This article was updated at 10:16 AM, August 21 to mention hand sanitizer efforts by event organizers.
Afro Hamwe hosted an “AKWAABA DANCE PARTY” on the eve of Gordon College’s first in-person classes since the beginning of COVID-19.
Afro Hamwe, a group whose mission is to “connect the community of people from African descent,” sent an email to the student body on Wednesday afternoon promising food, pre-packaged drinks, and games, and telling students to come with masks on. There was no mention of social-distancing practices in the email; no efforts were mentioned in the email to keep large groups of students apart, but hand sanitizer was frequently sprayed on the hand’s of guests by event organizers.
Gordon College’s campus events policy prohibits more than 48 students from gathering in the tent located on the mini quad.
The event began at 7 PM in an outdoor tent. The DJ had to remind students several times to spread out. At one point, an announcer at the event said to the crowd of over 100 dancing students, “We’re gonna get shut down if you guys don’t spread out!” To this, one student responded, “You guys are killing the mood!”
Drake Sprowles, a freshman at the party, said: “I applaud their efforts to try and make it socially distanced, but it is what it is.” Another freshman, Ri Smith, said that “it’s a great thing to bring people together. They’re doing the best they can to keep people distanced. They’re trying to keep households together, I think it’s good. Everybody needs to be smarter because the safer we are the sooner we can reopen, but I also understand that people need to have fun.”
Autumn Rose, a senior, said that she only came because she expected a high degree of controlled distancing, but was surprised at the reality of what she saw. “I thought it was safe to come because I thought households were supposed to dance together… I think that’s good. They planned it well. But it is confusing when everyone is in a circle. Like that happens at dances like this. We stayed in our households, but everyone is still in a big line.”
Senior Janel Hicks was more enthusiastic about the event. “I love this. I feel like now more than ever, a lot of cultures are being put down because this kind of music isn’t allowed. They’re doing a great job of administering the dance. It could be a whole lot worse. This is black culture at its finest.”
Other students expressed great concern that the event was allowed to happen at all. Caroline Lavoie, a senior, called the event “tone deaf.” “It feels a little selfish and short-sighted. I just think that at this point, people are very focused on what they are doing and not how it affects the larger community. I think it’s kind of tone deaf with other schools having to shut down in the same area.”
Another student, who asked not to be named for fear of social backlash, said, “While I like the idea of the party, I just wonder if having a mask on is enough. People were dancing in really close quarters, and I would just be upset if we have to go home in a week because proper safety measures weren’t taken.”
Gordon College officials have made drastic changes to many policies in response to COVID-19, all with the goal of keeping students safely on campus. Nationally, many schools are sending students home or pausing their semesters as the coronavirus spreads in college communities. The New York Times reported on August 19, 2020 that many coronavirus outbreaks on campuses have been linked to “parties, not classrooms.” The University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, the University of Notre Dame, Michigan State University, and others have had to reevaluate their in-person learning models in light of recent outbreaks.