The inability of student event managers, University administrators and Department of Public Safety officers to adequately respond to a series of unforeseen complications led to a breakdown of event management at Sex Power God in November, the year-end report of Queer Alliance’s dance committee and interviews with QA student leaders and University officials show.
Sex Power God, which was held by QA in Sayles Hall Nov. 12, resulted in 24 students requiring emergency medical care and attracted national attention when it was featured on Fox News’ “The O’Reilly Factor” Nov. 14 and on O’Reilly’s syndicated radio program “The Radio Factor” the following day.
University officials learned the day before Sex Power God that O’Reilly had been tipped off about the party by a number of “conservative students” and intended to send a producer to film the event, said QA Co-President Josh Teitelbaum ’08, who coordinated and staffed the party.
Teitelbaum met that day with student activities administrators to discuss how to prohibit cameras and handle a rumored protest by the same conservative students who contacted the Fox News pundit, but “by the end of that day, we were told that the University news office had talked the producers out of doing (the segment).”
In the aftermath of Sex Power God, University officials created an ad hoc committee to review social event policies, asked an existing committee to consider the University’s alcohol policies and launched a disciplinary investigation of QA.
QA’s dance committee prepares an internal report each semester outlining the successes and failures of its events. The committee chairs decided to release the report this year because of “the extraordinary circumstances surrounding” Sex Power God, the report said.
Due to the Office of Student Life investigation of QA that resulted in sanctions against the group, QA leaders had declined to speak publicly about Sex Power God until this week.
“People in the (Student Activities Office) and elsewhere basically told us that now is not the time to bring any of these issues out (because) the investigation is still pending and it’s in your best interest to stay quiet,” Teitelbaum said, adding that QA leaders were encouraged to stay quiet even after the ruling was handed down because the sanctions “were still to be interpreted.”
Chaos and improvisationAs student event managers – many of whom were QA members – were confronted with unexpected situations and their event management plan unraveled, they were stretched too thin and had to improvise to try to regain control of the party, QA student leaders and University officials told The Herald.
“Responsibility for what happened lies in multiple places and is shared. … There was a broad sense that multiple things went wrong, some of which could be associated with the Queer Alliance and the organizers and some of which couldn’t be,” said Ricky Gresh, director of student activities.
The QA report and event managers indicated that problems arose from the party’s start.
Even though DPS officers were supposed to lock all interior and exterior doors in Sayles prior to the start of the event, party managers arrived to find all the doors unlocked, Teitelbaum said.
The QA report added, “Event organizers later came to find out that as a result of the doors having been left unlocked, people had hid upstairs for hours while they waited for the event to start.” Some students apparently played the drinking game Beirut in an upstairs Sayles classroom before the party, the report stated.
As the night progressed, student managers were faced with more challenges: a large number of people showed up to the party intoxicated, the line to get into the party was difficult to control, students tried to break in through windows and the back door and groups of students without tickets congregated and consumed alcohol on the Main Green outside of Sayles, watching the spectacle and adding to the confusion.
“Any one of these problems on their own probably would not have undermined the whole party,” Gresh said. “But there were so many of them that I think it overwhelmed the management that was available.”
Medical distractionsStudent managers and DPS officers were drawn away from their assigned posts to attend to intoxicated students needing medical assistance or to stop students from breaking in through windows or other doors.
Medical assistance required in Sayles was either directly caused by alcohol consumption – DPS officers and student managers attended to many students vomiting in the building – or by the actions of intoxicated students, such as when students tripped on steps.
“One of the things the officers typically try to do is focus on the exterior areas, but they kept being called in to deal with (Emergency Medical Services) calls inside the building,” Gresh said.
Referring to the official findings of Assistant Dean of Student Life Yolanda Castillo-Appollonio, the judicial case administrator who handled the QA investigation, Associate Vice President of Campus Life and Dean for Student Life Margaret Klawunn said, “She reported that the Department of Public Safety provided four officers and one sergeant to staff Sex Power God. This number was arrived at based on previous events and the number of expected guests. Although all accounts indicate the number of officers present would have been sufficient had the officers not spent much of the night assisting EMS, there could have been some consideration put into increasing the number of officers or adding other staff to assist with crowd management.”
DPS officers were also drawn away from Sayles to assist intoxicated students outside of the building – one DPS report indicates that an officer responded to a student vomiting outside of nearby Salomon Center, Klawunn said.
‘Compromised’ perimeterIn addition to the large number of students requiring medical attention, event managers were also unprepared for intoxicated students who tried to break into Sayles.
“The perimeter of the building was completely compromised. … Every entrance was compromised,” said Talia Stein ’09, a member of QA’s executive board.
Students tried to break into Sayles by entering through the back door, by climbing a tree to access a second-floor window, by hoisting up friends to first-floor windows and by breaking the grates on basement windows.
Referring specifically to the incident when students climbed a tree to crawl in through a second-floor window, the QA report said, “This is something that a party manager could not possibly control, although DPS officers did try to insist that a party manager should be posted at the window.”
“After several instances of asking DPS for help, DPS officers did position themselves at the window and proceeded to send unwanted patrons back down the tree from which they came,” the report continued.
Stein said it was inappropriate for student managers to have to handle peers intoxicated enough to decide to climb a tree to break into a building. “We’re small and not intimidating, so it was really something that DPS needed to do,” she said.
When DPS officers initially refused to cover the second-floor window, Teitelbaum said he asked a custodian to accompany the student manager at the window “to look big.”
Confusion at the doorThe main entrance of Sayles was also the site of chaos throughout the evening. Three main problems arose at the door: intoxicated students had to be identified and handed over to EMS, the temporary tattoos used as tickets had to be inspected to ensure their authenticity and the surging line of partygoers waiting to enter had to be controlled.
“As some intoxicated students began arriving at the event and event managers were beginning to need assistance in turning these students away and into the hands of EMS, no DPS officers were in the lobby, nor could any be easily located,” according to the QA report.
Stein said the admission process was initially orderly – each partygoer passed by two student event mangers, each of whom checked for fake tickets and signs of intoxication. Intoxicated students were immediately handed over to EMS, Stein said.
But two or three significant waves of people severely tested the event managers. At times the managers couldn’t effectively control the surges and inspect each person, so some intoxicated partygoers might have passed through, Stein said.
At one point, when students walking toward Sayles to enter the party converged with the crowd milling outside the venue to create a “mob scene,” a DPS officer unilaterally decided to close the main Sayles doors, creating confusion among the event managers and mayhem outside the hall as the crowd of students trying to get in grew, Teitelbaum said.
“(The officer’s) solution was to stand in front of the doors, put his hands on the doors and literally hold them shut,” Teitelbaum said.
While the doors were closed, the officer engaged in a “physical altercation” with a confused partygoer trying to get through the closed doors and swore at student managers who tried to intervene, Teitelbaum said. Shortly thereafter, the officer reopened the doors, creating an uncontrollable surge of people.
Teitelbaum said the officer apologized “only after being threatened with the possibility of a complaint being filed against him.”
QA leaders also said the four DPS officers assigned to the event were insufficient. In addition, the QA report stated that the officers arrived late – three arrived about 15 minutes after the start of the event, and the fourth was significantly later, Teitelbaum said.
Klawunn confirmed that one officer was late and “we addressed that as soon as we knew about that,” adding that the officer was finishing his regular shift before moving to the party.
Teitelbaum and Gresh both said that issues with punctuality of DPS officers also arose at QA’s Starf*ck in Spring 2004.
Though additional DPS officers arrived at the event as the night progressed, Stein said, “We were uncomfortable with the level of security. … When we really needed (DPS officers), we couldn’t find them.”
Change in policy and philosophyIn the wake of Sex Power God, University officials established the Ad Hoc Committee to Review Social Events Policy and Procedures, which completed its report in March. The report recommends that a contract security service be used to manage the door and provide support to student managers at large social events like Sex Power God.
“The policies that we had in place at the time (dating from 1996) said that students should have primary responsibility for management (of social events),” Gresh said.
But Gresh added that students involved in the recent policy review told administrators they “don’t want to have all that responsibility on our own.”
“That’s a philosophical shift that is represented between the two reports,” he said.
Teitelbaum said QA leaders have long been advocating for additional security support. “The biggest joke about the new policies is that … most of the policies are things that we’ve already incorporated in the past voluntarily or things that we have been asking for,” he said.