Westminster’s Halloween dance put on hold

Photo courtesy Westminster SAC

Photo courtesy Westminster SAC

The annual Halloween dance put on by SAC normally consists of an off-campus venue, buses, a DJ and more. This year the tradition is taking a hiatus.

There will be no Halloween dance this year hosted by SAC or anyone else at Westminster.

"It’s not an issue of not wanting to host dances; it’s not all the dances," said Sarah Hirning, SAC president. "It’s the behavior at the Halloween dance that happens year after year. And last [year] it was particularly really, really bad to the point where the dance became more of a liability than anything else.”

Hirning said it was not the fault of all the students that caused SAC to cancel the event but enough of the attendees to ruin it for the rest of the student body.

“It’s really unfortunate for students who go to dances and they don’t disrespect the faculty and staff of Westminster,” Hirning said. “They don’t disrespect the students who plan the dance. They don’t disrespect the security or the police officers. We would love to have a dance for them, but because students did all those things, we can’t afford to keep providing this platform for students to misbehave.”

Last year was not the only Halloween dance to have issues involving student misbehavior. Karnell Black, assistant dean of students, said that the Halloween dance has been getting worse and worse during his career at Westminster.

Black said that the behavior last year in particular was the last straw. Black and staff had to meet with 40–50 students after the 2014 dance because of behavioral issues and for conduct purposes, he said.

Issues from 2014 ranged from consumption of alcohol as a minor, showing up intoxicated, smoking marijuana at the dance and punching security, Black said. He also mentioned the problematic behavior toward the Westminster staff running the door.

“Our staff, the professional staff members, took a huge brunt of being called names, and that’s very much not what we do in our job," Black said. "Our job is to help our students and provide exciting experiences at college and not to be a babysitter, in a sense. It’s really important that our students take accountability for their actions."

Black said that there was a decision process where they sat down with the SAC student affairs team and discussed the decision to cancel the dance. They talked about themes and classy formal dances versus the Halloween costume-themed dance.

Black said they wondered what specifically caused students to misbehave.

“Is it the theme? What is it?” Black asked. “We came to the sense that it was the theme that was the issue. We find that folks dressed up, in a sense, can be someone else for that night and they kind of put everything behind them and they're like, ‘I’m just going to go have fun’ but they go overboard or they don’t understand limits when it comes to alcohol and all these other things. It becomes a concern, all behaviors, all of the sudden changes, because you don’t know who the person is.”

Mark Ferne, dean of students, echoed Black’s idea of changes in behavior when students put on a costume or mask and feel as though they become unaccountable for their actions for a night.

“We would support lots of other dances, and we have staff to help advise and supervise that kind of experience, but I think when people put on the mask, they often behave in ways that are not indicative of what we want the Westminster community to be,” Ferne said.

Ryan Cook, the SAC adviser, is new to the Halloween dance tradition. Cook joined the Westminster community late this summer.

“I’ve heard the stories, and the stories aren’t very good,” Cook said. “Which is a sad thing, because my interaction with the student body this far has been positive. I thought the Hello Dance was fine. It was really kind of odd to hear students had behaved that poorly.”

The Hello Dance was well received by SAC members and faculty members. SAC said it will host more dances, just no Halloween dance.

Hirning, SAC president, said that they will be introducing a winter formal for the welcome back week in January.

Students can still find outlets to celebrate this October. The Latin@ Club will be hosting a Dia de los Muertos, Day of the Dead cultural dance.

Mateo Zapata, member of the Latin@ Club, had been fundraising for the Dia de los Muertos dance in the Richer Commons all October. Zapata said that the club was excited to offer a cultural alternative.

“We heard there would be no Halloween dance, so we figured to step up our game and that this was a good opportunity for us to really do that,” Zapata said.

This is not a typical dance. There will be an instructor and it will be culturally informative, Zapata said.

Another option for students looking for their Halloween fix can attend RHA’s Halloween party on Oct. 29.

RHA will be throwing a Halloween party in the Tingey Lounge in the basement of Behnken Hall from 8 p.m. to 10 p.m. with free food, prizes and games. Students are encouraged to wear Halloween costumes.

Although Westminster has decided to take a break from the Halloween dance, this does not mean that there will be no more dances nor that there are no Halloween events on campus.

“Let’s take some time off to see, 'Is it really the Halloween dance? Or is it just dances in general?'” Black said. “Because if it’s the dance in general, we have a bigger conversation that we need to have with a whole campus community.”

Students who have questions or concerns regarding the dance can contact SAC President Sarah Hirning at SAC@westminstercollege.edu.