Solarity Aims for Organizational Accessibility


Courtesy of Ben Garfinkel

Students celebrate last fall’s Solarity event “Toxicity.” The current co- chairs of Solarity said that, although they still want to retain aspects of their “party image,” they are looking to move toward a future of more accessible events

Sarah Conner and Madeline Stocker, Contributing Writer and News Editor

In response to a recent increase in membership, the student leaders of Solarity, an organization that strives to unify the student body through large-scale music and dance productions, have made a number of structural and aspirational changes to their organization.

Solarity’s co-chairs, College seniors McKenzie Smith and Juliana Ruoff and College junior Ben Lebovic, hope that these changes, which include the division of labor among a larger number of student members, will improve the overall appeal and accessibility of their biannual events.

According to Smith, Ruoff and Lebovic, the organization’s largest goal is to become accessible to a greater partition of both the campus and the Oberlin community.

“We want everyone in the community to be brought together; we really want to emphasize accessibility,” Smith said. “We don’t want to be just a party. We want to be a place where people can go and have fun, but we also want to be a place that people can go and see what other really awesome things people are up to.”

The co-chairs went on to say that, while they did not want to completely sever themselves from what many consider to be their current “party image,” they did want to take steps to ensure that future Solarity events will include more diverse performance groups, showcase more student art-work and foster a more welcoming environment.

According to Smith and Lebovic, the influx of student interest in Solarity has given them the opportunity to create what they believe to be positive structural changes. This year will be the first that the organization, which originally operated under the authority of several student manag- ers, will now divide the workload among student subcommittees.

The co-chairs said that they were able to alter the structure because they gained 15 new members this year, bringing their total membership to 40.

While the previous structure put most of the decision-making in the hands of the managers, the new structure will give all members a chance to participate as much or as little as they choose, according to the co-chairs.

“It’s really taken a lot of the work-load and stress and spread it out among these creative groups that each give as much as they are willing to give and come up with some great ideas,” Lebovic said. “It’s a much more collectivist kind of thing now.”

Smith agreed, and added that the new delegation of power opens the doors to students who previously found the time commitment to be a problem.

“It makes it a lot more accessible,” Smith said. “One of the things we heard from people a lot was ‘Oh, I’d love to get involved, but I don’t want to devote 15 hours a week I see you devoting.’ I think this really solves this problem.”

Looking forward, Lebovic said that both he and the other co-chairs had several goals for the future of Solarity, such as holding events that are zero-waste, occur more than once per semester, have unlimited capacity and focus more on student and community art and performance.

“Maybe it’ll be next semester, maybe it’ll be next fall, maybe it’ll be next spring, but we want to bring student artists to a new audience that they might not originally get,” Lebovic said. “The student art showcases might not have the budget to support it, but we could create a space around it.”

While the organization is only five years old, there have been several changes in how the leaders allocated both its time and its budget. Last year, the previous co-chairs instituted peacekeeping trainings, wherein all members learned how to intervene during Solarity events if necessary. Over time, the organization has also allocated more portions of its budget toward employing unionized workers, like Safety and Security officers, electricians and custodial staff.

According to one of the founders of Solarity, Timothy Patch, OC ’13, these changes, along with Solarity’s overall movement away from the image of a party-oriented organization, are largely the results of a turnover in management and have little to do with the organization’s original intent.

“We founded Solarity as sophomores when the only campus-wide parties were Safer Sex Night and Drag Ball, both of which were being reined in by the administration,” Patch said in an email to the Review. “We wanted a bigger and more accessible alternative, i.e. an event three times the ’Sco’s capacity where you won’t stand out if you’re fully clothed or not in drag. We wanted more student art, student performances, student production and more dancing.”

Asked whether or not he felt that the organization should one day sacrifice its “party image” in favor of wider accessibility, Patch said that he considered the current model “very accessible.”

Many students disagreed about the accessibility of Solarity’s past events, citing the events’ perpetuation of alcohol and drug abuse as major deterrents to comfort and accommodation. An even more widely publicized complaint is that the organization is over-funded.

When Solarity was originally founded, the Student Finance Committee, along with the Oberlin Mock xTrial Team, allocated $2,000 toward the first event. Since then, Solarity’s budget has increased overall; this year the SFC will allocate $24,806 to Solarity’s fall event, with $22,635 go- ing toward production, $368 toward publicity, $841 toward design, $9,560 toward facilities and services and a deduction of $8,600.

For Lebovic, Smith and Ruoff the focus remains on how their organization can keep criticism in mind while simultaneously upholding the entertainment factor of their events.

“We’ve always [been] about uniting the campus and having a fun time, and about taking advantage of cool stuff that Oberlin has to offer,” Smith said. “What’s changed is the way in which we’re trying to do that, which emphasizes discrete student productions. [We want to] see what students can bring to the table outside of music and dance and the facilities.”