Post-Mooretem: What Really Happened This Time?: Moorebid Ball's new venue created unexpected dangers for students

Posted by Brendan James

"I was almost trampled downstairs," complains Lucy Greer '12, one of the many Skidmore students who experienced the unforeseen consequences of holding this year's Halloween dance in the Williamson Sports Center.

Lt. Larry Britt was in charge of the 14 Campus Safety officers patrolling the event that night. "We had calls for EMTs, and calls that people were falling down in the hallway," he said.

The main source of the disorder was the corridor connecting the Rec and Dance gyms of Sports Center. The narrow space became an untenable passageway as about 1,400 students in attendance attempted to move between the two gyms.

Another student, Rachel Bier '12 remarked, "I felt like I was going to suffocate in the middle of all those people." Two fights eventually broke out in the corridor, causing even more discomfort and disruption.

At approximately 12:30 a.m., an hour and a half before the event was scheduled to end, Britt decided to shut down the event out of concern for student safety.

"It had to be done. The reason it was closed 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," Britt said.

No serious injuries or emergencies resulting from the Sports Center disorder have yet been reported.

According to VP of Residential Affairs Aaron Shifreen, a volleyball tournament that took place earlier in the day prohibited full use of the Center's "big gym," which might have allowed for a more stable venue. Instead the two other gyms were used to account for the large number of students, each allowing for roughly 770 people.

Inter-Hall Board (IHB) was in charge of organizing the event in coordination with Campus Safety and the college administration.

While Student Government Association (SGA) set up stations in the Sport Center entrance to assign Moorebid bracelets and track the number of attendees, many students did not receive bracelets and were unaware of the entire system.

Even with 14 officers besides Britt on duty, control and monitoring of entry became noticeably convoluted within the first hour. Attendence began to reach its peak at 11:00 p.m. and half and hour later it had spun into what Britt called "almost a mob."

It took roughly 10 minutes to get from one gym to the other gym, something that would normally take individuals only a few seconds. But with the heavy traffic from two streams of students going opposite directions, the area became clogged, hot, sweaty, and eventually near-motionless.

Significant overcrowding of the corridors between the two gyms caused stress among the attendees. In some cases students audibly begged each other not to push or shove. People voiced aloud their concern of harm wrought by all the commotion.

Both Shifreen and SGA President Jonathan Zeidan attended several planning meetings with administration and Campus Safety in the weeks leading up to the event. They stress the precautions taken in planning for a completely new venue and emphasized the difficulties in anticipating the reality on the ground.

"Whenever you do something for the first time, it's an experiment," Zeidan said.

Zeidan went on to contextualize the surge in the corridors in connection to the nature of the Moorebid event.

"We tend to think of Moorebid Ball as a dance, but it's also a broader social event. 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," Zeidan said.

In hindsight, many of the planners admit the lack of concern over what would become the bottleneck corridor. "I guess we didn't fully take that dynamic into account," Shifreen added. Robin Adams, Director of Leadership Activities and the liaison between student planners and the sports center, remarked that, while the behavior of intoxicated students is unpredictable, the bottleneck in the corridor "probably could have been anticipated."

Lt. Britt echoed this sentiment: "Looking back it seems pretty obvious, but in planning this everyone simply figured students would stay in the gyms where the music was."

Moorebid Ball was held originally at Moore Hall, an off-campus site at 32 Union Avenue in Saratoga Springs that served as a residential hall for students until 2006, when the college sold it to NorStar Development. The venue for Moorebid then changed to Case Center up until this year.

According to Campus Safety reports, five ambulances left campus that night, though they were all concerning over-drinking in resident halls and other spots on Campus rather than the Sports Center. One transport was a non-student.

Upcoming events this week sponsored by the EAC: Events include the Washington, D.C., protests this weekend; now with a transportation fee

Skidmore ends on an up note