Features, Video

5 years after O’Reilly, a tamer SPG

By
Senior Staff Writer

Sex Power God never fails to turn Brown on. With provocative garments — anything from burlesque to fetish garments to classic boxer briefs — students proved that this year was not any different. Since Bill O’Reilly attacked the party five years ago on his Fox News program, Queer Alliance has strived to achieve a more organized and safer night of debauchery.

 

The O’Reilly aftermath

In 2005, Bill O’Reilly called Sex Power God “the party Brown University doesn’t want you to know about,” after terming the University’s administrators “pinheads” and “very liberal.”

He condemned the University’s involvement with the event, claiming incorrectly that Brown funded the event. Queer Alliance raises funds each year to finance the party.

“People took the side of the school,” said Meryl Rothstein ’06, who reported on O’Reilly’s coverage for The Herald.

“He really talked trash about” Brown, she said. “So people were annoyed.”

O’Reilly’s producer also photographed and filmed students without their permission, airing compromising images of students on his program.

“SPG always sparks a lively conversation,” said Joshua Teitelbaum ’08, who served as QA co-chair at the time. “Instead, that year it was only a war over the O’Reilly sound bite.”

Teitelbaum added that, during the week of Sex Power God, people would go to the Sharpe Refectory and “table after table, people would be alive talking about these subjects — sexuality, gender, queerness,” subjects which “they would not be exposed to otherwise.”

“The O’Reilly coverage resulted almost in an anti-intellectualization,” he said, “an interesting, public conversation losing depth.”

People “reacted more to the coverage” than to the party itself that year, according to Rothstein.

“I thought it was awesome to be at a party that got national attention,” wrote Ruben Spitz ’09 MS’10, who attended the party in 2005, in an e-mail to The Herald. “As soon as students found out that SPG was going to be on the show, we all made it into a ‘thing.’ Pretty much every one of us was in someone’s room watching it on TV.”

 

A tamer beast

“Now it is more carefully managed,” said Michael Rose ’13, the QA dance committee leader. “We have security everywhere.”

He called the 2005 debacle a “learning experience.” Since then, organizers have increased the number of party managers and have hired officers from Green Horn Management, the Department of Public Safety and Emergency Medical Services, Rose said.

“We want this to be a space where people can feel safe,” he said. “We will have party managers roaming everywhere — in the dance floor and the bathrooms — to make sure nothing non-consensual occurs.”

With posters encouraging people to reach out to the party managers if they felt their consent had been violated in any way, QA aimed to better define this “ambiguous concept,” Rose said.

“Consent should not be a fuzzy grey area,” he said. “That’s why we want this to be a dry party. If people are not intoxicated, then they can preserve their judgment.”

To strengthen their “dance sober” campaign, Queer Alliance partnered with Health Education. The University office posted strategies on its website on preventing alcohol intoxication and how to “stay safe for Sex Power God.”

 

Safety first

Teitelbaum, QA co-chair at the time of the controversy surrounding O’Reilly, said that at the 2005 party, 24 students were EMSed out of Sayles Hall. The highest number of EMS calls was received earlier that year during freshman orientation.

“I think (the O’Reilly scandal) highlighted some of the issues of substance abuse going on on campus that year,” Teitelbaum said.

Consequently, QA imposed the “dry party” policy and has made a point of not allowing any visibly intoxicated students into the party.

The party has “really taken a tough approach against intoxicated students at the door,” Spitz wrote. “I did see a bit of that in SPG 2005, but I think they got much tougher after that.”

This year, three party managers, two GHM and two DPS officers were stationed outside the entrance to Andrews Dining Hall — the party’s new venue — checking each student’s level of sobriety.

In a text message to The Herald, Rose wrote that he believes “only one student” was EMSed at this year’s party Saturday. He wrote that this “is less than last year and considerably less than 2005.”

In light of the increase in cases of HIV in Rhode Island, Queer Alliance also distributed materials for safe sex at the entrance. “Whatever people do, they should do it safely,” Rose said.

 

On the move

Another change to the party over the years has been its venue. After the 2005 scandal, organizers moved the party from Sayles Hall to the larger Alumnae Hall.

“Even though Alumnae is a larger space, Sayles has this feeling of being very old, and I think it added to SPG’s appeal,” Spitz wrote.

Due to changes in fire regulations, the party was held at Andrews Dining Hall this year.

“People seemed to like the venue and the music,” Rose wrote.

“Having it in Andrews was kind of funny,” said Ellen Perez ’12, who has experienced the party in both venues. To her, the dining hall is not a venue naturally associated with a party like Sex Power God, she said.

“Alumnae Hall seems slightly more historic and fancy,” Perez said. “And there are more places to sneak off and do things in corners than in Andrews. I wouldn’t expect to have this crazy party” there.

This year, the party’s organizers also brought back the Booty Box, which projected “ego-boosting messages” sent by students to one another, Rose wrote. “People had a lot of fun” with it, he wrote. With messages that included phrases like “finish taking that off” or “you look hot,” the Booty Box further allowed people to “express themselves,” he wrote.

 

An untamable beast

Though O’Reilly’s claims did not allow the party “to present itself on its own terms,” Sex Power God “has taken a life of its own,” Teitelbaum said.

“It is one of those interesting Brown kind of moments when a large part of campus comes together and pushes the limits, tests the limits of what is possible and desirable,” he said.

For Rose, the controversy surrounding O’Reilly’s coverage of Sex Power God only made the party more popular. Rose said the party’s popularity “spiked up exponentially in spite of, or because of, O’Reilly.”

And even today, Sex Power God still continues to be Brown’s most “famous or infamous” party, Rose said.

“At least it’s the only one for which people camp out,” he said. “This year tickets sold out on Wednesday night.”

“Students (take) pride in Brown because of it,” Rose said. “I’m really pleased with how things went.”