Updated Aug. 13, 1:20 p.m.
Bacchanal’s planned fall concert has been canceled and its spring concert is under review, the group announced in a statement Monday evening.
The fall concert, planned for Sept. 14 on Low Plaza, was canceled after several meetings with administrators, despite booking three acts to perform by July 8. The cancellation will cost the committee $55,000.
“We are extremely disappointed by the sudden cancellation of the show, for which we’d been approved for months,” Ben Kornick, CC ’15 and Bacchanal co-president, told Spectator. “And we hope that the administration will meet directly with Bacchanal members as the fall approaches in order to give students the opportunity to alleviate any concerns the administration may have about the spring.”
According to the statement, Kornick was called to a meeting on July 28 with advisers from the Office of Student Engagement and Interim Dean of Student Life Todd Smith-Bergollo, who explained the concert would be canceled based on concerns about drinking and sexual harassment. Smith-Bergollo declined to comment for this story.
The Bacchanal committee, along with the executive boards of Columbia College Student Council, the Engineering Student Council, General Studies Student Council, and Banard’s Student Government Association drafted a letter on July 30 to the undergraduate deans detailing their concerns.
Among the points made in the letter were issues with “the fact that this decision was made without any consultation with students, after approval had been given for months, and after artists had been confirmed, meaning that, in line with standard industry practice, the Bacchanal Committee would still be obligated to pay $55,000 of undergraduate student life fees to the artists whether or not they performed.”
Over the course of the next week, Bacchanal suggested changes to the event, such as bystander intervention training for sexual harassment and barring graduate students—who accounted for six of the 13 CU-EMS transports at last spring’s Bacchanal—from attending, in an attempt to salvage the event and save the money.
On Aug. 8, the four undergraduate deans, citing the same concerns as before, told Bacchanal members that the event was canceled, and that the deans would cover the cost of canceling the artists’ contracts.
A University statement released Wednesday said the decision to cancel the concert was not related to the issue of sexual assault on campus.
“While the spring Bacchanal concert is a tradition on the Columbia campus, there has never been a Bacchanal event of this scale in the fall, and this concert was never officially scheduled or approved,” the statement said. “The undergraduate deans decided, as their prerogative, based on a history of concerns about safety, crowd control and inappropriate behavior during the spring concert, that student organizers should not move forward with a similar concert during the second week of the fall semester, when students are still settling into their coursework, which, of course, is the primary reason that they are at Columbia.”
As the New York Times noted Tuesday, Columbia’s statement did not address whether administrators brought up concerns about sexual assault at their July 28 meeting.
Still, students say they were told the issue of sexual assault was a factor. Members of the Coalition Against Sexual Violence—who were informed by council representatives when the cancellation was finalized—see administrator’s actions as misguided. The group released a statement Monday night expressing its disagreement with the cancellation.
The statement emphasized that sexual assault and harassment takes place throughout the year, not only during Bacchanal, and said that canceling the concert “not only distracts from the real causes of sexual violence, it prevents us from taking valuable steps that may actually combat sexual violence.”
“This is obviously really frustrating because it feels as though it’s just yet another case of the administration not listening to what student activists are actually asking for when it comes to ending sexual violence on campus and changing policies to be supportive of survivors on campus,” Caitlin Lowell, CC ’15 and CASV’s resources and outreach coordinator, said. “There are so many options and other ways that it’s possible to make Bacchanal safer. … Just canceling this one visible thing doesn’t do anything to change the culture or to make things safer for anyone.”
A statement from the activist group No Red Tape expressed similar concerns.
“The reason that sexual assault has been an issue at Bacchanal is not because of Bacchanal itself,” the statement said. “It is because of rape culture. Without Bacchanal, there will still be assaults and there will still be violence on campus. It will simply be less visible.”
A lack of communication
For student representatives like Tony Lee, CC ’15 and president of the Activities Board at Columbia, the cancellation is part of a continuing trend of administrators not communicating sufficiently with students.
He cites this incident along with the repurposing of popular student meeting spaces in Lerner Hall to make room for the Rape Crisis/Anti-Violence Support Center. Before this summer, he said, administrators he worked with were always in communication.
“The last two incidents that happened—with Bacchanal, with the space issues—it’s the fact that people usually reach out to me … that makes it so shocking,” Lee said. “On all levels—and you can see by talking to people—it’s not the right decision, and I guess from my perspective … student groups play such a huge role on campus and Bacchanal is a tragic example, but it’s just a general mindset of administrators not communicating enough with student groups.”
What Lee mentioned is at the heart of the Bacchanal committee’s concerns over the cancellation.
“Had the deans raised their concerns … earlier in the process, we could have worked together to find solutions to all concerns,” the committee’s statement said. “Instead, approval was granted and then revoked, without consultation with any students involved.”
For Lee, another issue is seeing organizers’ efforts ended abruptly.
“Seeing instances like this, seeing the hard work that students put in to benefit the community just go to waste or be subject to such arbitrary interference … that’s really disturbing to me,” he said.
Requests for comment from Columbia College Dean James Valentini, School of Engineering and Applied Science Dean Mary Boyce, School of General Studies Dean Peter Awn, and Barnard College Dean Avis Hinkson have not been returned.