Committee: Sun God Safety Foremost Concern

Last year’s Sun God concert posed many structural and safety problems for organizers, who are currently investigating ways to streamline the event. (Will Parson/Guardian File)

During committee meetings aimed at re-evaluating both the
Sun God festival’s specific operations and broader purposes, administrators and
campus programmers are prioritizing student safety issues that could mark a swath
of changes to the daylong event and the evening concert itself.

The annual festival is a massive financial and logistical
undertaking that attracts tens of thousands to campus with its nighttime
concert, and costs nearly $250,000 in security, technical staff and artist
booking fees.

In the first meeting of the planning committee charged with
discussing and possibly implementing changes to the event, members focused on
parking and transportation issues. Transportation and Parking Services
officials gave an initial approval to proposals to shut down Hopkins Parking
Structure during the concert, using the site as a temporary entrance to RIMAC
field. Brian Ross, assistant director of campus events for the University
Events Office, said that the solution was reached in a large-scale effort to
emphasize safety at the concert.

“The committee wanted to do something other than debrief
past errors,” he said, referencing problems of overcrowding, which instigated
disorderly activity at last year’s event. “We want to highlight specific plans
of action, like opening the parking structure so we don’t have thousands of
students pouring down Ridge Walk to get into the concert.”

The committee’s next meeting will concentrate on issues of
advertising and marketing, Ross said, which UEO hopes will help shift students’
perceptions of Sun God from a day of rowdy unruliness to one of community
building and campus relationships. Numerous complaints about the event’s
linkage to alcohol were raised in an in-depth report released last quarter.

The report listed a barrage of grievances from every campus
department regarding the concert’s impacts on UCSD. Several subcommittees,
dubbed “steering” bodies, were commissioned to discuss the report’s
recommendations. The planning committee, whose membership is composed of A.S.
councilmembers, council programmers, UEO officials and UCSD administrators, was
commissioned to pick through the subcommittee’s proposals to determine which
ones it should implement.

Several councilmembers have voiced concerns over the
report’s breadth, especially the plausibility of massive changes such as
barring all students unaffiliated with UCSD from the concert and scheduling it
earlier in the year; the latter proposal was made by the Student Policy &
Judicial Affairs department to ensure that cases of student discipline could be
acted on by the quarter’s end.

At this week’s A.S. Council meeting, Sixth College Senator
John Cressey said that the council could not support the costs of implementing
all of the report’s recommendations. Thurgood Marshall College Council Chair
Lana Blank said that while she found the report to be impressively thorough,
some of the proposed changes are “very drastic.” Former council President Harry
Khanna publicly voiced his specific qualms over changing the concert date,
which he said would make attendance problematic for alumni.

UEO Director Martin Wollesen said the report’s most
extensive proposals, such as the date-change, are suggestions for the future
and not necessarily bound to this year’s concert, which celebrated its 25th
anniversary last year. He added that changing the date of this year’s event
would adversely impact other departments that have already planned around it.

“The report is a black-and-white example of Sun God’s complexity,
and how it’s inextricably tied to every single facet of student life and a
multitude of campus nodes,” Wollesen said of the document, the first ever to
delve into concerns raised over the concert. “We want to systematically grapple
with the issues highlighted in the report, and use it as a jumping-off point to
mold future Sun God events.”

Officials said the committee’s paramount concern is
preserving safety. Last year’s concert saw a spike in the total number of
arrests and citations, with many of the instances related to alcohol, illegal
substances and nonaffiliates; the report found that 44 percent of arrests were
nonaffiliates.

Vice Chancellor of Student Affairs Penny Rue said that she
hoped to see role of nonaffiliates in Sun God’s problems reduced. She said she
acknowledges both the challenge of implementing the report’s every proposal and
the fact that the concert was reaching a “tipping point.”

“A lot of college celebrations have seen a trajectory
similar to Sun God,” Rue said. “It starts as a home-grown event and develops to
a point where its infrastructure is overwhelmed. But we believe it can be
reined in.”

Rue added that many simple changes, such as not placing
exits and entrances in close proximity, would streamline event operations and
ensure basic safety. However, she specifically took issue with the large
presence of plainclothes officers during Sun God, but said that the police
department had flexibility in how it executed its safety measures.

“Sun God is about pride, and how it draws in students,” Rue
said. “Unfortunately the number of students who have near-death, abusive
experiences is scary. So this committee will have to find that balance — how do
we have a safe Sun God that doesn’t invade the student’s experience?”

A.S. Assistant Vice President of Programming
Kevin Highland

also said that the committee would have to play a delicate balancing act when
deciding which proposals to implement.

“While everyone would like to have their way, the
administration we have worked with are well aware of the trade-offs that will
occur with the implementation of some recommendations,” he said. “I feel that
they are more often than not willing to accept a compromise if it contributes
positively to the campus as a whole.”

Readers can contact Charles Nguyen at charles_nguyen@sbcglobal.net.

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