Music blares and the smell of sweat pervades the entire second floor of Kagin Commons. As you enter the building, you see one of your classmates stumble blindly through the crowd and you wonder if they will be able to make it safely back to their dorm.
Last spring, Campus Activities and Operations worked with MCSG to change the policies surrounding Kagin dances. These policies were put into effect this fall. Both groups worked together in an effort to make Kagins safer and more enjoyable for everyone.
One of the specific modifications to the guidelines includes a limit of two Kagins per month. There is a lottery system to choose which organizations can host. More than two Kagins can be held in one month if a student organization applies to host the event in advance and can provide a staff member who is willing to stay throughout the entire event.
Another modification states there must be three security guards present throughout the entire event. All students must show a valid Macalester ID in order to enter Kagin Commons. Lastly, at least one Macalester staff member who is a member of the CAO staff or has been briefed by the CAO staff must be at the entire event. The staff members are briefed on appropriate ways to deal with students acting out or unsafely intoxicated.
Some students who frequent Kagins worry these new policies are a sign that these dances will eventually be phased out completely. Joan Maze, Director of Campus Activities and Operations, said that she has no intention of getting rid of the dances. Maze knows that for many students, Kagins are an opportunity to dance with friends on campus rather than having to go off-campus. The policy changes are steps the Macalester administration has made in order to move towards safer Kagin experiences for all students.
While she saw the new policies as very important, Maze also said, “I don’t think it’s the dance that’s the problem. I think the issues that people are concerned about are larger than Kagins, and to focus in on Kagins, is to ignore the real issue.” The “real issue” is something that many students are conscious of as well.
“I used to think they were all fun and games until myself and people that I knew had experiences where lines were blurred surrounding consent,” said Samuel Doten ’16. As a member of MCSG, Doten worked closely with the CAO to create the policy changes around Kagins. “Especially with really heavy alcohol use which is really common when people go to Kagins. A lot of rules or standards of how we are supposed to treat each other are thrown out the door.”
“Policy changes are an important step but ultimately we need a culture change at Macalester,” Doten said. Doten believed that while the new policies could temper the worst of the overuse of alcohol, these policies will not change the overall culture.
“A big part of the problem is that older students tell first years what Kagins are, they tell them what Winter Ball is, they say, ‘Oh it’s just something where everyone gets really drunk and dances.’ So that’s the expectation that people have going into it, so it’s transferred year to year and there isn’t an intervention happening in the culture even if there is an intervention happening in the policy,” Doten said.
While some see Kagins as unsafe and a perpetuation of a negative culture, for other students Kagins are an opportunity to dance with friends. Carmen Garson-Shumway ’18 said that she doesn’t have to be intoxicated to attend the dances and sometimes goes early with friends before others have arrived.
While Doten ’16 and Garson-Shumway ’18 have had different experiences and represent various aspects of the discussion about Kagins, both agree that the events should not disappear. The end of Kagins would shift the culture to less-supervised and less safe areas such as dorm rooms or off-campus parties.
“Dancing doesn’t cause people to drink excessively, dancing doesn’t cause people to act out in inappropriate ways,” Maze said. “If the concern is people drinking too much, why do students on campus feel the need to drink in order to socialize? If people are saying that ‘Consent is Mac,’ then why aren’t they behaving in a way that exemplifies that? Is ‘Consent is Mac’ really what we really believe, or is ‘Consent is Mac’ what we say because that is what people expect us to say?”
Looking to the future, how can we change the culture surrounding these events? One solution proposed by Avi Marshall ’19 could be a prominent theme attached to each Kagin. Therefore, every dance would be unique, instead of another opportunity to get as intoxicated as possible. One example could be a Kagin with only 80s music. Another solution proposed by Doten ’16 is having an on-campus, in-person educational experience for first year students could teach healthier drinking habits and fight the expectation that on-campus dances are a space for extreme intoxication.