Despite record EMT calls, Winter Ball hailed as a success: Staff volunteers still seek to change Winter Ball drinking culture

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Staff members and students described Macalester’s fifth annual Winter Ball at the Crowne Plaza Hotel on November 22 as well-planned despite a record number of responses by Macalester College Emergency Medical Services (MCEMS).

“It was overall a little more rowdy than last year,” said Jolena Zabel ’16, who helped plan Winter Ball this year.

Assistant Director of Campus Programs Suresh Mudragada, said that more intoxicated students were in attendance, but there was a similar level of hospital transports to past years. Additionally, he was not aware of vandalism or theft. He credited Zabel and Brynna Crockett ’16 with the “best planned” Winter Ball he has seen in his three-year tenure.

Crockett and Zabel started planning the event last semester and tried to improve upon past years’ mistakes. They opened up the Lowe Dayton Commons as a warm space to wait for the bus and to turn away students that appeared too intoxicated.

Both said the Crowne Plaza Hotel served as a better venue than those in past years. The layout allowed them to direct the flow of students directly downstairs without disrupting hotel business.

“A new contact gave us great new ideas for the check-in process,” Mudragada said. “They gave us additional rooms, which made it much smoother.”

The three said the hotel failed to provide adequate coat check services. Mudragada said that although event coordinators communicated with the hotel about the numbers and volume of students, the hotel was only prepared for 600-800 students.

“They weren’t prepared,” he said. “It was a miscommunication on their part.”

Crockett and Zabel acknowledged that despite this setback and the small size of the restroom, the hotel provided quality service.

“There’s obviously room for improvement,” Crockett said.

“…[still,] overall it was a big success,” Zabel said.

Mudragada added that he considers the Crowne Plaza a viable option for future Winter Balls, in contrast to past venues.

“[Coat check is] fixable, so the venue is not ruled out,” he said.

Macalester’s main contact was unreachable for comment because she recently stopped working at the hotel. The hotel Manager of Catering Services, Megan Anderson, who did not interact with Winter Ball coordinators, said the Crowne would be interested in hosting future Winter Balls.

Record responses

According to Crockett, MCEMS went above and beyond to provide support for the event.

“[MCEMS] was incredible,” Crockett said, “Some people stayed on for a second shift even after they were done.”

Lauren MacNeill, who worked as an EMT at Winter Ball, said MCEMS responded to a record of nearly 20 calls at Winter Ball, but she said more people seemed to be seeking out their services.

“It is true that this year we had our highest number of calls at Winter Ball…although the severity of the calls and number of ambulance transports has decreased significantly,” she wrote in an email. “I also think that staff members and students are getting better at spotting students who may have had too much to drink before it becomes a major issue.”

Mudragada said MCEMS did not only treat intoxicated students, but also students with twisted ankles or other physical injuries.

“[MCEMS] was amazing,” he said. “They dedicated time and they are an amazing resource to respond when needed. I do wish they got a little more chance to enjoy the event.”

Dean of Students Jim Hoppe, who volunteered at the event, said he is concerned by the level of planning necessary to prepare for intoxicated students.

“At one point with paramedics, it was almost embarrassing that we had such an elaborate process assuming people would make bad choices,” he said.

Mudragada said the measures in place are the result of past years’ lessons.

“Unfortunately, we had to learn from previous years to be prepared for the worst,” he said.

In order to prepare, Zabel, Crockett and Mudragada briefed staff volunteers and MCEMS on the emergency and hospital transportation procedures.

Future conversations

Hoppe said he would like to see students conduct themselves better at future Winter Balls, calling for students to “raise the bar and for people to monitor themselves.”

Zabel said she and Crockett plan to discuss drinking on campus with next year’s Winter Ball coordinators to change attitudes about the event.

“Winter Ball is not an event you should need to feel wasted to go to,” she said.

Mudragada said it may be time to have a conversation to discuss campus drinking culture.

“It is hard when the culture is not just Winter Ball, but the whole culture of over-drinking at a lot of different events, like Kagins,” he said.

In the case of Winter Ball, Zabel and Crockett said, non-Macalester people are watching you.

“We have an audience that is different than day-to-day,” Crockett said.

“We represent the college,” Zabel said. “Some people [at the hotel] will remember Macalester based on Winter Ball.”

In spite of these negatives, Zabel said 20 percent of ticket sales were donated to the Minnesota Literacy Council, which raised over $1,000.