The Student Activities Council (SAC) is on task and on budget this Winter Study, providing some form of entertainment almost every day in January. The myriad of SAC events is no accident; it is part of the council’s long-term strategy for the entire year.
In past years, SAC has overspent its budget and yet failed, in the opinion of many students, to adequately fulfill its entertainment-providing role. This year’s council accepts its own limited budget and concentrates on providing a wide range of lower-cost activities. SAC’s Winter Study lineup is a solid example of this approach: events range from a funk concert to the semi-formal Winter Gala to the experimental “Party on Ice.” The popularity of these events will help determine whether this year’s SAC can shake off the failures of its forebearers and reassert itself as a vital part of the social scene on campus
Results have been encouraging so far. According to SAC treasurer Drew Newman ’04, attendance has been high at events early this month. The council’s popular Casino Night, which took place on Jan. 6, hit capacity in Goodrich Hall. “American Pie 2”, the first of an armada of SAC films playing in Bronfman Auditorium this month, attracted 275 people on the nights of Jan. 4 and 5 combined. This is a record for SAC film showings, which generally draw about 50 viewers over two nights.
SAC’s biggest test, however, may be the popularity of the Winter Study Concert scheduled for Jan. 16. Featured will be Deep Banana Blackout, a funk band from Connecticut which advertises itself as “carrying the torch of the great funk bands such as Tower of Power, Sly and the Family Stone, and James Brown into the 21st century.” That is a sizable legacy to live up to for a small band that few have heard of, but SAC has faith in these up-and-comers. SAC has tried to get Deep Banana Blackout to play at Williams for two years now, according to Josh Burns ’02, SAC chair and business manager of the Record.
While few know what sort of concert to expect from Deep Banana Blackout, it is a safe bet that the funksters’ performance atmosphere will be a far cry from the aggressive bad-boy behavior of Naughty by Nature, which played SAC’s sold out Homecoming concert in Lasell Gymnasium. Reaction to that concert was mixed, with many students, including a reviewer for the Record, unimpressed by the hip-hop duo’s late arrival and perceived has-been aura. SAC, however, stands by the choice of Naughty by Nature for the Homecoming concert.
“Besides some time issues, the concert went well, probably better than expected,” said Reid Phillips ’05, the first-year SAC representative.
Phillips admits, however, that the choice of Deep Banana Blackout as the Winter Study concert band was meant to be a departure from the streak of hip-hop concerts at Williams dating back to Jurassic 5 in the spring of last year – which was not, incidentally, an SAC-organized event. Burns agrees that the council had been influenced by a desire to please those left in the cold by Naughty by Nature, but believes that there will always be members of the student body who do not agree with the choices his council is making.
“No one’s ever satisfied, and nobody ever will be satisfied, and that’s something we understand,” said Burns.
The biggest assumption people make, according to Burns, is that SAC should be able to afford to bring America’s most popular bands to Williamstown, considering the College’s well-publicized enormous endowment. When students hear about Weezer playing at Ohio State, to give one example, it is quite natural to feel a bit of envy. Unfortunately, in Burns’ opinion, two insurmountable obstacles stand in the way of Williams ever being able to bring in superstars. Popular bands often seek to play at larger universities in metropolitan areas to take advantage of huge playing venues. Tickets are sold to students at reduced prices, but such a concert isn’t really a university event. Williams has neither the facilities nor the town population to make it an appealing place for the largest drawing bands to come play.
In addition, SAC isn’t allowed to touch that monster of an endowment. Its funding comes from the Student Activities Tax, $70 tacked onto the end of each semester’s tuition bill for every student. That pool of money goes to College Council (CC), which doles it out among eligible student organizations. While SAC can afford the budgeted $10,500 it takes to bring Deep Banana Blackout to Goodrich Hall, it simply can’t bear the cost of bringing in a huge-name act.
SAC has certainly been more careful than usual this year with its money. The operating budget for this year has been set at $125,000, and according to Newman, SAC is under budget at this point in time. This is a departure from last year, when SAC had to receive additional funding from CC in May to stage the traditional Currier Club party. Two years ago, according to CC treasurer Jonathan Pahl ’03, SAC finished about $12,000 in debt. Mindful of past failures, the leaders of this year’s council have made intelligent spending a priority. Weekly spending reports are made to both the administration and CC.
“We’re responsible to the student body for every penny we spend,” said Newman.
A second priority for this year’s SAC has been advertising. Through advertisements in the Record, mailers, posters, e-mail, and word-of-mouth, the council has been determined in attempts to publicize its events. It hasn’t been easy, however, and Winter Study, when students have a great deal of free time, will provide a good test of whether the increased advertising is paying off.
“People get stuck in their own little world, and it’s hard to penetrate that,” said Burns.
This year’s SAC hopes to shake those little worlds, and early results leave members of the council optimistic. The next couple of weeks, though, will play a crucial role in SAC’s overall success.