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

    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 [email protected].

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