By Elizabeth Baldino
It’s the weekend of Afrodisiac’s 23’ Homecoming, and the Stood is practically overflowing. Between over 200 registered off-campus guests and hundreds of students waiting in anticipation for the show to begin, the crowd is almost impossible to move in. The walls are dripping with sweat, the power has gone out, and the microphone feedback is deafening. With the event quickly reaching capacity, students waiting in the seemingly endless line forming at the venue’s entrance are growing restless. The Stood’s windows are being climbed through, and emergency doors are opened for people to pour into the already packed room. Your place in the crowd seems definite once you reach it; nobody can move in or out.
The massively high attendance quickly resulted in significant safety concerns for attendees and staff. Although Afrodisiac is one of the most highly anticipated occasions of the year, the event’s organizers weren’t expecting such a massive turnout.
Sephora Lebete, Afrodisiac’s talent scout and a senior playwriting and screenwriting major, says that the event’s security team initially ensured the team of organizers that safety would not be an issue. Due to the scale of the event, the school’s administration and the University Police Department assisted the team in organizing security and safety matters.
‘We initially thought that safety wouldn’t be a big problem,” says Lebete. “A few days beforehand, we had a meeting with a security team where we went over the guidelines. We had to make sure security was in this area and that area. They even hired other security teams outside of school to come help with this event. So when you're in these meetings, you're going to assume, ‘Okay, we really have it down.’ You know, it's really gonna stay safe.”
As the event began and students began filling the venue, it became apparent that attendance would be much higher than anticipated. The security teams would not be able to meet the set expectations. Lebete and the event’s organizers began to take on the role of crowd control in place of the presence of adequate security.
“We were seeing that everything was so discombobulated that we couldn’t proceed with the show,” says Lebete. “It shouldn’t be our job where we’re the ones going on stage telling everyone, ‘Listen, we can’t proceed with the show unless you guys back up.’ And then everyone is booing us. That’s the job of UPD.”
More often than not, the responsibility of keeping the crowd safe falls into the hands of performers. David Langan, a sophomore studio composition major and musician, believes that crowd control is something all performers must do.
“It's my responsibility as the band’s frontman to keep an eye on the mosh pits and make sure nothing crazy goes down,” says Langan. “If someone gets really hurt, there’s a possibility that people are too into the music to necessarily be aware of that, which can result in someone getting hurt.”
The physical safety of students isn’t the only thing at risk when events aren’t adequately supervised. If Afrodisiac had been shut down, students would have suffered a cultural loss, too. Lebete says that the event is crucial in ensuring a voice is given to BIPOC (Black, Indigenous, and people of color) students on campus.
“There has to be a platform for students like us,” says Lebete. “This is a predominantly white institution. To be able to share our talent, showcase our talent, something for the community.”
Throughout all of the commotion, Lebete says UPD never actually entered the building.
“UPD was outside the entire time,” says Lebete. “You guys see us struggling on the inside. Why are you not actually doing your job? [UPD] walked inside from the back entrance and were like, ‘Everything looks fine” and then walked back out.”
Although the event’s organizers sought help from the outside UPD officers, their concerns were ignored. UPD Chief Dayton Tucker did not respond to repeated requests for comment, which included multiple visits to the station house. The phone number of a Beat reporter was left twice with an officer on duty.
The handling of safety concerns throughout Afrodisiac weekend has raised community concern for the outcome of Culture Shock. According to Gordon Conner, a sophomore studio composition major and performer, the excitement surrounding this weekend’s Culture Shock festival could raise similar safety concerns.
“When it comes to events where people from outside the school are coming to perform, people get really excited,” says Conner. “I feel like it could get potentially dangerous if there are many people in one confined space.”
However, sophomore Suraiya Abdelrman says she doesn’t think Culture Shock will be as hectic; there’s just not enough hype.
“It will still be an exciting event because Culture Shock is a yearly event we’re famous for,” says Abdelrman. “But the celebrities they bring on get less and less popular and are only based on TikTok songs, so I feel it won’t be as hectic. It will still be packed, but not Afrodisiac packed.”
Uncertainty will remain about the outcome of Culture Shock until it's underway, though we can only hope that Afrodisiac was a learning experience, not a warning.