Grounds use procedure causes student concern

Grounds use procedure causes student concern

Austin Bigoney

Alabama’s version of the viral Harlem Shake was shut down by university officials and UAPD because organizers did not have an permit for a demonstration on the Quad. CW File

Francie Johnson

“[It was] the average number of students on the Quad a day; [the] only difference was there was music this time and they were all huddled closer,” said Nojan Radfar, who organized the event. “I don’t see anything wrong with that, especially if it would’ve only taken 10 minutes had they not broken it up.”

Radfar, a junior majoring in finance, said he decided to plan the public gathering after his friend at the University of Texas bragged about the “Harlem Shake” on his campus. After 600 flyers, 250 tweets and 20 Facebook posts, the Harlem Shake, a flash mob dance event, came to fruition on Monday, Feb. 18, 2013.

“I really did not know what to expect,” Radfar said. “I wasn’t thinking it would get shut down, but there’s always that slight chance that something could go wrong. Once I saw all the people show up, I did become a little worried.”

Before long, UAPD arrived to put a stop to the event, disperse the crowd and ticket Radfar, who had failed to obtain a grounds use permit. The University’s Facilities and Grounds Use policy requires students to request permission to host gatherings and events on campus a minimum of 10 days in advance.

“The grounds use permit process ensures that events, speeches, demonstrations, etc., held on our campus do not endanger the safety of our students and the campus community, and do not disrupt the University’s ability to educate our students and conduct our daily operations,” UA Director of Media Relations Cathy Andreen said. “In addition, the process helps to avoid conflicts between events that might be scheduled for the same time and place. The University regularly reviews the grounds use policy to be sure that it continues to meet our needs.”

Since the “Harlem Shake” incident, some organizations on campus have run into difficulties understanding and complying with the University’s policies. Jordan DeWitt, a senior majoring in theatre and president of theatre honor society Alpha Psi Omega, said he faced obstacles when trying to plan a Guerrilla Theatre performance titled “Guerrilla Under the Stars” in front of Gorgas Library, the same location where the “Harlem Shake” took place two years ago.

“When I tried to talk to the Gorgas Library officials, they gave me a number for someone at UA Grounds, who I called and did not get an answer,” he said. “It wasn’t until my officers and I walked over to Rose Administration and got a different number that we actually got in contact with 
UA Grounds.”

DeWitt submitted a grounds use request in September, which was denied due to the proposed location on the Gorgas steps.

“We cannot use the Gorgas Library for a myriad of reasons,” Donna McCray of the University’s grounds department said in an emailed response to DeWitt. “The steps cannot be used as seating or acts as this hinders accessibility to the library ingress and egress. This type of event also distracts from the academic climate inside the library; therefore, the Dean requests that events take place away 
from entrances/exits.”

Although he acknowledged the necessity of policies governing space on campus, DeWitt said he feels the University’s grounds use policies are exceedingly difficult for students to comply with and are geared more toward protecting the University’s public image than toward fostering an environment of free speech.

“We have a problem at the University,” he said. “It has an administration infrastructure that is near impossible for students to interact with in a useful way, full of red tape and confusing rabbit holes. The grounds use policy is just one more example of the inefficient, confounding nature of the UA system.”