Olde Club Booking Controversy

Editor’s note: This article was initially published in The Daily Gazette, Swarthmore’s online, daily newspaper founded in Fall 1996. As of Fall 2018, the DG has merged with The Phoenix. See the about page to read more about the DG.

One of the fliers that Enlace posted. Photo by Dougal Sutherland.

On September 6th, 2009, Enlace, the organization for Hispanic/Latin@ students at Swarthmore, received a confirmation for the reservation of Olde Club for November 21st. As November approached, the social coordinators of Enlace made plans for Enlace’s party on the 21st. They applied for and received SAC funding, created flyers, were in the process of booking a band, and had recruited Enlace members to volunteer for different tasks for the night.

Yet less than a week before the scheduled party, an Enlace member noticed an advertisement for another event in Olde Club on the same date and time Enlace had booked. Upon contacting Olde Club management, Enlace was told that the group had never made a reservation and that nothing could be done since Olde Club was booked for that night. After sending the email receipt of the reservation that was made and confirmed, the Olde Club manager informed Enlace’s social coordinator that he had made a mistake but that nothing could be done.

Enlace exec members then contacted the Administration, who in turn emailed Olde Club management asking to them reconsider their decision. This was to no avail as the management refused to change their decision and informed Enlace and the Administration that the second event could not be canceled due to the inconvenience of having to move a sound system to a different location.

Though it might seem like frustration over not being able to host a party at Olde Club, the issue at hand is greater. We are concerned about the blatant failure to adhere to booking policies in the name of professionalism. Olde Club management apologized for a “miscommunication” that simply wasn’t there and refused to give us the space that we had rightfully reserved. Enlace exec board had gone through campus planning protocol, planning the event and reserving the space months ahead of time, only for that effort to be disregarded due to poor management.

The fact that Olde Club is a student-run position worsens the situation. Olde Club management expressed an unwillingness to correct the mistake rather than just recognize that a mistake had been made or at least offer support in finding an alternative. Enlace found itself with no one to turn to. The Administration did not have jurisdiction with regards to the issue.

Now we raise the question of accountability. What value does a reservation and confirmation hold in student event planning on campus? Who do we turn when a peer is unwilling to work with another student to bring an event on campus that is meaningful to the entire Swarthmore community? Who decides what events are prioritized over others? What are the consequences, if any, for such negligence? How does this affect Swarthmore community relations when students who should be working together to enrich student life feel overlooked?

The posters that have been put up on campus are to raise awareness and open a discussion about this particular issue of accountability in a climate in which it’s already happening. Enlace is currently setting up meetings with Student Council to address the lack of reinforcement of booking policies and the prevention of further mismanagement of said policies.

-Members of Enlace

As a result of the conflict between Olde Club management and Enlace concerning the use of Olde Club on November 21st, Enlace has spread a number of mischaracterizations and vilifications of Olde Club management through administrative and social spheres on campus. This story deserves a thorough retelling. My disclaimer is that I am a friend of Olde Club management, and my interpretation of the events is sympathetic to what I saw them deal with, though I don’t support all their actions in this conflict. If I actually misreport the events taken place, specific corrections by Enlace or others would be appreciated.

The Olde Club facilities director is responsible not only for maintaining and booking usage of the space, but for organizing a small number of open mic nights and other events at which student bands can perform. A running tradition is to organize a cover show open to any student band the weekend of Halloween. Because Olde Club was booked for a concert Halloween-weekend Friday, and the campus wide party was on Saturday, the cover show was initially pushed back till November 7th. When it came up that this would cause conflicts with LSE, it was moved to the next available date, the 21st. Unfortunately, it wasn’t really available; Enlace had contacted Olde Club management the first week of September to reserve Olde Club for a party in October, which took place on October 3rd without issue, and for a party on November 21st. The dates had been approved, and the November date hadn’t been mentioned since. There is no computerized reservation system for Olde Club booking, and the management made a human error. The cover show should not have been set for the 21st.

Enlace noticed the error and contacted Olde Club management on Tuesday evening, who at first denied the error (having forgotten) before being corrected. Student bands, as far as my Swarthmore experience goes, have never performed in a venue other than Olde Club. It is simply the only space properly equipped for this type of event, with a sound board, lighting, and a hired staff trained to deal with live bands. Because the cover show could not be moved to a different location, and because the management felt it was their first responsibility as managers to support the musicians and music community around Olde Club, the management apologized to Enlace but said that the space would be given to the cover show. Retrospectively, it’s easy to see that the reasons for this decision were not properly discussed, and Enlace got the misimpression that the cover show was “the management’s” event. At this point in time, Paces, which presumably could house the Enlace party, was still unreserved. Enlace was informed by SAC that they could use Paces, and offered to help them get the paperwork approved. Enlace turned down this offer however, claiming that they did not have enough time to switch the location of the event, and would rather reserve Paces for the 1st.

Enlace sent out a letter to Paury Flowers asking for the management’s decision to be overturned, insinuating that management was unfairly allowing ‘their’ event to take precedence over others’. This was not the management’s private event though, it was an open event which it is the management’s responsibility to organize. Enlace also sent out a mass letter to the IC/BCC community, which perpetuated this mischaracterization, claiming, “After providing proof of our reservation the person in charge admitted that it was his mistake, but decided to simply prioritize his event instead”. Enlace spread this shallow interpretation to those who had little knowledge of the conflict, and requested for them to begin posting a series of attached fliers around campus. One flier had a picture of a screaming baby, with text written in a horror-esque font, “What happened to the Enlace party? Ask Olde Club Management…”. The other copied the management’s personal correspondence to Enlace from September, circling in sharpie “I have you for the 21st”, accompanied by a scribbled message in the margin, “Guess you didn’t ‘have’ us”. The posters spread a superficial and villifying portrayal of the conflict, saying “Enlace Party Booted From Olde Club! What Happened?”. ‘What happened’ was a fairly simple booking mistake, and a conflict Enlace refused to acknowledge. Where these posters were placed, Olde Club cover show posters were found torn off the walls. Management spent hours replacing torn down fliers and removing what appeared to be ad hominem attacks made in a public forum, portraying a sinister and possibly racist motive for the Enlace party cancellation which was completely out of line with preceding events. Repeated requests to to stop the postering and/or discuss the issues in person were ignored. Enlace has yet to renounce in any manner these actions, although they seem to have been targeted as attempts to shame the Olde Club management all over campus.

Enlace also posted an announcement on the Daily Gazette attacking the Olde Club management for a “blatant failure to adhere to booking policies in the name of professionalism”, and mischaracterized the decision to go through with the cover show, claiming “the management refused to change their decision and informed Enlace…that the second event could not be canceled due to the inconvenience of having to move a sound system to a different location”. The ‘sound system’ used for live bands in Olde Club is a system of monitors, speakers, mics, lights, stage, drum sets, amps and musical instruments which cannot be transferred to another campus space. The speakers used for campus parties, however, can be easily relocated to any party space on campus, certainly including Paces. Further, they present their case through a superficial problematizing of the issue, “Who do we turn (sic) when a peer is unwilling to work with another student to bring an event on campus that is meaningful to the entire Swarthmore Community”. Implied in this message are two false claims: (a) that management is simply unwilling to work with ‘other students’, missing the fact that the management was caught in a bind between working with two different groups of students, and (b) that the Enlace party, somehow unlike the cover show, is “meaningful to the entire Swarthmore community”. Enlace is masking the real conflict here, which is between the group which had earliest dibs and the group which has the most serious dependence on the space.

The conclusion of the announcement then states, “The posters that have been put up on campus are to raise awareness and open a discussion about this particular issue of accountability in a climate in which it’s already happening”. I’m very doubtful that the creators of the above described posters had such noble goals in mind. Rather, the posters, e-mails and announcements all seem to reinforce a misleadingly superficial reading of the conflict, replacing the real issues with a juvenile shaming of the management. Perhaps I am blinded by my affiliation with Olde Club, but I’m also skeptical of whether the supposed ‘climate in which it’s already happening’ really justifies replicating a personal e-mail, scribbling sarcastic attacks against its author, and posting it all over campus while tearing down Olde Club posters.

It’s understandable that Enlace was frustrated with the series of events which lead to the cancellation of the party. It’s justifiable that they would like to see some ‘accountability’, or as put in more human terms, punishment. Whether punishment is appropriate for these sorts of mistakes might be something that should be formalized in rules the student community could implement. Further, although Enlace has not contacted Olde Club specifically about it, it seems that they are frustrated because they are silenced, and feel disconnected from the structures which shape who gets to use campus space how. A student calling themselves an ally of Enlace from the IC/BCC community wrote to StuCo, saying that whether or not the conflict arose from a misunderstanding, it evidenced a disregard for certain cultural groups on campus, and a lack in those groups’ visibility.

It is not the purpose of this piece to discuss whether visibility is an issue on campus. I think it is important, however, whether or not this conflict is a result of that issue. We can’t just say all issues are interconnected as an umbrella to support any action taken by an IC/BCC group. And in this case, the big rhetoric of oppression is disconnected from the specifics of the events. The actual conflict arose from a simple mistake, to which there was no obviously correct resolution. This had little to do with issues of visibility; Enlace has had and will continue to have parties at Olde Club, and it is misguided to blame this one-time conflict on a lack of voice as a result of cultural identity. I think there’s little evidence for the claim that Olde Club systematically excludes cultural groups from using its space. (In fact, in the two years the current manager has run Olde Club, only two events were prevented from happening. The rugby team wasn’t allowed to use the space after they’d broken a stained glass window, and the frisbee team was refused because the week before, members of the team had lit a gasoline-soaked sword on fire in the building while blowing fireballs.) Yes, Olde Club preferences certain types of events over others, but so does Kohlberg coffee bar. Campus spaces are defined by the interaction between their physical setup and loose cultural assumptions about who spends their times there. Olde Club does preference certain types of activities, as a simple fact of the equipment that’s there, the traditions of the space, and the jobs the school pays students to perform. And there likely are different socioeconomic and racial groups benefitted and excluded by this. But if Enlace really wishes to challenge the type of event Olde Club represents (i.e. live music, mainly rock), their actions undermine their claims for legitimate reform and conversation. Enlace’s fliers, emails, and announcement posting perpetuate divisive misunderstanding rather than promoting real discussion about the actual conflicts, and defending these actions with the rhetoric of oppression should be an embarrassment to those who take fighting oppression seriously. If Enlace wants to engage the campus in a progressive dialogue, I hope they can move past these cheap tactics, and in doing so force Olde Club management, and the campus at large, to actually confront the source of their frustration.

-Selmaan Chettih

The Phoenix

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