One Really Bad Weekend

April 21st, 2007

On Saturday, November 12, hundreds of students thronged half-dressed and half-drunk into Sayles Hall to attend a dance called SexPowerGod. Named for a lecture that was held on campus in the 1980s and organized by the Queer Alliance, an umbrella group for gays and lesbians on campus, the annual dance has widespread appeal among students, many of whom use it as an opportunity to drink too much and wear almost nothing. But this year a surprise guest showed up: an undercover Fox News reporter, who carried a video camera.

Two days later, the network aired footage of the dance on The O'Reilly Factor. Reporter Jesse Watters described the event as "pure debauchery," saying he saw same-sex kissing and heard people having sex in a public bathroom. Host Bill O'Reilly went on to call President Simmons a "pinhead" and reported, incorrectly, that mandatory student-activities fees had funded the party. (In fact ticket sales paid for the dance, though organizers did use $60 from a student-activities fund to rent a projector.)

Fox News wasn't Brown's only problem that weekend. An unusually high number of students were so intoxicated at the dance that they required emergency medical attention, even though the dance itself was alcohol-free. David Greene, vice president for campus life and student services, gave early reports that more than thirty students had required medical care that night. Now he says that the number was probably lower than thirty, though because hospitals don't release patient information, the total is impossible to pin down.

Perhaps even more disturbing, on the night before the dance a series of fights culminated in gunshots being fired at the corner of Brown and Benevolent streets, near Keeney Quad. No injuries were reported, and there is no evidence that anyone from Brown was involved. According to Greene, the shooting took place after a number of people unaffiliated with Brown tried, unsuccessfully, to enter a party sponsored by Alpha Phi Alpha and the Brotherhood. Also held in Sayles, that party was managed well, Greene said. Brown police officers were on the scene at the time, but because the campus force has yet to be armed, officers had to wait for city police to respond.

In the days that followed, the Fox News segment drowned out even the reports of gunshots. Greene and two committees are now reviewing policies on alcohol and social events. He says that even before the weekend events he'd been wondering about whether student paries should be held in Sayles.

O'Reilly missed the more serious problem, says Queer Alliance president Josh Teitelbaum '08: the increase, especially among freshmen, in binge drinking, in which students quickly consume vast amounts of alcohol, often in advance of an alcohol-free party. "We are seeing some alarming spikes," Greene acknowledges.

Teitelbaum, meanwhile, says SexPowerGod is not just another drunken affair in the mode of Girls Gone Wild. The party, he maintains, serves a social and political good, creating an environment in which it's acceptable to bend gender norms. "It's not," he argues, "like going to a frat party."

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January / February 2006