In an interview with The Argus on Wednesday, President Roth weighed in on the so-called “War on Fun” while outlining the constraints of the University’s night life and music scene regarding concerts.
“My goal would be that they would have whatever they need to have safe musical performances. I’m trying to increase the number of musical performances, not decrease, but if my Physical Plant people—who know something about engineering, and I do not—say, ‘Well if you do that, it could collapse and people could die.’ Then I have to say, ‘okay, let’s help them!’”
Roth was referring to a recent effort by the Office of Residential Life to restrict the use of stages on campus after several floors collapsed in program houses over the past two years. Program houses, from smaller non-musical venues like Earth House to perennial concert venues such as 200 High St. (soon-to-be Movement House, currently Music House, formerly Eclectic), all have to stress test their floors in order to get approval to use a stage.
In addition to the safety regulations concerning floors, ResLife has put the missions of each program house under more scrutiny.
Associate Dean of Students and Director of Residential Life Fran Koerting said the impetus to start examining the structural stability of floors
“All of the things related to concerts [are] all concerned about safety—well it’s not just all safety, it’s also about program house missions,” Koerting said. “So a couple of years ago, we had three different floors collapse in one year. One of them was AAA House [Asian-Asian American] after concert was held there. This past year we had two collapse. One was at 66 Pine, one was at 20B Fountain. Those two happened in pretty close proximity chronologically, plus there was also the porch collapse at Trinity.”
This led ResLife to intervene, with the most immediate consequence to the campus music scene being the restriction of using stages. While some students argued that this was an effective ban on stages. Roth sought to set the record straight by outlining the University’s safety concerns.
“We didn’t ban them from using stages,” Roth said. “We just said that they could use stages after the floors in the house can adequately hold the stage. What led to this is the collapse of floors here, and at Trinity and elsewhere. And then we saw the need to stress test the floors… In my view, I would like them all to have stages if that’s what it takes to have more concerts. I am unwilling to say you can have stages before we have an engineer look to see if it’s safe.”
Many students invested in the music scene, however, see the safety concerns as a veneer that covers up what they argue is a deeper agenda to simply limit the amount of concerts on campus. Adam Rochelle ’17 has played in a myriad of bands on campus and serves as one of the connections between student musicians and alumni trying to make it in music professionally. For Rochelle, his interactions with ResLife have led him to be skeptical of the office’s authenticity.
“It all just seems like a front to appear to the outer world that they’re doing something for student safety, but without actually considering how they’re impacting student life in negative ways,” Rochelle said. “For many, concerts are a large, artistic, and non-alcohol-centric alternative to spending your night getting wasted in an unsafely packed house or dorm party. By making it harder to host shows by imposing limits, delegitimizing concerts and making them less safe by removing stages… they’re getting rid of that nightlife alternative to straight up partying that so many of us rely on.”
Koerting argued that in the so-called “post-frat era,” gaps in nightlife have led program houses to go astray from their missions, mostly in an effort to compensate for the events that were missing when fraternity houses like DKE, Psi U, and Beta were all vacant.
“Over the past couple years, as there’s been some voids in student culture and the student social life on campus, a lot of the program houses have been stepping up to try to fill those voids by hosting concerts,” she said. “There was just this feeling that there was not as much happening on campus, for whatever reasons those might be… The concern we had was, there were a couple things that were happening. One example was Buddhist House [Middle House] when it was still Buddhist House, had started hosting concerts a few years ago and was starting to attract people who wanted to live there because they wanted to host concerts, not because they were interested in the Buddhist House mission.”
The renaming of Buddhist House to Middle House (which stemmed from an Argus op-ed written by Tess Williams ’19), Koerting cited, was an example of the importance of the mission of program houses to the student body at large. Following that logic, she outlined why many program houses have been limited to a certain amount of concerts—often no more than three—each semester because of their mission statements.
“If a concert or social event was related to the mission, that’s great,” she said. “But if they’re just a concert venue, that’s a problem, because they’re being seen by other students as a concert venue instead of as a program house, they’re putting their energy into that, and perhaps not mission-focused programs. And the whole reason that house exists is for mission focused programs for our student community.”
Despite all of his criticism, Rochelle said he’s looking forward to communicating further with ResLife.
“But given all that, I am meeting with a member of ResLife next week hopefully, so I look forward to hearing what their side of the story is since they’ve never really explained it to us why they are continuously so anti-music scene,” he said.
Both Roth and Koerting indicated that the University is thinking of finding more venues for music on campus, and for more organizations—such as the WSA and UCab—to collaborate in hosting events so that the burden isn’t always on student house managers in program houses.
“I think the music scene at Wesleyan is one of the fundamental pillars of student culture here,” Roth said. “My goal is to make more musical performances possible, not to limit them.”
For now, the music scene keeps chugging along as students and administrators try to keep one of Wesleyan’s biggest attractions vibrant.