First chance dance shut down by WPD

On Saturday, the Class of 2010’s First Chance dance was shut down early by the Williamstown Police Department (WPD), which acted with Campus Safety and Security in response to several noise complaints. Scheduled to run from 9 p.m. to 1 a.m. and requiring a $20 to $25 entrance ticket, First Chance closed at 11:51 p.m. when students were told to disperse from the tent in Greylock Quad following multiple noise complaints from the surrounding area. To address dissatisfaction from many seniors who had paid for tickets, First Chance student organizers – the Class of 2010 class officers – e-mailed the class last night and plan to contact students later week to discuss potential recourse.

WPD received the first noise complaint at 10:42 p.m. from the Northside Motel on North Street. After visiting the party, WPD contacted Security to request that students lower the volume of the music, and the organizers complied. At 11:22 p.m., WPD returned after another noise complaint, whereupon officers ordered that the music be turned off, adding that the partygoers could remain in the tent as long as they maintained a low noise level. At least two more noise complaints came in before 11:51 p.m., when officers returned for a final time to shut down the party and tell those present to leave. Three WPD officers had responded to the scene and broke up the dance without incident.

A lengthy line of students waiting for admission may have contributed to the numerous noise complaints. Although a professional sound technician had been hired to help minimize wayward acoustics, these provisions were not specifically made to quiet the unanticipated long line, according to Class of 2010 Officer Michael Marchinetti ’10. Prior to the event, Director of Campus Safety and Security Jean Thorndike had been satisfied with her inspection of several preventative measures to reduce tent noise, including turning the speakers and the stage towards the dining hall rather than the residential area.

The bottlenecking occurred in part because only one ID-scanning station was set up at the single entrance. Though the scanning method was used at last spring’s senior event at Mount Hope, it had never before been used at an on-campus party, said Thorndike. Marchinetti added that the officers opted to use this method in tandem with their professionally trained hosting staff. He said that although the staff was proficient with the scanner, the machine took longer than anticipated to verify IDs.

Marchinetti, Lisa Chu ’10, Joanna Hoffman ’10 and Ethan Timmins-Schiffman ’10 make up the Class of 2010 officers, the students primarily responsible for organizing First Chance and other senior events. Jess Gulley, assistant director of Campus Life for student activities, and Ellen Rougeau, Campus Life assistant, had advised the students in the planning process, outlining available venues and other logistical options as well as the costs and benefits attached with each, according to Marchinetti.

Per a new system, each entering student’s ID was fed into a card-reading machine to be scanned by Dining Services workers before students could receive wristbands. When the line at the single scanner station grew unwieldy, class officers tried to mitigate the problem by allowing non-drinking students in on a separate line, but Security objected.

Hard liquor was noticeably absent from First Chance this year. Dining Services requires one month’s notice to cater the event, and is the only group that can obtain licenses for hard liquor as the law stipulates that only a non-profit organization can get a special liquor license since. Hoffman said that, despite the fact that the class officers were quick to begin the planning process once back on campus, they were not able to start soon enough to have Dining Services cater the event. They decided to maintain First Chance’s early date despite the lack of hard alcohol. A staff of five from Kelly’s in Dalton, Mass. served beer and wine.

In considering potential venues for the event, the organizers considered the successes and failures of previous incarnations of the event. Last year, First Chance was held indoors in the double venue of Lasell and Goodrich, with alcohol served in the latter while food and dancing were kept to Lasell. Several problems arose as Goodrich filled to fire capacity and an imbalance between Goodrich and Lasell grew to an uncomfortable level, but the event was not shut down.

“The class officers felt that this was not an ideal situation,” Marchinetti said. “We were aware that First Chance had traditionally been a tent party, so we attempted to solve the problems of the Lasell/Goodrich venue while bringing back some tradition.”

First Chance in both 2006 and 2007 was held as a tent party on Poker Flats lawn. Though the event ran smoothly the first year around, it was shut down by WPD in 2007 due to noise complaints.

After the students decided on a tent party, a location was chosen based on past experience. According to Gulley, since Greylock tent parties have been successful in the past, Campus Life was confident in counseling the students to hold the event there.

Senior dissatisfaction with the evening has been varied and widespread, as evidenced by WSO threads in which some students demanded compensation and others expressed discontent with the circumstances of the dance’s organization and closing.

“I waited in line for an hour to chug three beers in the mud,” Thomas Rubinsky ’10 said.

A portion of student dissatisfaction stems from students’ frustration with the perceived relationship between the College and the town. As recently as spring 2009, the College engaged in discussion with the WPD to assure the success of outdoor events, which partially resulted in the suggestion of the sound management that was put in place at First Chance. Dean Merrill remains positive about the College’s relations with Williamstown residents but empathizes with student rancor.

“To my mind, the College and WPD have actually gotten off to a slightly better start this year, but I understand why students are feeling frustrated with the way things can happen,” Merrill said. “It’s not bad to try to build goodwill, though those efforts realistically may not have an effect at 12:00 or 1:00 or 2:00 in the morning – after midnight is when the noise complaints typically come in.

“I completely understand that this was very disappointing for the students who attended the event,” she added.

Preemptive efforts to avoid noise complaints in the past haven’t been entirely fruitful. Before holding a tent party featuring Afroman in spring 2008, Matt Koven ’09 approached residents in the surrounding areas, informing them of the event and warning them of the noise in advance. Despite his outreach, however, the party was still shut down earlier than expected.

Class officers are in the process of reviewing options for addressing student concerns and plan to release a second e-mail that explains their plans for the future, according to Marchinetti.

“We are looking at a number of options right now, and trying to figure out the best way to make this situation better,” Hoffman said.

Marchinetti expressed annoyance over the events of Saturday and an apology to the students affected.

“The class officers personally found the Saturday’s events to be extremely frustrating,” Marchinetti said. “For those seniors who were disappointed in the event, I can only say that I shared in your disappointment and [we are] committed to moving forward and planning successful future events. [We] hope the seniors face our future class events with the same optimism and excitement that led up to and began First Chance.”