Editorial: No chance

Frustrations surrounding last weekend’s First Chance dance, an annual senior class tradition, have been thoroughly fleshed out in annoyed discussions across campus and online. A slow system of ticket-taking and ID-checking and the arrival of the Williamstown Police Department (WPD) at 11:20 p.m. to turn off the music combined to secure the event a notch in the belt of Williams’ failed party scene. The night served not only as an example of inadequate foresight on the part of the party planners and their advisers, but also of the ways in which town residents and authorities can end up causing sizable student resentment from actions that they deem routine. Above all, however, the event – and its $20 entrance fee – highlights the very real financial risks involved in planning and attending social events at the College, as well as the serious forethought that such major events require.

While the problems with First Chance were underscored when WPD ordered the last students to leave at around midnight, they originated in the event’s planning. It is clear that the senior class officers, who planned the party, tried to give seniors a good time and put a lot of work into the event, but the long line at its entrance and the arrival of the WPD prove that more needed to be done.

Armed with institutional knowledge of what makes an event float or sink, it is surprising that those organizers experienced in party planning did not think more critically about such a simple yet central part of the event: entrance. The line outside of First Chance contained hundreds of students waiting to enter, while a bottleneck at the front kept them from doing so. The class officers and their advisers in Campus Life should have foreseen that having only one ID scanner would prove to be a problem. The long wait was insulting to the hundreds of queued-up students who had already paid $20 or more for their tickets, and may, in fact, have played a significant role in increasing the decibel level in the surrounding area.

While it is difficult to directly blame the organizers for the party’s eventual demise – previous outdoor events in the Greylock Quad had proceeded without issue – further consideration could and should have been given to the potential for noise complaints from surrounding businesses and residents. As 2006’s failed First Chance proved, the senior tradition is not invincible; rather, it is subject to the same risks that govern all large outdoor social events at the College, which have their own tradition of being shut down by the police. Despite turning the speakers away from residential areas and employing a professional sound engineer, the organizers should have engaged with nearby residents and businesses to warn them about the event’s potential for noise and politely request their cooperation. While no level of outreach guarantees invulnerability, dialogue with residents can only be a constructive step in addressing a problem that continues to persist for those on both sides of the music.

Yet the residents and authorities should not themselves avoid complete blame. As college students go, Williams’ really don’t make that much ruckus: large groups of students for the most part only go out two nights a week and, even then, they are rarely out past 2 a.m. Students don’t ask for Tuesdays; they don’t even ask for 4 a.m. While it is certainly understandable that residents desire quiet at night, they also need to understand how a seemingly simple action – calling the police about a little noise – can ruin a cherished event for hundreds of students and breed resentment against town residents. Simply put, four or five people who were annoyed or couldn’t sleep cost students somewhere in the region of $7000. Both residents and the authorities should consider these profound implications in judging future complaints.

For the students who entered First Chance and got kicked out as well as for those who never made it out of the line, there has been little since the event to quell their frustration. While seniors awaited some statement from their class officers regarding the failed party, little was forthcoming: The officers remained publicly mute for three days following the event and, in a brief e-mail statement, failed to deliver their constituents either an apology or an explanation. As elected officials, these students owe it to their fellows to say mea culpa and take responsibility for First Chance’s abrupt end, even if some of the contributing factors fell outside their control.

And while seniors would probably still appreciate a substantive statement from the planners, their leadership has already been somewhat undermined by the loud and unanswered voices of their classmates. When the opportunity to purchase Senior Week tickets rolls around, students may be more wary and trust less forthcoming.

The specificities of the First Chance failure aside, having an outdoor party that doesn’t get shut down continues to be a problem at Williams, and it is students who are paying for their own castrated social scene: Even when students don’t pay $20 out of pocket for a ticket, campus events are often funded indirectly by the student activities tax that everyone pays on their semester term bill. Event planners must take risks into serious consideration when they are playing with students’ money. Likewise, residents might consider more than their temporary discomfort before picking up the phone.

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