At the beginning of the semester, the Office of Student Involvement (OSI) announced that events held in program houses will no longer be booked through OSI. Instead, events in a program house must be hosted by that house’s residents and approved by the Office of Residential Life (ResLife), per a campus-wide email sent on Jan. 25.
In the past, students could log on to their WesNest account and request program houses as event spaces directly through the website. Under the new system, ResLife has created their own Google Form that a resident must fill out. Part of this decision was due to efficiency concerns from ResLife and OSI.
“If a request came in from a non-resident, it created an email chain that went back and forth, thus holding up the process,” Director of Student Involvement Joanne Rafferty wrote in an email to The Argus. “This would impact our campus partners who would often have to scramble last minute to provide services, furniture, etc. It would additionally impact our contracting process since we are unable to send or sign a contract to an outside artist without a venue secured.”
In previous semesters, students looking to host events faced a stressful application and planning process with little support from the University.
“Things are changing right now,” Aural Wes Event Coordinator Terry Brannigan ’24 said. “Pre-COVID, if you were part of a club, you would do all the work. If you wanted to host an event, even if it was getting an artist on campus, you would have to do all the work getting content, reaching out to the artist, applying for a budget, securing the venue, and getting a host trained.”
The other bureaucratic concern with the old system of booking events was a lack of personnel within OSI after Associate Director Shelissa Newball ’05 moved to the Office of Advancement.
“Regardless of the fact that OSI is currently understaffed, it didn’t seem equitable that my staff was doing the administrative work on behalf of another department, especially since we didn’t have the authority to reserve Res Life spaces,” Rafferty wrote.
Beyond organizational issues, the previous system left many students and faculty members feeling uncomfortable when others used their spaces to host events. At times there was little communication between hosts and house members and as a result tension often arose.
“Our decision came from feedback given by former staff members, particularly those working in residential units that hosted a lot of larger events,” Director of Residential Life Maureen Isleib said. “Hosting events proposed by non-residents of a space placed an unnecessary burden on the actual residents of that space.”
Some students and staff began to feel that these events infringed on the privacy and personal lives of those residing in program houses.
“Program houses were often the site of parties and events that had nothing to do with the mission of the house, interfering with the actual residents’ day-to-day experiences,” Isleib said. “Thinking particularly about students in identity-based houses, we did not want to further challenge them with the burden of regularly hosting strangers in their spaces.”
OSI stressed that hosting unrelated events within program houses was not conducive to the goals upon which these residences are founded.
“Part of the responsibility of living in a program house is for the house to come together to plan and host events that are in alignment [with] their house’s mission,” Rafferty said. “I think this important factor was getting forgotten.”
Amending the system therefore gives ResLife as well residents of program houses a greater say in what kind of functions will be held in these spaces. Both OSI and ResLife hope that student events will now run more smoothly as a result of these changes.
“I don’t think it’s impossible for a student group to have an event in a program house,” Rafferty said. “However, they will need the program house to agree to host and help run the event. Due to situations that have happened in the past (i.e., damage, stolen property, mess, etc.), it became clear that residents needed or wanted to know what is happening in their space and who was in attendance.”
However, for students who have had to adapt to the challenges brought on by COVID-19, this change may come as another wrench in their planning process. Event space is limited and in high demand now, but it was even more so last year. X-Tacy Dance Collective, one of the University’s student hip-hop dance groups, expressed frustration with finding rehearsal space on campus.
“Before becoming a director, I remember it being a scavenger hunt for space,” X-Tacy Co-Director Brianna Johnson ’24 said. “Sometimes we rehearsed in people’s living rooms on Fountain or in the WestCo courtyard when the weather was nice enough.”
The difficulties associated with finding a location are especially apparent within Wesleyan’s dance community since large amounts of space are required to rehearse.
“Often dancers have to be creative and find new places to practice,” Jenny Margolis ’23, a director of the Fusion Dance Crew, said. “This creativity is amazing, but can also be dangerous as the spaces are not set up for dancers. With the current state of bookings and the lack of spaces, dancers are willing to put themselves in spaces that are not built for them in order to continue practicing their craft.”
Yet, the lack of ample event and rehearsal space available to student groups has been a problem long before the pandemic.
“What students may not realize is that many program houses were already denying outside group requests,” Rafferty said.
While some students groups now struggle to find where they can, quite literally, fit in on campus, others seem to have found ways to make the system work for them.
“We’re working on getting at least, I think, two concerts on campus this semester,” Brannigan said. “And so far it’s going pretty smoothly.”
Lia Franklin can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.