Concerts Need to Be Better for Students of Color

After a tumultuous few semesters, concerts and other staple events of campus life are back in full-swing. Unfortunately, not everyone feels welcome at these events, and once again, Black students and students of color are feeling uncomfortable at concerts because of their white peers. 

College third-year Haley Sablay talked about her experience at her first Solarity concert over the summer semester. 

“A white male was just falling all over the people around us,” she said. “And there was this one person next to me who kept telling him, ‘Stop touching me, stop falling over me.'” 

Sablay also noted that while the front mostly had students of color, they were slowly being pushed away toward the back as the concert continued. She and her friends eventually left. 

Of course, concerts are meant to be enjoyed by everyone. But when there are so few resources for non-white students on campus, it can be upsetting when concerts headlined by artists of color are dominated by white students. At an event like Solarity, which in recent years has highlighted Black artists and other artists of color, it’s hurtful when white students do not hold themselves accountable for their actions in such a space. Sablay said that, as a woman of color herself, she is hypervigilant and feared for her friends’ safety as well. 

“People feel like — especially if they’re drunk or on something — they don’t really have accountability for any of their actions,” she said. “There are so many spaces on this campus that people of color don’t feel comfortable [in], and when you take into account other things going on that affect people of color the most, like COVID-19, it adds a lot of anxiety to these situations. It seems as though when there are things that happen that affect people of color, it just feels like the school doesn’t take it completely seriously.” 

The requirements to attend Solarity last summer included watching a 30-minute bystander training video and completing a form with basic questions about drug use and consent. The problem is that these measures don’t necessarily prevent inappropriate behavior from happening. To improve the situation, Solarity organizers are implementing “vibe watchers” with the help of both Students for Sensible Drug Policy and Preventing and Responding to Sexual Misconduct, in addition to seeking student input. Vibe watchers will make sure students are safe and comfortable at the concert. Additionally, Solarity coordinators College fourth-year Perry Mayo, College third-year Kate Steifman, and College third-year Erzsi Misangyi hope to make the event a safer space for people of different identities by requiring attendees to sign a community guidelines acknowledgement form prior to the event. 

“We work to acknowledge power dynamics between attendants, attendees, and performers and remind all Solarity attendees to remember the spaces and identities they hold and how their identities interact with others around them,” they wrote in an email to the Review. “This year [we] will be releasing community guidelines and a mandatory community guidelines acknowledgment form that must be signed prior to entering Solarity.”

Unfortunately, this problem is not new or exclusive to Solarity. Sablay and I are both officers for the Asian Diaspora Coalition, and at the end of the meeting, one of our fellow officers talked about an experience at Coverband Showcase where white students slowly pushed her from the first row all the way to the fifth row. Additionally, College fourth-year Imani Badillo has written about this experience briefly in a Review article about the importance of Black-led spaces like the Oberlin Hip-Hop Collective and OSLAM, saying, “Respect for the sanctity of POC spaces is sometimes lacking; a common problem seen in the ‘Sco is the physical pushing of POC and Black students to the back of the space, even during events that are intended to serve the interests of POC and Black students on campus.”

I also talked with College first-year Asquith Clarke II about his experience at a different event, the OSLAM back-to-school performance on Oct. 9. As a Black student, Clarke acknowledged the importance of OSLAM, a space made to empower Black voices at a predominately white institution, but wished there was more context to the poster online, especially for new students. Like many first-years attending, Clarke decided to go with a friend, not knowing about OSLAM’s history. When he noticed white students being asked to leave to make space for Black students, he felt uncomfortable and left.

 “People who came to just listen to poetry and not knowing the context of OSLAM overall were put in a situation that I feel they didn’t deserve to be in where they were subjected to this feeling of being treated differently because of their skin color,” Clarke said. 

OSLAM later released a statement on Instagram clarifying their actions, saying, “It was solely our decision to ask white people to offer up their seats in an effort to free up seating for more Black people. It was our impression that after summers of activism and advocacy for the cause of ‘Black liberation,’ that this request would be met with empathy and the understanding that our goal wasn’t to remove white people from the space. It was to make space for Black people. This was meant to be an encouragement, rather than a demand, for those in attendance whose views were similar to ours and who wanted to make space for Black people.” 

I had two takeaways after hearing Clarke and Sablay share their experiences. The first is to listen. Read Badillo’s article about the importance of the Oberlin Hip-Hop collective and OSLAM. Learn about who the concerts and events on campus are intended for. If you’re not part of that group, acknowledge that you are a guest walking into that space. 

The second is to take action. If you’re a white student at a concert and you observe non-white students visibly uncomfortable or being pushed to the back, use your voice and say something. And no matter who you are, be aware of your surroundings and how much physical space you’re taking up. 

Especially with Solarity coming up, we all need to do our part to create a welcoming environment for Black students and other students of color to make sure that concerts can be enjoyed by everyone.