Campus musician Paddy Mittag-McNaught ’20 was reprimanded for playing music classified as “inappropriate” during an event in the Pause held for first years on Sunday, Sept. 3. This event was a “Pause Open House,” and functioned to introduce first years to the venue and the various events – such as Pause dances – that typically take place there throughout the year.
“During the freshman dance [an assistant director of student activities] got somebody to walk up on stage and tell me that we were playing inappropriate music and that the song we were playing had the N-word in it ‘every other line,’” Mittag-McNaught said. “I was like, ‘Okay I’ll change it,’ but [the assistant director themself ] ended up walking up on stage later that night and threatening
to pull us off the stage.”
He had been playing “wokeuplikethis*” by Playboi Carti.
On Sept. 7, an email was sent to three campus DJs regarding new guidelines for music to be played at the 70’s (Throw)Back to School Dance which would take place on Sept. 8. The three DJs scheduled to play at the event were Wassim Askoul ’18, Jesus Caballero ’18 and Michael Wegter ’18.
The email read, “A few guidelines for the music: 1) No N-word – this is coming straight from administration so please avoid these songs, or you will be asked to change them (i.e. songs that have the N- word every other or every third word are not acceptable). 2) Remember that this is a 70’s dance, and therefore we are expecting about 90% of the music to actually be from the 70’s and the remainder to be 70’s inspired.”
When Askoul received this email from the After Dark Committee (ADC) coordi- nator, Sam Brunclik ’19, he decided to boycott the event.
“After I heard the commands, I decided to make a statement,” Askoul said. “They have an incorrect understanding of how to make the campus inclusive and safe.”
When Askoul did not arrive at the venue to DJ the event, Mittag-McNaught was notified and asked to step in and Brunclik verified that Mittag-McNaught was aware of the guidelines regarding music for the event. Mittag-McNaught and his friend, Stephon Mitchell ’20, DJ’ed the event during Askoul’s scheduled time slot from 11 p.m. to 12 a.m.
“I wasn’t even supposed to DJ, I didn’t know anything about it,” Mittag-McNaught said. “Somebody didn’t show up so I got a call from the ADC Coordinator asking me to come and DJ. I came up and he just said, ‘Do you know the rules?’”
Mittag-McNaught, Askoul, Mitchell and Wegter each expressed skepticism regarding the expectations concerning theme adherence and N-word exclusion, calling into question why these guidelines were sent forth.
“It’s music, it’s art, it’s freedom of speech,” Askoul said. “I’m a person of color and that’s my music. You embrace it, you don’t control it, that’s not dealing with racism. The theme won’t change how people think, what they’re going to go and do.”
Mitchell, who performed with Mittag-McNaught during the Open House event, voiced similar concerns with guidelines that censor songs which contain the N-word.
“For me, I see music as an art of expressing yourself,” Mitchell said. “[Artists] are saying [the N-word] but they’re trying to spread a message with it, they aren’t just saying it to say it. You want to keep the artists in mind. Like NWA. They created these lyrics with a reason and want to get the point across of what they want to say.”
Brunclik and Student Activities Director Kris Vatter commented that there needs to be a broad conversation about these guidelines in the near future. They intend for this discussion to include students from a variety of backgrounds and that it will serve to decide the role of the N- word in music played at campus events. The music guide- lines for these first two events were meant to bridge the gap between the beginning of the year and this discussion to come.
“We’ve been having conversations about the content for a long time,” Vatter said. “We’ve drafted a few things but have not gotten this entire new student executive team in the same room at the same time since we got back. We need to decide as a campus what we are willing to expose people to, what we are willing to have people experience. I am seeing that that word affects other people. I was here in the spring, I saw the protests. I want to be respectful of the folks that were protesting and find out if, in fact, this word is wel-
come on campus, then where should it be?”
Last spring, a group of students and administrators were involved in a dialogue about similar topics and guidelines. Several campus musicians, the Music Entertainment Com- mittee (MEC) Coordinator, ADC Coordinator as well as a student on the Board of Regents Student Committee (BORSC) were involved in this conversation.
“They pulled us all in when some of the things were happening on campus,” Caballero – also known as DJ Toasty – said. “They pulled me, Sal, Stephon and Paddy. They were like, ‘What do you guys think about the administration implementing this new rule?’ I brought up this point about how some people grew up with this kind of music, it’s a part of their culture, so by banning it from a certain place at St. Olaf, the campus is not being inclusive.”
Caballero reported that students who participated in this conversation were told there would be follow-up regarding this discussion at some point in the future. At press time this has not yet occurred.
Several campus musicians expressed interest in pushing back against these regulations to allow for freedom of expression and the celebration of music across genres and cultures. Brunclik commented that Pause dances are hired DJ jobs, not DJ showcases. Therefore, DJs are expected to follow the guidelines ADC sets for each event they host.
“DJ-ing was a black art for the first 50 years of its history and especially with hip hop, the voices there are primarily black too,” Wegter said. “As a white person in a historically black art, I don’t play the N-word a lot. You have to be really vigilant about what you’re doing with those words, rather than just excluding them.”