Program Board strives for safe Winter Ball

By Ben Bartenstein

Winter Ball 2012 planners are looking to improve on the disastrous elements of last year’s event to ensure this will not be the last year it is held. Last year’s ball was hosted at International Market Square, an historic design center located west of downtown Minneapolis. The center, which normally hosts weddings, trade shows and fundraising events, looked vastly different on that particular Saturday evening. The floors were covered in urine and walls, toilets and horticulture also took a beating. Several Macalester students determined to be too drunk or suffering from alcohol poisoning were sent to hospitals by on-site paramedics. Not too long after, Macalester received a bill in the mail for $2,143.72. “Last year was eventful,” said Liz Watson ’13, co-organizer of Winter Ball 2011 and chief organizer for this year’s event. “It sort of took everyone by surprise.” Watson expressed embarrassment with last year’s student misbehavior. “It sort of caused us to reevaluate what Winter Ball is and what we want it to be,” she said. “Winter Ball is a relatively new phenomenon, and we’ve struggled a little bit to get everything right,” said President Brian Rosenberg. Rosenberg said that in past years Winter Ball faced problems with buses and transportation, “issues that can be fixed.” Last year, he said the issue was directly related to alcohol. “There were some [students] who showed up who were drunk,” Rosenberg said. “I know that students drink and I don’t expect students to behave like monks in a monastery. I get all of that. It seems to me where we have to draw the line is in respecting other people.” As a result of last year’s occurrences, Macalester’s reputation in the Twin Cities took a hit. “It made the college look very bad,” Rosenberg said. “It harmed our relationship with the community [and] certainly with the venue that was hosting the event, so we want to make sure that that doesn’t happen again.” The negativity associated with the event almost led to cancellation of this year’s Winter ball. “There was a lot of debate about it,” Rosenberg said. “My initial response was, ‘Well, we’re not having it next year.’ I’ve been here almost 10 years and I’m almost always proud of our students. [Winter Ball] was one of the rare occasions when I wasn’t.” After reflecting on the situation, Rosenberg concluded that students should be given a second chance to correct the problem before canceling the event for good. He coined last year’s event a “teachable moment.” Dean of Students Jim Hoppe echoed Rosenberg’s thoughts. “I support Program Board in everything they’re doing for the event this year,” Hoppe said. Rosenberg said that while this year’s event was given the go ahead, the future fate of Winter Ball is still in jeopardy. “This [year] is kind of a test run,” he said. “If we can’t get it right this time, we’ll probably stop it.” Rosenberg recollected back to his time as a student at Cornell University in the 1970s. “It was always a constant balancing act for the school to support events that were fun and brought students together, but also at the same time to make sure that they didn’t get out of control,” he said. “[There’s] nothing new about it now.” When it was confirmed that Winter Ball 2012 would happen again this year, Watson set to work on planning this year’s event. Throughout the summer, she kept in contact with Hoppe and Director of Campus Life Keith Edwards to ensure everything was on the right track. Hoppe said that an increasingly large venue size may have also contributed to last year’s misconduct. Watson agreed and downsized the event for this year. “Everything will be on one level this year,” she said. “Last year’s building had five floors. You’re always tempted to explore when you have that much space.” Watson said that every location presents its own set of challenges to work around. “My freshman year, Mill City Museum was beautiful, but really small,” she said. “Only 600 or 700 people could go. My sophomore year, we had it at Epic which is a nightclub and just sort of set the wrong tone, I think.” Last year, she said that students had trouble navigating International Market Square. “There were a lot of bathrooms [and] people didn’t know where they were,” she said. “This year, there are a whole new set of things to get around.” Among the other changes Watson plans on implementing is a pre-loading spot for buses inside Weyerhaeuser. Suresh Mudragada, Assistant Director of Campus Programs explained the process. “[We] will stagger the buses and allow staff to make sure that students that are in need of help are able to get it before they leave campus,” he wrote in an email. “This will also prevent the venue from being overwhelmed and keep check-in manageable.” Hoppe commended Program Board for its planning efforts. “The chairs last year [have] made a lot of improvements from the year before,” he said. This year, Hoppe is confident that the improvements will continue. “I think Liz has done a great job of thinking through everything that might happen and how best to manage everything from crowd size to coat check to you know…” he said as he paused to laugh, “getting people on the buses.” Despite the bad reputation that the event has procured, Hoppe emphasized itsimportance to the Macalester community. He argued that Winter Ball is one of the most popular events on campus each year. Figuring in the study abroad students, he said more than 1,300 of about 1,600 eligible students attended last year. “I don’t know that I’ve ever been in an event with comparable percentages of the student body [attending],” he said. Watson said that ticket sales this year are limited because of what happened last year. “We have 1,200 tickets available for sale,” she said. “I think we’ll be sold out by the end of business on Friday [when ticket sales formally end].” Dan Bomberg ’16 said he plans on making a last minute decision on attending or not attending. He said he hopes student behavior at the event will improve this year. “It would be my hope that [Winter Ball is] still fun, but people stay respectful,” Bomberg said. Rachel Fogel ’16 already has her ticket. “I was interested by the rumors, and also I like getting dressed up,” Fogel said. “There’s something fun about it.” Similar to Bomberg, she hopes that Winter Ball 2012 does not repeat last year’s problems. “I really hope that it is not as crazy as last year,” she said. “It sounds like it’s something funny to hear about, but not so fun to be involved in.” Johnna O’Keeffe ’14 has high expectations for this year. “I think it will be really good,” O’Keeffe said. “I think Liz did a very good job [planning] it.” Rosenberg said he’s pretty optimistic about this year. “I think in the past when we’ve seen some events begin to get out of control, students have been very good at self-correcting,” he said. In the past, Rosenberg said events have gotten out of hand, but eventually straightened out. He said the Midnight Breakfast “had gotten a little crazy” with students streaking. “Laurie Hamre said, ‘Look, if this doesn’t stop, we’re gonna end it,” Rosenberg said. “It stopped. Students got it. They really valued the event. It’s a lot of fun and they didn’t want to let a few people ruin it. And we’ve had no real problems since.” Rosenberg also cited Founder’s Day as another event where students corrected past behavioral problems after receiving warnings. Rosenberg described the ideal Winter Ball as much safer than in the past. “You know, music, dancing, food,” he said. “All the things that make for a great community party. You can’t have people going to the hospital.” Rosenberg does not want to belittle the good behavior of the majority of students at last year’s Winter Ball. “If you have over a thousand students at an event and 40 students misbehave, I don’t want to tar ev
eryone with that brush,” he said. “I think 95 percent of [student actions are] exactly what we want. It’s just that five percent that we’ve got to fix.” Hoppe emphasized that last year’s Winter Ball was an exception compared to many positive Macalester events. As for this year, Hoppe remains optimistic. “It’s up to the student body,” he said, “but I have a lot of faith in [them].” refresh –>