The Nest Returns to DPC with New Rules

Moving back to Daugherty-Palmer Commons (DPC) this past weekend, The Nest dance showed a higher turnout compared to that of last year’s Upper Deck location, despite the higher security and strict enforcement of the “no drinks allowed” policy.

Starting Saturday, Sept. 10 at 10 p.m. and ending at 1 a.m. the following morning, The Nest featured a DJ, glow sticks, plenty of water, and plenty of dancing throughout the night. But while these features were seen at Nest events in the past, this year’s dance was also under different regulations to ensure student safety and prevent alcohol from being brought into the building, an issue faced last year.

“The dance party policies were updated and reviewed over the summer,” said Clint Neill, Assistant Director of Student Activities. “Student Activities, Public Safety, and the SGA [Student Government Association] sat down to review the temporary dance party.”

These policy changes included stricter enforcement of the fire code, which prevents any more than 260 people from being in DPC at any one time. To keep track of guests and this count, Programs Board volunteers were stationed at the entrance to the Nest and the exit, respectively the side doors to DPC by the laundry room and the doors on the opposite side.

“We changed how people come in and leave to control the high number of people we usually get between 12 and 1,” said Programs Board Nest Chair and senior Mica Artis, “when the Nest is most hectic.”

All those entering were given a wristband, which gave them access to the room until they left (when the wristband was removed). While students were allowed to return to The Nest after leaving, they had to re-enter through the entrance to get a new wristband.

Volunteers working at the doors kept in communication throughout the night to know when people could enter and leave to stay in line with the 260-person limit, and guests were allowed to move to the DPC patio, which was watched by Public Safety to prevent guests from leaving in that direction.

“Clubs have to pay Public Safety officers to be there to provide safety,” said Neill regarding the officers, “at the expense of the club.”

In addition to Public Safety officers, members of the First Responders Network were at the Nest, distributing information about safe, legal use of alcohol.

While alcohol policy, including not allowing any bottles or containers or even purses and backpacks in DPC, was still enforced, it was not as strict as many students seemed to expect.

“We’re not doing breathalyzer tests at the door or anything,” said Artis before the dance, “but you can only bring what’s in your pockets.”

As an event in the SGA Constitution and under SGA funding, the Nest dance parties will continue throughout the year, with specific policies outlined in To The Point.

“We know that students want to have dance parties,” said Neill, “because we’re in a rural area.”

Public Safety officers will have to be there at the event, which can take place at the Upper Deck or the recreational courts of the Michael P. O’Brien Athletics and Recreation Center also based on the club’s preference and availability. The event will remain substance free, as always.

Additionally, the dances will need “one active and one passive educational component,” according to Neill, “to encourage healthy behavior.” This was done by the First Responders this dance with the alcohol awareness information, but can be done a multiple of ways for future events.

A big issue among students seemed to be how crowded it was, in contrast with the issue of lack of participation at the last Nest event in the Upper Deck last spring. “I was surprised by how crowded it was,” said senior and Nest guest Caroline Selle. “The music was great, but my friend and I left after half an hour because there wasn’t room to dance.”

Senior Brendan Larrabee also commented, “I liked it better when it was at the Upper Deck; there wasn’t anybody there, so you could actually get in without waiting 45 minutes.”

Embrace the Nest Mess

The weekend before Spring Break saw the first test of the new Nest policies. I am told only a handful of students went. In fact, The Point News sent a photographer to cover the event and he captured an empty upper deck – a far cry from the 400 people who crowded into Daugherty-Palmer Commons (DPC) at the last nest.

I guess the new policy worked.

I understand the Nest is meant to be a substance-free event. And that’s great and there should be a substance-free alternative on campus. However, in the process of hosting a substance-free event, Programs Board discovered the immense popularity of a campus-wide dance party. In other words, an event, sponsored by Programs Board and paid for by our student fees, where a quarter of the campus consistently came.

Sounds like a win to me.

Yet, as soon as the event became popular, new rules came out to effectively kill the event. If the rules are purely in the name of maintaining the Nest as a substance-free event, fine. But then why hasn’t Programs Board developed a new non-substance-free event? I know I don’t care what the event is called.

Unfortunately, we all know the new policies come from the same mentality on alcohol consumption we have dealt with our entire lives. The mentality that says, “if we don’t talk about it and shame those who partake, maybe it will go away.”

The same mentality that drives high school and college students alike to drink in basements and under power lines and do stupid things like get in a car instead of calling for a ride. And, ironically, the same mentality that propagates the kind of binge drinking on this campus and campuses across the country that this same mentality hates.

Time for a new approach.

For the first time, we have a college President who wants to engage in a dialogue. As President Joseph Urgo said, “I share a number of concerns with presidents and chancellors who wish to reopen the debate on the drinking age.

I am concerned that we, as professionals responsible for the education of young adults, have created an atmosphere where students who choose to consume alcohol often do so in ways dangerous to their health.”

The new Nest policies only continue that atmosphere.

Instead, why not hold a campus-wide dance party and not ban intoxication? Use the event as an opportunity to engage in a dialogue. Not necessary at the event, though at this point we all listen to Pandora and watch Hulu and are use to 15-30 second interruptions in our entertainment for a commercials. Use the same approach, a drinking fact in between songs.

More importantly, use the event as a place where intoxicated college students can go safely have fun.

Drinking in college will not go away. Hiding, shunning and cracking down on it won’t do anything. Certainly with a substance-allowed dance party and a pub, SMCM will go so much further than any other college in having an honest conversation about the perils and, yes, pluses of drinking.

 

News in Brief: New Nest Rules

After suspending all dance events funded by the Student Government Association (SGA) due to attendance at the Nest reaching unprecedented and dangerous levels, students and staff from Student and Activities and Programs Board settled on a Temporary Dance Party Policy introduced to the SGA on Feb. 22.

All future SGA dance parties must:

-Be held at the Upper Deck

-Be staffed by 10 volunteers

-Be alcohol-free

-End by 1 a.m.

Students must:

-Present their SMCM ID at the door

-Check in their guests with a state-issued ID

-Receive a wristband

-Not return after leaving the balcony

The new policy, which is likely to remain in place for the remainder of the semester, serves as a guideline for all future Nest events and dances sponsored by SGA clubs.

 

Nest Controversy Leads To Shutdown

Though the Nest has not always been a popular late-night weekend hotspot, last semester saw extraordinarily high attendance, leading to a volatile situation that recently resulted in its temporary closing.

Rumors abound on campus about the events of Saturday, Feb. 5, but certainty has been hard to find.

Since its inception in 2007, the Nest’s function has been to provide substance-free events in Daugherty-Palmer Commons (DPC).

However, in the past attendance at the events has been fairly low. According to Clint Neill, Coordinator of Student Activities and Judicial Affairs, “Typically in past years the Nest hasn’t been so heavily attended. Usually people come and go… to other events on the Greens, but we’ve been noticing that students are staying.”

In December, there were slightly less than 300 people who would attend throughout the night, Neill said, but even that is large for a small venue like DPC.

In anticipation of large crowds, senior Mica Artis, Programs Board Nest Chair, had asked Neill and Coordinator of Orientation and Service Sola Ogundele, ‘10, to help staff the event due to a lack of student volunteers.

Senior Jessica Harvey, Director of Campus Programming, was also on the volunteer staff.

On the night of Saturday, Feb. 5 attendance almost immediately became an issue, Artis said. In the past, students did not usually arrive until 11:00 and would come and go frequently; in this case, there was a steady stream of attendants beginning at 10:30, with few of them choosing to leave.

By 11:30, at least 400 students had arrived or were waiting to get in, many of whom were “highly intoxicated,” according to Neill.

Artis explained that the dance floor had reached capacity, with many students standing in the lobby instead.

Student volunteers, in addition to Neill and Ogundele, were frantically trying to check IDs, manage the number of allowed guests, and restrict the backpacks and purses that students were attempting to bring.

Artis explained that, due to the difficulties in attracting members for the Nest Committee, there were only nine people staffing the event, including Ogundele, Neill, Harvey, and herself.

Eventually after a consultation with Public Safety, Neill and the rest of the staff attempted to further regulate entry to DPC, since there are multiple side entrances, by creating a line at the front door.

The situation continued to escalate, with many disruptive students pushing and hassling the volunteers and staff members, and with some becoming confrontational, according to Artis; Harvey said that a student had his t-shirt sleeve ripped off in the commotion outside.

“It was out of control,” said Artis, explaining that one of the volunteers was sexually harassed and many others were verbally assaulted. “None of [the volunteers] had to be there; they were helping me out.”

“People were up in our faces screaming, ‘Let us in! Let us in!’” Harvey said.

Inside the building, students were attempting to open the side doors to allow others to enter, and some students in line outside attempted to push through the front doors.

Harvey explained that though the side doors were an issue, they are unable to block them because that would pose a fire hazard.

Neill also saw beer cans inside and witnessed students try to bring in open containers into the intentionally alcohol-free event.

Though the event was advertised as alcohol-free, as all student-run events are, Neill encountered many students who were “highly intoxicated” attempting to gain entrance.

Neill was eventually approached by the student volunteers about concerns for their comfort and safety. “I, as a staff member, could not have a safe event … When my students tell me that they do not feel safe then I take that seriously. The students came to me and said, ‘We can’t handle this.’ I said, ‘Shut it down.’”

After making the call at midnight to close the Nest down, it took thirty minutes to evacuate the more than 470 attendees from the building.

According to Neill, when Public Safety came to assist, students booed. “That really disappointed me,” Neill said.

He also said that he and the volunteers were “flipped off” by drunk, angry students, “because we were asking them to leave.”

While cleaning up after everyone had left, staff saw many empty beer cans and heard students who had brought coats, clutches, or purses searching for presumably stolen items.

“We need to reassess how we do the Nest so these kinds of things don’t happen,” Neill said, while Harvey mentioned that there’s a possibility of instituting a coat check to eliminate the risk.

Additionally, Harvey said that many of the paintings that hang in DPC were taken down. Though they weren’t damaged, “that’s a huge issue,” Harvey said. “We can’t vandalize these buildings and get away with it.”

An important component of the safety of the Nest is the staffing of the security.

The staff is comprised entirely of student volunteers, and not many students feel compelled to assist with safety.

In the past, when attendance was relatively low, security and staffing was less of an issue. However, with increased crowds, security poses more of a concern.

Artis explained that for an event of that size in the future, she would need at least 20 volunteers.

Such a number is difficult to reach considering there are only three members on the Nest Committee, including Artis.

Harvey, who was the Nest Chair last year, explained that typically there are eight or so students who volunteer to staff the events.

According to Harvey, Artis had a meeting with Safe House, and the town house RAs to devise methods for attracting more student leaders to staff the events.

Harvey also said they’re considering instituting a way to identify staff from the people attending the event.

All Student Government Association (SGA) sponsored events are staffed by students, including the coffeehouses, comedians, lectures, and films.

Only larger events, such as World Carnival (which also has the added concern of being outside), are staffed by adults.

Following the event, Assistant Dean of Students Kelly Schroeder and members of the SGA Executive Board decided to suspend all SGA-sponsored dance events for the semester, according to Artis and Neill.

This led to the cancellation of two events hosted by the St. Mary’s Triangle and Rainbow Society and the Black Student Union, arousing negative feedback, according to Artis.

“I had angry people blaming the Nest for all of this, but I did not even know about the suspension until after it had been decided,” she said.

However, she added that the decision was for the best: “The SGA didn’t want to be hosting parties without knowing how to control them and knowing how to prevent what happened at the Nest,” she said, adding that many of the rumors concerning the role the Nest had in the cancellations of other events could have been easily dispelled had anyone bothered to ask.

“All they had to do was ask, but they just got angry instead,” citing many interactions on Facebook having a role in perpetuating misinformation.

Both Neill and Artis were quick to explain that, to their knowledge, the Nest and other SGA sponsored dance events have been temporarily, not permanently, suspended.

Artis is still planning next month’s Nest with hopes that the SGA and Student Activities will have implemented a policy on dance events by that time.

Neill explained that such a policy would likely address the required staffing for having fun events while maintaining security.

On Wednesday, Neill will meet with Assistant Dean of Students Kelly Schroeder, Director of Campus Programming senior Jessica Harvey, and Director of Public Safety Christopher Santiago.

At the meeting, Neill hopes to discuss ways to improve the security at the Nest. “We’re going to look at what other schools are doing,” Neill said, “we’re going to get the feedback from SGA, and then we’re going to say ‘What is best for our students and our culture here at St. Mary’s?’” They’re also looking for student input on the situation.

While looking at other schools’ policies, Neill has noticed that though they usually address alcohol, the general security issues, including staff numbers and training, are relevant.

Extra security, in the form of Public Safety, is an option; however, Neill wants the events to remain approachable to students.

Harvey also thinks having Public Safety staff the event might be intimidating, even to students who “have nothing to hide.”

Additionally, she’s not sure that Public Safety has the officers to spare for the Nest. “They don’t have the time or ability to stay here and babysit a program for students the entire time,” she said.

Another possibility is moving the location of the Nest to a larger, more accommodating space, preferably one that is further away from North Campus.

Suggested venues include the Upper Deck and the Michael P. O’Brien Athletics and Recreation Center.

Artis said that the Nest for next month is being planned for the Upper Deck, though she is not sure how many students that would accommodate.

Even so, “there needs to be more large venues on campus,” said Artis.

Though she did not know DPC’s standing room capacity, she said that the building was not built to be used as a venue for large student events.

She also pointed out that events being over-capacity is not uncommon, citing the popularity of I <3 Female Orgasm, hosted by Feminists United for Sexual Equality last fall.

Harvey believes that the location of the Nest will be contingent upon the motivation of the attendees. If students legitimately want to go to the Nest, she explains, than a larger venue is a feasible option.

However, if students are attending because “there’s nothing else to do and they’re already intoxicated, then we may try moving it away from the residential areas and putting it in the Upper Deck,”

Harvey said. Unfortunately, there doesn’t seem to be a way of efficiently determining which is the case, and for now Harvey believes they’ll have to rely on trial and error.

On Tuesday, Feb. 15, Harvey is going to present a resolution to the SGA which will remind students of the purpose of the Nest; she hopes to be able to send out an informative all-student email reiterating the Nest’s intentions.

Ultimately, Neill said the goal is to provide an “alcohol-free, alternative venue for students who don’t want to go to the club scene.”

The Nest will continue at some point, he assured. “We just need to figure out how to have it where the true purpose can continue.”