Editorial: Inter-Hall Board and adminstration dropped the Ball

Posted by the Editorial Board

By 12:30 a.m. on Sunday Moorebid Ball – increasingly the most inauspicious event on the Skidmore calendar – had been shut down early for the second consecutive year.

Last year, after nine individuals were sent to the hospital during the ball, the College spent the first week of November dealing with unwanted media attention and questions about the character and responsibility of its students. This year, the administration and Student Government Association both promised, would be different. This year's Moorebid Ball certainly was different, but the end result was startlingly familiar.

Campus Safety elected to shut down the ball early again this year, not on account of dangerous overconsumption but rather due to safety concerns resulting from significant overcrowding. Conditions in the Williamson Sports and Recreation Center, particularly in the corridor outside of the Recreation Gym on the building's lower floor, devolved into mob-like conditions that required EMTs, according to Campus Safety.

Hundreds of students found themselves jammed together from wall-to-wall in a narrow hallway, with the only path of egress coming through a single average-sized door already tasked with supporting two-way traffic. The dangerous congestion reached its peak when two fights broke out in the crowd, causing further disruption.

Thankfully, Campus Safety director Lt. Larry Britt's call to shut down the event came before anyone was seriously injured – no significant injuries have been confirmed – but that stroke of luck does not absolve the organizers of Moorebid from creating such an opportunity for disaster.

Put bluntly, the organizers of the Ball – primarily the Inter-Hall Board (IHB) and members of the administration – systemically put Skidmore students at risk of serious harm. There is no way to ignore the potential for serious injury that night. Had a student been hospitalized, a lawsuit against the college would have been a foregone conclusion.

To understand how IHB and the administration could have committed such an egregious error in planning it is impossible not to reference the embarrassment and damage control that followed last October's terminated ball.

In response to the first failed ball, cancelled due to overconsumption, the administration changed a number of policies, most notably disallowing reentry and moving the venue from the Case Student Center to the Sports Center. Some of these policies have been implemented successfully at events since last fall, though none with the same volume of attendance as Moorebid Ball – Campus Safety estimates some 1,400 students in total.

In attempting to make this year's Moorebid wholly different from last year's, however, the planners gravely overlooked significant issues concerning the new venue.

In subsequent interviews with The Skidmore News, IHB members and school administrators have stressed that planning included multiple walkthroughs of the facilities with Campus Safety officers. These statements dissolve rather than instill confidence: how could such a risk be overlooked? How did this not disqualify the venue from serving Skidmore's highest-attended social event, or at least alter the organization of the ball in light of its new location?

Interim Director of Leadership Activities Robin Adams, the liaison between student planners and the administration, admitted, "I don't really know how to respond. It probably could have been anticipated." Lt. Britt echoed that response, saying "Looking back it seems pretty obvious, but in planning everyone simply figured students would stay in the gyms where the music was."

Adams further ascribed blame again to intoxicated students. "There's got to be some personal responsibility. We can't plan for an event where students aren't in their right mind," he said. But IHB's job is to take account of precisely that issue. That an event such as Moorebid will see its share of inebriated students is a given, no matter how many resources are devoted to preventing overconsumption by attendees. It is the purpose of the event organizers to anticipate and accommodate for this brute fact.

Furthermore, although intoxication certainly did not help matters, it was the facility itself at issue, not the behavior of students. Lt. Britt was unambiguous on this point. "The reason [Moorebid] was closed," he said, "was because of safety concerns, not behavioral issues – we had some of those too, but that was not the reason the dance had to end."

After two failed dances in a row, it is reasonable to question whether Moorebid itself is the problem. Does our campus have a venue large enough to hold an event with such high attendance?

If the administration is wedded to the no-reentry policy and wants to keep the event as controlled as possible, the Sports Center's Big Gym is easily the most accommodating venue available. The Big Gym hosts the Big Show concert each semester and Junior Ring in the fall. While none of these events have comparable attendance to Moorebid, they have gone off smoothly in recent years. The hallway leading to the Big Gym, unlike the corridors leading to the Rec and Dance gyms, is wide enough to support two-way traffic without overcrowding, and the size of the gym itself would allow for Campus Safety to concentrate on a single area rather than dividing their resources between two gymnasiums.

Of course it is understandable that this single space, so often in use by the athletic teams, is difficult to book, but this year has shown that splitting the dance up poses serious problems of its own.

The other possibility is to collectively take a deep breath and reconsider Case Center as a reasonable venue. The multiple floors and entrances make it a harder building to police, but it does afford facilities that a large gymnasium does not. "We tend to think of Moorebid Ball as a dance, but it's also a broader social event," SGA President Jonathan Zeidan said. "So in the gyms, unlike in Case Center, apart from the dancing you had a lot of overcrowding in these hallways where people were supposed to be able to talk."

Allowing students to go outside without being barred from reentry likely facilitated the socialization Zeidan mentioned. Surely it would not be impossible to account for that need while adequately monitoring attendees, perhaps through a sectioned-off area of Case walkway. Similarly, despite Case Center's numerous entrances, it is not impossible to prevent students from entering while still allowing for proper egress, whether by locking doors from the outside or by placing officers at each entrance.

Whatever the future of Moorebid Ball, we cannot accept the structural chaos brought on by this year's preparations for the dance. Our indignation concerning this failure should match our gratitude that no tragedy occurred on yet another dark and cold October night.

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