Vassar should rethink post-pandemic crowding

Image courtesy of Sophia Wood ’23.

Following the COVID-19 pandemic, the “return to normalcy” has brought about a resurgence of large gatherings worldwide. Masses have come together in celebration of holidays as well as concerts and other community-based events. As we transition out of the distanced society we’ve known all too well these last few years, questions of the feasibility and logistics of large events have arisen. In an article from the Wall Street Journal, the author posits that due to strict isolation measures, previous partygoers and businesses were eager to get back to their previous conventions. However, recent events in South Korea escalated uncontrollably when a Halloweekend crowd turned deadly as a crowd crush consumed celebrants.

According to the same article, “The tragedy likely resulted from poor crowd control, experts said, raising questions over how South Korean authorities had regulated the mass numbers who flocked to the district to celebrate the first Halloween following the relaxation of most of the country’s Covid-19 restrictions.”

For Vassar, a push to transition away from the dreadful COVID-19 restrictions on social life has been growing for the last two years. The Noyes tent returned for Halloweekend last year, and it has attracted large groups of students.  

The administration has expressed concern over crowd safety at recent events, including the Noyes tent on Halloweekend. Associate Director of Campus Activities William Rush said in a written correspondence, “The goal at large events is always to prevent unsafe situations from happening in the first place.  For example, at the Halloween event on Noyes Circle, staff at the event worked constantly with the student DJs to stop the music and make announcements asking students to spread out when it seemed the crowd was getting overwhelming for some people.”

Additionally, he said, “For the Halloweekend Tent event, the max capacity for the tent was 600 people. This was managed jointly between Campus Safety, Crowd Control attendants, and Campus Activities staff. When the tent was reaching capacity, additional students were not let in until the tent emptied a bit.”

Vassar is but a part of a pattern of harmful and dangerous crowds post-pandemic around the world. According to The Wall Street Journal, “Covid-19 restrictions had created pent-up demand from partygoers and businesses alike.” Just over a year ago, Travis Scott’s “Astroworld” concert tragedy killed 10 in Houston because of similar crowd issues. The article continued that serious problems can arise within minutes. At Vassar College Entertainment’s (ViCE) Spring concert, Indigo De Souza voiced concerns over rude and aggressive crowd behavior.

An abundance of students have felt unsafe at such events since the College began loosening restrictions on gatherings for over a year now. According to Mariano De Carvalho ’25, Crowd safety seemed to be non-existent this year. I personally was covered with [bruises] following the Halloweekend Tent and saw several friends get knocked over by rough crowds.” 

With these policies, in addition to the presence of individuals in black and yellow jackets scattered throughout campus during events with large turnouts, it’s only natural to question what training and actions are capable of preventing such tragedies. According to a written correspondence with James Kelly, the Director of Environmental, Health and Safety, “Event staff know to direct an evacuation if necessary, and call in for assistance from police, fire, and outside medical in the event of an emergency. If necessary, a United Command (our community emergency responders) would be set up to manage the emergency in a coordinated fashion.” But what exactly does that entail, besides turning off the music, politely asking students to step back and limiting the tent to a mere 600?

In addition to administration policy, the responsibility falls partially on students partying.  “Being aware of one’s space is incredibly important at large events,” Rush pointed out. “Moshing can be incredibly dangerous and make many people uncomfortable, pushing them into barricades and other people.”

Despite the measures suggested by the College, students in the tent were forced to take responsibilities of helping others instead of enjoying a comfortable party environment. De Carvalho said, “There were multiple instances where I had to help people I didn’t even know get out of the crowd because they were falling and no security was coming to help them up. The entire crowd at the tent event this year seemed much more aggressive than last year and it was not an experience that felt safe.” 

Given the risks exemplified by all of the above mentioned situations, it is clear that crowd control needs to be taken into consideration at a higher degree than it has been. The pandemic has changed many aspects of modern society and crowd preparedness should develop in concurrence. On a global scale, event leaders should be aware of the potential of a crowd surge and have both preventative and emergency measures in place. Additionally, while Vassar’s administration has thought about on-campus preventative measures, more should be done to protect our community and ensure that everyone can have an enjoyable time, particularly at events hosted by the College. In either situation, individuals attending events expecting to draw large crowds should have emergency knowledge and resources available to them should they need it.

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