Opinion | Staff Editorials

Stuck between a Bacch and a hard place

When news broke about the crowd configuration for this year’s Bacchanal, students voiced concerns about the possibility of being rammed against bike rack fencing, or worse, unable to leave their spot to get water, access medical care, or go to the bathroom. And now, just as it did last year, the administration has backed students into a wall in more ways than one.

On March 10, Spectator reported on Public Safety’s changes that would ruin this year’s Bacchanal. In response to widespread student dissatisfaction with Public Safety’s crowd configuration of six fenced-off partitions, Public Safety backtracked on their initial proposal by decreasing the number of pens from six to two and creating an open area (but only in the back of the crowd).

In a recent Spectator op-ed, Columbia College Student Council President Ben Makansi, CC '16, and Engineering Student Council President Caroline Park, SEAS ’16, wrote at length about how, for weeks, Public Safety did not meet with the Bacchanal committee for an event review. Their failure to meet with the Bacchanal committee in a timely manner has prevented students from entering into a fair conversation with the administration about how to best ensure student safety and enjoyment during Bacchanal.

Public Safety’s new solution, which still features cage-like pens and relegates the only open area to the back, is far from perfect. But more importantly, the new solution misses the point: Such backpedalling wouldn’t have been necessary had Public Safety met with the Bacchanal committee when they first requested an event review.

Now, students just don’t have enough time to agitate on behalf of a better Bacchanal. The original Public Safety changes were announced just days before spring break. The new changes were unveiled with only one week left until Bacchanal. If it took Public Safety weeks simply to meet with the Bacchanal committee, then there is no way that additional substantive changes can be made this late in the game.

That this year’s student discontent with the administration’s management of Bacchanal is nothing new just makes Public Safety’s mishandlings all the more unacceptable. Last year’s Bacchanal stirred up controversy after the Bacchanal committee, under pressure from the administration to finance additional safety measures, announced that students would be charged admission, a decision that was taken back in response to student concerns. Students were also told that they would need wristbands for entry, which resulted in lines stretching around campus as early as 8 a.m. Many students have attributed these problems to the administration’s so-called War on Fun, over which much ink has been spilled.

In the past, students and administrators alike have issued clarion calls for a safer, more enjoyable Bacchanal—the kind of carefree spring concert that Columbia, a university plagued by stress culture and a lack of community, desperately needs. Still, when it comes to Bacchanal, administrative inefficiency looks like it’s becoming the norm—just “typical Columbia,” as a student put it in an interview with Spectator. Given the pandemonium that erupted on social media following the publication of Spectator’s news and opinion coverage of this issue, it would seem that most Columbians agree.

Even in the wake of the most recent Bacchanal changes, it’s important to recognize the disregard for student voices implied by Public Safety’s tardiness in meeting with the Bacchanal committee. This year’s administrative mishandling of Bacchanal has continued to promote a dangerous trend—one that simply cannot continue.

The authors are members of Spectator’s 140th editorial board. Catie Edmondson recused herself from contributing to this editorial due to her continued news coverage of Bacchanal.

To respond to this staff edit, or submit an op-ed, contact opinion@columbiaspectator.com.

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