equipment, playing the music and promoting the show. “We’re not in charge of how the security is going to work, how SARC [Student Activities Resource Center] is going to work the security.”

When asked about the College’s official event-planning policy, Alamo-Pastrana wrote, “Crowd control for events is managed collaboratively by Campus Activities, Safety and Security and, at times, student workers and organizations.”

But Posner claimed Campus Activities and Safety and Security did not take sufficient measures to ensure the safety and success of the event. SHe recalled how, instead of barricades, the grass at Ballantine Field was painted with blue circles to keep students within their pods, but these demarcations were hard to see at night. Posner also said she had reached out to Rush to have a checkpoint for people to show their ID and enter as a way to moderate capacity. Such a checkpoint did not exist the day of the event.

Rush said such a measure is tough to manage. “[M]anaging checkpoints in an open field space like Ballantine Field is very difficult, since there is no boundary for the event.”

Posner expressed her frustration toward the security staff on-site. According to Rush, the College uses both VC Safety & Security and an outside company to support events happening on campus, particularly on busy weekends. “Contracted staff are always briefed by and communicate with our on-campus Safety & Security team during events.” 

Posner explained that the security guards told the DJs to speak into the microphone to request that people spread out. She found this unusual and claimed that at past events, such as Quadchella, security would usually go into the crowd to break up people. Performing and conducting crowd control made things all the more difficult for the student DJs. “It’s frustrating to have to do security’s job and the SARC’s job,” Posner said.

Rush shared that social distancing reminders over microphone are a standard practice for such events. “At other events, we have been able to have announcements made [by performers] to try and disperse crowds and avoid overcrowding so events can continue and still be within the current guidelines.”

The events of that night would have far-reaching consequences on the campus events scene. Shortly after Mug Night, The Misc Music Fest (MMF), another outdoor concert, was cancelled.

Prior to Middle School Mug Night, campus-sponsored events were gradually ramping up as more students got vaccinated. Miscellany News’ Live Events Chair Benjamin Scharf ’22 shared that, “Although the rule had always technically been under 50, there was a mutual understanding between campus activities, campus security, and student orgs that capacity could exceed 50 so long as security was satisfied with everyone masking and distancing.”

Scharf was notified by Rush that the leniencies provided by this “play-it-by-ear” approach were completely nullified following the Mug Night incident. Scharf stated, “[W]e [Scharf and Rush] both recognized that far more than 50 people would attend the festival, and therefore, the likelihood of it getting shut down was near 100%.” Scharf continued, “As live events coordinator, I made the executive decision to cancel the event, as I could not in good faith waste thousands of dollars on an event that was likely to get shut down.”

For some prospective MMF performers, this cancellation was devastating. Student musician Claire Furtwangler ’21 expressed her dismay with the outcome: “I will admit, I was really disappointed when the Misc event got cancelled … being a senior, it was going to be my band’s (The Morning Moon) last show together of that scale— – especially with opportunities to perform being so much lower due to COVID— – as well as one of our last chances to enjoy listening to the other bands with senior members.”

Other performers also voiced their dismay about the decision. Alex Koester ’23 stated, “We [the musicians] had been looking forward to it and practicing hard, multiple days a week. It takes a big chunk of our time, and then it was just robbed from us.” Koester explained how student musicians have been especially hard hit these past semesters due to the pandemic: “In the fall, we…didn’t even have any places to practice outside … Security was being called on us for being outside and playing music.” 

Any potential changes in the current campus events policy is subject to the jurisdiction of the VassarTogether committee and/or the senior team, according to Rush. As it stands now, the strict 50-person maximum capacity for events will likely remain until the end of the academic year, even if herd immunity is achieved on campus. Although 85 percent of the Vassar student body have received either one or two vaccine doses, Alamo-Pastrana noted that vaccinated people are not considered immune until two weeks after completing all their doses. “For this reason, it will be difficult to attain herd immunity because many of our students are still completing their vaccine series,” he said.

The culmination of the Mug Night shutdown and cancellation of the MMF has left many students concerned about other major campus-sponsored events, namely Founder’s Day. But Alamo-Pastrana said that the show will indeed go on: “We learned a lot from Middle School Mug Night but the planning group for Founder’s Day, which includes students and administrators, has been at work for months and will continue to move forward with the plans they have put in place.”

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