Last week, word spreadaround Ursinus’ campus that thescheduled Bear Bash performer, Sean Kingston, had been accusedin the 2010 sexual assault of a 19-year-old woman. Though the Ursinus College Student Government eventually cancelledKingston, the school’s response has led some students to question whether the administration should have done more to guide the student government through selecting a performer, communicating to campus the seriousness of the allegations against Kingston, and ultimately deciding whether or not to cancel the concert.
The administration became aware of the allegations shortly before Easter weekend when students started expressing concerns about Kingston after hearing that other schools were cancelling his concerts over allegations that he, his bodyguard, and another member of his band allegedly raped a female concert goer in his hotel room in 2010 after one of Kingston’s performances at a Justin Bieber concert, accord- ing to Billboard.com. Criminal charges were dropped againstKingston in 2010 when authorities concluded the case wasn’t strong enough, but he settled a law suit with the accuser in 2013.
On Monday, April 22, theday after Easter Sunday, Haley Sturla, the former social chair of UCSG and the newly elected student body president, was notifiedof the allegations in a text from Dean Todd McKinney.
“When I found out aboutthis… I’ll be completely transparent, I got upset,” Sturla said. “We [the student government] do not take sexual assault lightly at all… Our goal in this was never to hurt anyone. Our goal was to bring a sense of community and bring this concert as a sense of community.”
The administration, according to Sturla, “was very neutral within this process and said that it’s student government’s call” whether or not to cancel Kingston’s performance. From April 22 to April 30, the student government sought advice from Dean McKinney, Dean Kimberly Taylor, who is the campus’ Title IX coordinator, and the Peer Advocates in an attempt to decide whether or not to go on with the concert.
On April 30, the UCSG Executive Board sent an email to the student body informing them of the allegations and stating their intention to continue with the Bear Bash performance because they “believe that in our justice system and laws set forth that all citizens are innocent until proven guilty.” The email also stated that an open forum would be held on May 1 for students to voice their concerns.
During the open forum, Sturla fielded questions alone at the front of the room while students questioned everything from the wording of the email to what kind of message the school was sending to survivors of sexual assault by bringing Kingston to campus.
At one point during the meeting, Sturla left the room crying after a statement read on behalf of junior Kiley Addis who could not attend the open forum, suggested that the student government used victim-blaming language in its email announcing the Kingston allegations.
The statement read: “Rather than simply stating you’ve already paid him for the event, you used victim blaming culture to justify his performing on campus. In giving the facts of the case against him, you’re assuming that our legal system always works out perfectly. When in fact, out of every 1,000 rapes, 994 of them will walk free, whether convicted of the act or not. Not to mention the fact that celebrity status typically makes it easier for them to evade the crime in total. In saying you stand with our justice system in the belief that all accused are innocent until proven guilty, you are standing with the unfair unequal justice system our country currently has especially as it pertains to cases of sexual assault and rape. I’m not saying Sean Kingston shouldn’t perform on campus, but that using the excuse of ‘innocent until proven guilty’ continues to add to the victim blaming culture and the choice most of us make to ignore issues of sexual assault and rape. Instead of saying you stand with survivors, rather tell us you don’t want to waste the money you spent on him. That’s probably abetter response anyway.”
After Sturla left the room, first-year student Kate Hunt stood up to defend her saying, “this is literally her first senate meeting and all she did all year was work on this Bear Bash… And I understand you guys are very concerned, but… you have to understand that she couldn’t control any of this.”
After the meeting, the class councils and the UCSG executive board met privately to decide whether or not to continue with Bear Bash. On Friday, May 3, one day before the concert, the student government emailed the student body to say that Bear Bash would continue, but with Grammy-award winner Elle Varner, rather than Kingston, headlining the event. Varner is the first woman to perform at Bear Bash.
Sturla and the student government were praised for their decision. A school-wide email from the Peer Advocates said, “we are grateful to UCSG for all of the hard work that has gone into planning the Bear Bash, their responsiveness to student feedback, and certainly appreciate the most recent modifications which will ensure that everyone can have a great experience.”
Senior and former student body president Liz Iobst said, “Haley was thrown into a very difficult situation the first week of her presidency, and has already proven her capability to be a thoughtful, diligent and invested leader. At this last senate meeting, Haley communicated openly with the student body and sought feedback in order to make an informed decision about Bear Bash.”
Despite the fact that theUCSG’s decision was received positively, many students still questioned whether or not the administration should have taken a greater role in deciding whether or not to cancel Kingston. Instead of letting Sturla take the brunt of students’ criticisms, during both the open forum and afterward when she received messages to her personal email and social media accounts from people expressing frustration either over the initial booking or the student government’s decision to cancel the concert, students felt that the administration should have stepped in to manage students’ concerns.
A student who wishes to remain anonymous said, “I was like, what was the administration doing? Because this is not student government’s fault. They’re students. Maybe they should have Googled his name, but ultimately it’s the administration’s responsibility to check the artist… I really don’t blame Haley. I think she’s under a lot of stress right now and I feel very bad for her that this whole thing is happening.”
Junior Bri Voyton also expressed concern about the administration’s inaction, saying, “I don’t really condone the way the school handled the situation after finding out. The message the student government sent doesn’t feel adequate.”
At the open forum, Dean McKinney defended the administration’s decision not to intervene, saying “It’s a student event, student run, student paid for, so we gave the responsibility to the student government to hold this event and run this event. So we want this dialogue to occur between peers… Would it be easier for the administration to step in and say yes or no? Sure, but that doesn’t make it easy for our community.”
This entire fiasco will lead to many changes in next year’s Bear Bash process. “Moving forward, some of the ideas that come to my head immediately are that we’re going to be transparent about the artist,” Sturla said. “The entire process just need to be changed completely to make it more transparent to the students and we’re also going to one hundred percent start vetting the artists more thoroughly.”
Bear Bash 2019 marks the second year in the row with a fiasco as a result of poor foresight.
Last year, Jay Sean was scheduled to perform, but be- cause there was no rain locations, he was asked to leave the venue.