Shifting Mindsets

SGF15 incorporated a few marked improvements for drug safety through awareness-raising tactics, but a few cases of sexual assault indicated that considerable effort is still needed to create a festival free from danger.

Sun God Festival 2015 may already be a forlorn memory for most students heading into their finals. But with crime statistics from the festival released this week, it’s important to take a closer look to see what went well during this year of radical changes for the event and what A.S. Concerts and Events can continue to improve on for future festivals. This year, the news is rather neatly broken into the good, the bad and the ugly.

Let’s start with the good: The new measures put in place to bolster students’ health and safety at the festival seem to have served their purpose. Overall, fewer students were sent to detox and to area hospitals than in the last several years, a good indicator that the overconsumption of drugs and alcohol generally went down. While stricter entry policies like pat-downs or drug dogs certainly had a hand in identifying illicit substances, the most credit for this increase to student health should probably be given to a general shift in the administrative attitude towards drugs and alcohol.

By running a beer garden and adopting policies to promote drug awareness and testing kits, the administration seems to have accepted that students regard the music festival as a day of unwinding (which, for a good number of students, includes some kind of inebriation). This new mindset allowed for a better focus on more responsible drug and alcohol use, rather than on punitive measures and sweeping these problems under the proverbial rug.

Still, with 21 students reported to detox and many others sent to the hospital, there is definitely a ways to go to achieve what ASCE’s Seraphin Raya has called a shift in the culture of Sun God Festival. However, this year’s policies were a good start, both promoting safety and encouraging students to make their own smart choices as adults, rather than as children sneaking alcohol and then overestimating their limits.

Next, the bad news, which is that the UCSD Office of Student Conduct admitted to using social media to catch and punish students who were buying and selling campus IDs. It’s important to note that a representative explained that the office was investigating a single case of ID sales when they noticed a high number of offers on a student Buy/Sell page.

The representative furthermore denied that the department “actively monitors” social media for student conduct violations, but that raises the question — how exactly do they define “actively”? While the students who were attempting to solicit their IDs were clearly in violation of the conduct code, it seems particularly Orwellian that administrators have now set a precedent that they can stumble upon alleged violations on social media and pursue them without a formal complaint.

Surely there is a better use of the office’s time and resources than cracking down on these irresponsible but arguably minor offenses. Furthermore, as most students were soliciting IDs to help their non-UCSD friends attend the festival, perhaps it’s time to revisit the guest policy. With plenty of new regulations to keep drug and alcohol use in check, next year’s Sun God Festival should consider allowing certain guests, particularly UCSD alumni, entry to help cut down on ID fraud without toeing the line of Big Brother.

Finally, the ugly side of Sun God Festival 2015, which is that one rape and one sexual assault were reported at the event so far. This statistic is about the same as in some previous years, with Raya stating that reducing access and consumption was successful in cutting drug and alcohol rates, but is much more difficult in regard to sexual assault.

To be fair to ASCE, Raya has a point, and sexual assault prevention is not solely on its shoulders, as universities and interest groups around the world struggle to stop sexual assault on college campuses. However, there are steps to take which could improve the culture of the Sun God Festival and hopefully prevent these crimes in future years.

One measure is to include sexual assault awareness in floatie training. Just as students are taught to look for signs of substance abuse and alcohol poisoning, they could learn to spot the signs of sexual assault. Another step might be to create awareness campaigns in the weeks leading up to the event that delineate inappropriate physical behaviors at the festival, which have reportedly included harassment and unwanted contact, because apparently, it’s not obvious enough.

While neither of these are surefire fixes, the issue of sexual assault is serious, persistent and begs more attention, certainly, than the sale of ID cards.

With one mostly successful festival under its belts, ASCE should feel confident in moving forward next year with improved policies that will allow it to host an even better and safer Sun God Festival 2016.