On Oct. 30, the After Dark Committee (ADC), with help from the Pause security and tech teams, held the annual Halloween Pause Dance. It was cut short an hour before the intended end time due to a lack of masking from students in attendance.
The dance was scheduled to run from 10:30 p.m. to 12:30 p.m. and included various DJ sets, snacks, water, and students dressed up for Halloween. The dance included security outsourced by ADC to ensure that students weren’t bringing in any dangerous items, to enforce usual safety precautions, and to make sure all students entered with a mask as part of the College’s COVID-19 guidelines.
The call to shut down the dance occurred about one hour in, around 11:30 p.m., after three warnings had been made with no visible improvement in mask wearing.
“Cutting it short was always on the table, but to be honest I don’t think any of us thought that we’d have to use it, that students would understand COVID stuff. Sadly, we were incorrect in that assessment,” said Director of Student Activities Brandon Cash ’16, who was at the dance and took part in making the final decision.
This school year, St. Olaf has been working with epidemiologist Ben Miller to better understand how to use the Pause space in relation to air handling and COVID-19. Per his research, ADC was instructed that in order to accommodate a dance, the Pause needed a mask requirement and a lowered capacity of around 730 people.
Cash said that according to Miller, with no masks, students would be able to be in the Pause space for no more than 40 minutes. With some students masking and some not, that time frame would be one hour, and with everyone masking the space can accommodate students for up to 2 hours — hence the timing of this year’s Pause dances.
These requirements were not as big an issue at the Homecoming Dance held in September; however, problems arose on Halloween Eve.
“As we were nearing that half-way mark, at least a third of folks not following the [mask] mandate from event planning. We thought, let’s do another reminder, and if that’s not followed we do have to cut it short,” Cash said.
After two reminders on the loudspeaker from Pause Coordinator Sandra Chimutsipa ’23, some students responded with boos and a chant yelling, “you can’t do that.” The reminders told students to put their masks on for everyone’s safety, or the dance would have to be cancelled. After one additional reminder with no change, an announcement was made for students to leave.
“My first thought was disappointment. These are your peers, they’re just trying to help make sure that folks are safe and having a good time,” Cash said in response to students chanting.
The decision was not taken lightly by the planning committee for the event. Student leaders were disheartened that their work in planning would go somewhat to waste, but ultimately made the decision for overall campus health and safety.
“It was honestly really hard for me to be like, okay I think we should just shut it down if we have to. We have to do it if we want to continue to keep this campus safe,” Chimutsipa said. “COVID is still here, it is not like the pandemic is over, and we still need to take caution.”
Students responded with some yelling and groaning but all filed out of the space within 10 minutes and dispersed across campus. At the point of cancellation, the line waiting to enter the dance still extended outside of the Pause jungle space all the way through the Buntrock crossroads. Those still waiting were also sent back to their dorms.
“Certainly folks that were following the rules were frustrated and I get it, I 100 percent get it, everyone was ticked that night,” Cash said.
That same night, a door in Buntrock was shattered. There were rumors that the broken door had a connection to angry students in response to the dance being cancelled. However, Cash and Director of Facilities Kevin Larson clarified that the door breaking was an unrelated occurrence.
“What happened was reviewed and it was determined that it was an accident and no one will be charged for the repair,” wrote Larson in an email to The Olaf Messenger.
The door was fixed within 24 hours since only the inside panel had been damaged.
Going into future Pause Dances, or large events in the Pause such as the upcoming Fall Concert, the mask requirement will continue to be enforced based on continuous conversations between student leadership.