As a first-year student, I had heard mention of the Feminist Student Union (FSU)’s presence at house shows, but did not know any specifics about what exactly they did at LC parties and shows. Hoping to learn more, and figuring first-years would also want this information, I sat down with FSU’s Caroline Arnis, who can be credited for their presence at house shows.
It all started in the fall of 2021. After over a year of COVID-19 lockdown and a dormant party and music scene at LC, students were eager to return to social events. After a year of lockdown, though, Arnis noticed a palpable change in the music scene and its culture of attendance.
House shows, open to non-LC students and often farther from campus than house shows, became more popular, as a handful of venues cropped up which accommodated a crowd of a few hundred people. There had also been a considerable turnover in the student attendants, with a new class of incoming first-years that had come out of the pandemic. Because they completed their junior and senior years of high school in isolation, they missed two years of socialization at a critical point of development.
Many had missed a formative time to experiment with sex, substances and the social dynamics of parties. From Arnis’ perspective, “they felt like they were making up for lost time,” but did not have experience in practicing safe habits .
LC students, many underage, drank beyond their limit with no good way to get home and no friends to rely on — all potential factors in sexual assault. This situation finally reached a tipping point on Halloween weekend, which was when Arnis decided to find a better way to provide resources and promote student safety at shows.
FSU already had Sexual Assault Peer Advocates, or SAPA’s, students trained to talk to and support those who have experienced sexual assault. Arnis added that many SAPAs are themselves sexual assault survivors interested in giving others an understanding and empathetic and listener.
However, during COVID, students found SAPA’s more difficult to access: the team were forced to move from their office in lower Templeton to a less accessible location under the chapel, and for a time, they only offered online appointments. Looking for a more effective way to operate, Arnis sought to establish a presence at house shows. They hoped SAPA’s could help prevent sexual assault and provide immediate support for students in unsafe situations.
The group happened to have a connection with members of popular LC band Mr. Beautiful. Arnis reached out and asked if the FSU could come to their next show in an official capacity, to which Mr. Beautiful “enthusiastically agreed”. From there FSU established contact with an expanding web of connections within the school’s music scene, and began to show up at DJ events, house parties and more house shows–wherever students went to party, the FSU would follow. Arnis emphasized how vital Mr. Beautiful’s initial support was, as well as all the community members who continued to welcome them to events.
SAPAs’ presence at house shows still operates primarily on the basis of connections and word-of-mouth. Students can also submit events they think FSU should attend through a google form that is linked in FSU’s Instagram bio. At events, one or two SAPA’s (depending on the event size) remain available at a table set up somewhere unobtrusive in the back, while one or two more mingle in the crowd. Arnis explains that the table provides an easy-to-find landmark, while attendees can approach a SAPA in the crowd more subtly if they are uncomfortable being seen walking to the table. For the same reason, SAPA’s do not wear uniforms, instead posting a photo on instagram of the SAPA’s present at the event.
“We thought about wearing T-shirts,” Arnis said. “But we didn’t want that to come across like we were there to spy or police.”
In general, FSU strives to make its presence as unobtrusive as possible.
“We’re not trying to stop people from having fun,” Arnis said.
The group’s ethos is to center marginalized people and those who have experienced/are victims of sexual assault, which came across during my talk with Caroline. When asked if they ever felt unsafe in this role, they said they often do not prioritize their own safety because despite identifying as non-binary, they are aware of their privilege as a white, femme person. They also emphasized that the role of SAPA’s is not to act as security, but rather to focus on supporting victims. To that end, they show up 45 minutes to an hour early and have a discussion with the organizers, which includes establishing who they can contact if they encounter someone who needs to be removed or even just talked to — this normally means official event security or hosts who are staying sober and capable of managing potentially dangerous situations.
“We’re never looking to start a dialogue with the person causing worries, even if they’re not actively causing harm,” Arnis said.
Arnis has noticed a shift in culture since FSU has established a presence at house shows. They described last year as a test run which proved overwhelmingly successful. While they can not positively affirm that sexual assault has decreased, since sexual assault goes extremely underreported, they feel that “having us there provides this energy which stimulates a culture of community”.
Ultimately, a night goes well if the SAPAs do not have to take any action. The cultural shift occurring is a large-scale effect of their continued effort to listen to and support victims and anyone in a vulnerable or unsafe situation.
“People are more aware of each other and the space they occupy, and there is a new feeling of respect and camaraderie which was lacking this time last year. People have dm’d us on Instagram, saying they felt safer because we were there,” Arnis said.