The title of this post is not meant rhetorically. It’s a serious question: who killed Spring Fling’s vibe?
Was it the student attendees, some inebriated and inconsiderate, who jumped over the barrier when the floor of the rink was at capacity and allegedly behaved drunkenly and belligerently when asked to back up? (“Some students ought to be ashamed of themselves,” observed a witness who asked to remain anonymous.) Was it the massive security detail (Public Safety and CSC) who guarded every nook and cranny with the graveness of airport TSA agents and reportedly physically abused one student and verbally harassed another? Was it the organizers (Spring Fling Committee or otherwise) who neglected to inform students in advance that they would be turned away if they arrived late, even while other students were visibly exiting, and flipped on the lights shortly before Ab-Soul’s set, possibly to punish students for failing to obey orders that were largely unintelligible over the ice rink’s cavernous din? Or was it the fucking weather, or maybe Spurrier-Snyder Rink itself, which has never seemed like a less suitable venue for a free, unticketed performance by one of the fastest rising rappers in the world in 2013? At least it wasn’t Kendrick Lamar, who, despite subpar conditions and acoustics better suited to a high school gym, performed “Bitch, Don’t Kill My Vibe,” “Money Trees,” and other highlights from Good Kid, M.A.A.D City with admirable energy and charisma, wooing throngs of adoring fans who knew precisely how to yell out “Drank!” or “Ya bish!” on cue and reportedly popping over to Warren after the show, decked out in a Wes sweatshirt.
Described by A-Batte as “an interesting sociological experiment” and by Samira as “sort of like a middle school dance when they turn the lights on because too many kids are grinding,” this was an interesting Spring Fling. But despite a great lineup, it probably wasn’t an altogether successful one.
This post will attempt to figure out why. It probably won’t succeed.
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The event began at the entrance to Freeman, where students were asked to separate along gender binary lines and present their WesIDs before a quick security pat-down. (One student ahead of me was asked to recite his ID number, because his hairstyle was slightly different than the one pictured on his WesID.) The entrance was reminiscent of 2011’s infamous Matisyahu show. “We understand that some students may not feel that one of the two most common gender pronouns may apply to them,” announced an all-campus email on April 11, 2011, “but we ask that those students choose to enter whichever line they feel most comfortable in.” This time, no such announcement was sent out.
Later I learned that at least two students skipped Spring Fling altogether because of the nature of the entrance.
“Being trans*, part of what made me skip Spring Fling was the picture my friend sent me of the entrance to Freeman,” Ashe Kilbourne ’14 explained over Facebook chat. “Generally, I’d say this kind of highly public segregation is potentially humiliating for trans* people, and the gatekeepers involved rarely have any sensitivity to what they’re doing/policing. I heard upon granting entrance to a male and his female guest, a security guard told the guest to ‘give him a big kiss when you get inside.’ This seems exemplary of the entitlement people in gender policing positions feel to insert their rude shit into your life.”
Kilbourne mentioned that they weren’t the only trans* person who opted not to go inside for this reason.
“The offer to ‘choose the line you prefer’ only gives the illusion of security,” Kilbourne said. “Trans* folks may prefer one gendered space over another, but they are almost guaranteed harassment or incredulous looks if they follow their preference and don’t have passing privilege.”
The Venue Capacity
Not long after I entered Freeman around 3:00, during Ryan Hemsworth’s set, I began receiving texts from friends who were denied entry altogether.
“They’re shutting 100s of ppl out of springflung [sic], employee says ‘we are not letting anyone else in,’ even as ppl leave,” Ben Soloway ’13 texted me at 3:46. “Wtf is going on in there.” Wesleying photographer goatmilk was similarly denied entry, hence the lack of decent photography in this post.
Not that it’s a surprise that the ice rink’s capacity can’t accommodate the entire student body, or that Kendrick Lamar drew a crowd nearly twice as big as last year’s lineup. Glancing at dozens of empty bleachers and a handful of students exiting the show altogether, I realized that this sort of thing was probably governed by a legal capacity, or maybe the whim of the fire marshal. But I was surprised that the venue’s limited capacity hadn’t been made clear to students in advance or included anywhere in the housekeeping email that was sent out on Wednesday. Was it really a shock that scores of latecomers would show up around 4:00, planning to skip the openers and only catch Kendrick? Naïve or not, they weren’t expecting to be turned away.
“It’s extremely unfortunate that Wesleyan doesn’t have a better way to throw an all-campus event indoors,” commented Will Feinstein ’13, who co-chairs Spring Fling Committee with Dylan Bostick ’13. “Kendrick Lamar understandably drew a much larger crowd than last year’s acts, so there were capacity problems that we never encountered last year. Ideally, every student should be able to attend the event, but with the rain Wesleyan really has no way to accommodate everyone.”
According to Feinstein, the tent that’s usually used for the Tent Party before Commencement is too expensive to be a viable option.
“This sucks,” he added, “and I wish that everyone were able to enjoy or experience the show in the same way.”
The Floor Capacity
Then there was the issue of the capacity on the floor of the venue itself, which was capped at 1,300 people. Latecomers, who arrived earlier enough to get in, were fated to watch the performance seated on the far bleachers, from which the beats were a reverberating echo and Ab-Soul’s figure a distant shape. Every two minutes or so, someone would try their luck jumping over the barrier, daring security guards to put up a chase.
“I completely understand the temptation to jump the barrier to get onto the floor, but the fact that so many people did this put the floor at 200 people over capacity by 3:00 p.m.,” complained Feinstein. “The fire marshal could shut down the event at any point with this capacity breached so egregiously, so unfortunately when people left the floor, it didn’t mean that more people could enter. We were already operating way over capacity.”
Others pointed out that there was tons of empty space on the rink itself:
— catherine (@catherinezh) May 9, 2013
“Some people failed to understand that just because there is some physical space on the rink, it does not mean that more people can fit and maintain a safe situation,” Feintein explained to me. “I know a lot of people were thinking ‘One more person won’t be a problem,’ but the problem was that everyone in the stands was thinking that same thing.”
“If I were up in the stands, I absolutely would have been clamoring to be on the floor,” Feinstein added. “But you have to remember that some people did not even get into the venue.”
But were security guards overzealous in enforcing this policy?
“I saw a CSC security guy yank a girl by her hair when she went over the barrier onto the rink,” Samantha Maldonado ’13 said. “That was totally uncalled for and inappropriate. Maybe the security guard was power-tripping or frustrated with all the kids hopping the barrier, but pulling someone by the hair crosses the line.”
If you managed to make into the floor at all, there were more problems to be found—like the lack of accessible bathrooms and the dwindling water supply:
About to pass out for lack of water at spring fling, but at least i’m still in the rink…
— Brett Keating (@bkeating5) May 9, 2013
@wesleying They seem to be worried about people overdosing on dihydrogen monoxide, because there is no water to be found besides the rain.
— Gabe Rosenberg (@GabrielJR) May 9, 2013
the one thing I’ve gained from spring fling so far is a sombrero
— Linsin Smith (@LINNIEthepooh2) May 9, 2013
— Wesleyan Unity (@WesUnity) May 9, 2013
“Logistically, there were mistakes,” admitted Eric Lopez ’15, another member of Spring Fling Committee. “The inability to move between the rink to the bathrooms was a mistake. Not having enough water was a mistake. Not enough security was a mistake, as well. There were things that I and the Committee could have planned and carried out more efficiently, but in no way does that enable a mob of people to take advantage of what many called a ‘privilege.'”
Lopez tried to solve the bathroom crisis by “allowing people to flow in and out on my end of the rink, but even then students offended and yelled at people who were only looking to keep the area safe.” Lopez was also the one who asked SALD’s Elisa Cardona to turn the lights on around 3:15.
“I did not know that the lights would not come back off. Elisa asked for the lights to come back down now that people had settled, but no one wanted to take the risk anymore,” Lopez said. “The trust was broken and it was shocking to know that.” The lights remained on for the rest of the show, and Cardona took the mic to ask students to move back and stop jumping the barricade:
They just turned the fucking lights on. somebody protest this shit.@wesleying
— Conor Boughton (@CBoughts) May 9, 2013
— Gabe Rosenberg (@GabrielJR) May 9, 2013
Breaking: Organizer woman threatens to shut down entire concert if people don’t sit down, or something. She’s just sort of yelling.
— Gabe Rosenberg (@GabrielJR) May 9, 2013
Guess i’ll never have a good spring fling. Fuck wesleyan
— catherine (@catherinezh) May 9, 2013
From my perspective up on the bleachers, the echoes in the rink were far too heavy to catch what Cardona was saying (I assumed she was asking people in the bleachers to sit down, but then Lopez praised those in the stands who “understood what was going and still danced to their heart’s content”), but the frustration on all sides was palpable. According to one witness who watched from a much closer vantage point, Cardona, as well as a Spring Fling Committee member who also took the mic, was met with swears, “people screaming and throwing shit,” and “middle fingers from like over 100 people.”
The most disturbing reports of student misconduct during Spring Fling generally involved attempts to jump the barricade or otherwise get a better spot.
“Some of the altercations during this conflict between security and students, and unfortunately in my and other cases, students and students, were just not acceptable,” Feinstein commented. “I’ll just say that intoxication is never an excuse to treat people like shit.”
“I was manning the barricades and implored a group of people not to jump them, as we were over capacity and the fire marshal was coming,” Committee member Penina Kessler ’15 told me via email. “I ended with ‘Please don’t be that asshole who gets Spring Fling shut down.’ Direct quote from a girl jumping the barricade: ‘I would love for a chance to be that asshole.'”
“I was in the stands and I just saw people being super nasty to the event staff,” recalled a member of the class of 2013 who asked to remain anonymous. “Basically it was kids being really entitled and rude and obnoxious and insulting. I know there was some stuff going on with kids getting tackled for no reason or whatever, but it goes both ways. There was such a clear lack of respect for event staff who were just trying to do their job.”
The same senior watched as a “tall guy” approached a female staffer who was a student. “Yo, I had a math class with you, you’re so dumb, you don’t know numbers, this is clearly not at capacity,” he reportedly told her. “Actually it’s 200 over capacity,” she replied, to which he said: “You’re just power-tripping.”
Meanwhile, Eric Lopez observed as “over 20 students” reportedly bombarded a handicapped steward. Here’s an excerpt from the written account that Lopez sent me:
After the Ryan Hemsworth set I had set out to hand over a frisbee team tank top to Kendrick’s crew. Yet before I could do that I was pulled by Elisa Cardona and told to ‘stop those kids from jumping over the barriers right now.’ I had understood that the fire marshal was going to arrive to the show to investigate if the new estimate of 1,200 on the ice rink floor was feasible for future events and because of that I took action quickly.
I saw a handicap-able steward being bombarded and even pushed backward by over 20 students. Another steward was being accosted at a personal level. Stewards who were usually dealing with adults had been relegated to working with children. I had been up since 6:00 a.m., prepared for the worst, but in some ways I wasn’t prepared to be let down by my community. I saw inane levels of idiocy and entitlement in the eyes of classmates that not only discouraged me about my position on Spring Fling Committee but also my place at Wesleyan itself. I’ve worked tirelessly to make this event happen and to watch people tell me that they ‘pay $60,000 to go here’ and ‘deserved to be on the floor’ or even, ‘Who do you think you are?’ [was discouraging]. I am your classmate and your friend. Nothing more. I only I tried to put on a show that you would all love. There are rules with an indoor arena like anywhere else in the world. If students had arrived at the opening of the doors as many people did, those people who spit their insults and complaints at me wouldn’t have been in the situation they put themselves in.
Part of the problem, I think, is that the time frame for making it onto the floor or the capacity issues in general were never communicated with students in advance. But the behavior on the rink may well have been worse—especially around the time the lights were flipped on before Ab-Soul’s set.
“It was honestly scary for me to see people screaming and throwing shit on the floor,” said a member of Spring Fling Committee who asked to remain nameless. “It’s really hard to get through to drunk people, and drunk people don’t want to hear this stuff. I did think there was going to be a riot.”
But Lopez, who has dealt with unruly audience behavior at shows he’s organized in the past, somehow remained positive. “I came home proud of the event I had help create,” he wrote to me. “I came home incredibly disappointed with a contingent within this University. I’ll keep on putting on shows and handling those who can’t hold their liquor.”
Alleged Public Safety, CSC, and Police Misconduct
Before Spring Fling even ended, reports of unwarranted Public Safety and police aggression and brutality surfaced on Twitter:
@wesleying just watched PSAFE pin down a senior at the door. Police brutality/abuse of power
— catherine (@catherinezh) May 9, 2013
@wesleying CSC brutality toward student in fur vest. another student video taped, verbally harassed by officer. follow up please???
— MaggieCaroline (@MaggieCaroline1) May 9, 2013
@wesleying like, major physical contact.
— MaggieCaroline (@MaggieCaroline1) May 9, 2013
“We saw CSC hassling a black male student in a brown furry vest with salmon pants and black leather studded ankle boots,” Maggie Feldman-Piltch ’14 explained over email. “A middle-aged white officer in a blue fleece with short hair and glasses was hassling the student, putting his hands on him repeatedly. The student fell into the stands. He was clearly resisting but very peacefully, totally verbally, and was very calm. A white male student in a dark blue basketball jersey with an iPhone began taping. The other student was being forced up the stairs step-by-step backwards by the male guard. A white female guard stood behind the male guard to help him balance. She noticed the student filming and instructed another officer to support the male officer and went over to him yelling for him to stop filming.”
A student witness managed to catch part of this on video:
Meanwhile, Catherine Zhou ’13 was tweeting about a different incident entirely.
“P-Safe pinned down a senior, he’s clearly not resisting but they don’t let go,” Zhou wrote to Wesleying. “When event staff saw me taking a video they attempted to block me. Either way, he wasn’t resisting.”
As it turned out, both Zhou and Mia Rossi ’14 caught part of the latter incident on video. Zhou’s video concludes with a CSC staffer attempting to block the camera:
The senior was soon identified as Andrew Pezzullo ’13. I contacted Pezzullo for his perspective on what went down. Pezzullo claimed that it was Middletown police, not Public Safety, who pinned him down. His account is lengthy and disheartening, but probably worth reading in its entirety. He’s given me permission to publish it here:
I was definitely pinned down by Middletown police and threatened arrest for “disobeying orders.” Basically, I was leaving the concert though the main entrance to Freeman and noticed that a bunch of people (100+ people) were being barred from even entering Freeman (doors barricaded by police and people forced to stand outside in the rain). It seemed an absurd injustice, so I walked over to an administrator (not P-Safe) and asked them why students (with legitimate IDs or guest pass tickets) were being barred from coming in to Freeman to enjoy the show, especially those who were celebrating their final semester.
Very quickly, Dave Meyer came over and got in my face and said I would need to leave. I backed up and said something like, “Excuse me, for what? What did I do?” He grabbed my arm and hailed the two police officers who proceeded to bring me to the ground. I resisted going down briefly and kept asking a bit frantically, “What did I do? What did I do?,” but the two police officers overpowered me by tripping my legs and pinning my arms behind my back. They took me all the way to the ground. After being pinned on the ground for a bit, they asked me if I was calm and would get up and walk over to the side of the lobby with them. I agreed. They picked me up with my hands behind my back and walked me to a bench. I sat down. They told me I could very well be going to jail.
At this point, I apologized, acting remorseful for the “trouble I had caused… that I was only asking a question.” One of the officers tried to convince me that I had pushed Dave Meyer, saying something like, “Okay, there was an altercation, so you pushed him?” which I categorically denied. They took my state ID, my current address, and my phone number, and one of the officers walked away to record it. He came back and asked me what year I was. I told him a senior, that it was my last week, whatever. He said usually in situations like this I would be spending the night in jail, but they were going to cut me a break, but if they ran into me again “causing trouble” that I would be going straight to jail. I thanked them for their lenience (though it was painful to do) and one of the police officers walked me out the back entrance of Freeman. On my way out he mentioned that if I suffered any injuries, I should direct my inquiries to the Middletown Police Department. Bit sore today, couple of bruises, but generally unscathed physically!
It was a very confusing and disheartening experience and a real capstone for me it terms of my perception of Wesleyan. These past three years (I transferred here my sophomore year) have been one long and painful disillusionment with respect to the integrity of this institution. I think that the Spring Fling fiasco (not simply my little run in with MPD, but the whole botched execution of the thing) represents a profound lack of creativity, reason, and forethought in North College, SALD, P-Safe, and ultimately the President’s Office. Everything that has happened this year (need blind, racial profiling, arbitrary and vindictive student judicial proceedings, etc, etc.) has left me honestly really sad.
Outgoing Public Safety Director Dave Meyer, who is visible in both YouTube videos, sent me a much briefer account of the altercation:
Zach- I really can’t comment on this with out some more information.
Sent from my iPhone
I’m not sure what to add to Pezzullo’s testimony, except that I hope there’s still time to send it in to Margolis Healy, the external firm that is currently reviewing Wesleyan’s Public Safety after a year full of controversy and distrust.
* * *
So what’s the solution?
this should replace spring fling, and that money which we spent on security and big name rappers whose lyrics you couldn’t hear (except when they were talking about Bad Bitches of Patron) should be directed to financial aid. spring fling concert could just be like the Mash the first week of school this year, which was awesome and way free.
honestly, i felt so much more a part of my school last night than I did during the mass, corporate, securitized, impersonal, barriered performance Kendrick and crew put on. they’re great artists, to be sure, not trying to hate on any of them — but the setting could have been a fucking arena in Idaho for christ sake, so uncreative and not a place for school spirit. that plus a whole lot of people didn’t get in… that plus a million more problems, basically yea — WesRave > Spring Fling, $$$ for Financial Aid > $$$ for Corporate Rap Artists
Is Ebstein on to something? It’s strange to see terms like “Corporate Rap Artists” bandied about in reference to Ab-Soul and Kendrick Lamar, who only a year ago was a little known 24-year-old rapper signed to Top Dawg Entertainment. But Ebstein seems to recognize that it was the setting and atmosphere, not the music, that made Spring Fling feel “mass, corporate, securitized, impersonal.”
At this point I’ve written well over 3,000 words about Spring Fling, and I’ve hardly even mentioned the music. Maybe that’s because I missed Girl#$wag and Anamanaguchi, or maybe it’s because I was too distracted by the tensions in the air to focus much on the music while I was there, a preoccupation that much online discussion since Thursday has reflected. I suppose it should be said that the music definitely didn’t kill the vibe, but it wasn’t enough to salvage it, either.
Or maybe it was.
“A friend of mine texted me to breathe,” Eric Lopez recalled. “I did and was finally okay with the lights on when the concert restarted. Ab-Soul came on and I sang along to every word. Kendrick came on and I sang along to every word. The show ended and I was sad at what I saw, but knew that at least some people were happy.”
Spring Fling ’13: The Rumors Are True, Ya Bish
Guest Post: Yes, It Is a Problem That There Is Not a Single Woman in the Spring Fling Lineup
Girl#$wag Takes the Crown at Battle of the Bands, Will Open Spring Fling
Spring Fling Committee Starts Charging Money For Guest Passes, Because Kendrick
Spring Fling Interview: Anamanaguchi’s Luke Silas
Ice Rink To Be Converted Into Swimming Pool Full of Liquor for Kendrick