Somewhere Over The Rainbow

Photo by James Wheeler on Pexels.com

Just as a tornado whisked Dorothy away in the classic Wizard of Oz movie, the University of Alabama‘s Kappa Delta Farm Party was suddenly taken away from University of Alabama students.

The last minute cancellation Farm Party may have had a sister or two of the sorority contemplating the song that Judy Garland sang in the Wizard of Oz. Was there ever such a mystical land where a Farm Party could take place in the midst of a worldwide Covid-19 pandemic?

Somewhere over the rainbow, way up high
There’s a land that I heard of once in a lullaby
Oh, somewhere over the rainbow skies are blue
Clouds high over the rainbow, makes all your dreams come true, ooh

Somewhere over the rainbow, blue birds fly
Birds fly over the rainbow
Why, oh why can’t I?

News about the party’s cancellation was reported throughout the world. The Daily Mail‘s Ariel Zilber  wrote:

A spokesperson for the University of Alabama told The Daily Beast on Tuesday evening that ‘the sorority ended up canceling this event.’ The ‘farm party’ is an annual event held by the sorority, according to the Franklin Stove Blog, which was the first to report the city council vote last week.

The party first received international attention after the Daily Beast‘s Olivia Messer wrote a story “Alabama Sorority Gets Official Blessing for 600-Person Farm Party Just in Time for Holidays.” She called it a “Recipe for Disaster.”

Messer questioned the wisdom of the Tuscaloosa City Council‘s having approved the event:

Why did the school, and the city’s leaders, endorse a massive, alcohol-fueled party right before sending students home for the holidays?

“It’s appalling and dangerous,” 61-year-old radiation therapist Louise Manos told The Daily Beast, arguing that “the four members of the city council who voted in favor of this are sanctioning a superspreader event.”

As of Tuesday, there were 11,886 confirmed cumulative cases of COVID-19 in Tuscaloosa County, with 148 deaths. There were 76 new cases overnight, according to the Johns Hopkins Coronavirus Resource Center, and local reports indicate that infections of the virus have been rising in recent weeks.

But the city council voted last Tuesday to approve a special events retail license for the Kappa Delta Farm Party, to be held on Nov. 17 at a venue called Black Warrior Farms. The move—at a time when so-called Third Wave coronavirus cases are skyrocketing and holiday travel was expected to feed new clusters—befuddled everyone from locals to frontline medical workers to university employees.

“This will be worse because of the college students who will be… drinking and dancing,” the lifelong Tuscaloosa resident added. “These party-goers will be going home for Thanksgiving next week and possibly taking COVID home to elderly relatives.”

Messer, when contacted by the Franklin Stove Blog, said “I got a bunch of emails about the party, but one person sent over your blog as the most comprehensive publicly available information. Thanks for writing it.”

An article written by the Tuscaloosa NewsJason Morton reported that “residents both in and outside of Tuscaloosa questioned the decision-making that went into sanctioning the event, particularly that of the City Council that gave a final blessing for the party during its Nov. 10 meeting.”

The Washington Post‘s Meryl Kornfield wrote:

A vestige of large alcohol-laden blowouts held at colleges before the coronavirus pandemic, the ‘Farm Party’-themed function was planned for about 600 attendees — split into three phases of 200 people each to reduce capacity, with time to sanitize the venue between each round.

Michael Innis-Jiménez, an American studies professor at the school and a member of the campus’s workers union, told The Post he was “stunned” such an event was allowed to take place. The alcohol license for the event was approved by the city council in a 4-to-2 vote, and the school said the sorority could proceed if it followed “extensive rules and safety guidelines.”

The story about the Farm Party found its way into such disparate media outlets as: the Intercontinental News, News For Finance, NewsColony, RokzFast, Newswep, DUK News, TopSpot 247, Daily Echoed, News & Gossips, and Dope Albums.

At the City Council meeting, Brandon Hanks of Downtown Entertainment LLC said, “I hope that you guys give a little bit of thought to this coming spring because these kids are going to be coming back, and I don’t know how long we can continue to keep them coming back if they don’t have a college experience to come back to.”

The City of Tuscaloosa at one time had been asked by the University of Alabama to close its bars because of concerns over the Coronavirus. Now the city’s occupancy based limits at bars allow as many as 150 patrons at a time. Some people have questioned how an outdoor event of 200 people would be worse than having 150 people indoors

With colleges throughout the nation either strictly limiting or outlawing gatherings of students, the question might be asked — “Why would the University of Alabama ever approve the Farm Party in the first place?” The party, with its 200 students at a time, exceeded its own guidelines for outdoor gatherings, which stated: “Outdoor events with more than 100 attendees are impermissible.”

Harvard University‘s rules for outdoor events on campus limit the number to 25 people, stipulating that “for indoor gatherings, participants should be limited to 10 and must also have no more than 8 people per 1000 sq feet accessible space.” Furthermore the school discouraged any indoor gatherings. These regulations are based on Center for Disease Control and Prevention‘s (CDC) guidance. According to an article by the United State Fire Administration, the radius of the 6 feet (which is recommended by the CDC for social distancing) is equal to approximately 113 square feet per person.

CNN‘s Leah Asmelash wrote about the unique problems associated with fraternal organizations on campus:

Were colleges ever going to crack down on Greek Life? No one has stopped issues — including sexual violence, hazing and racism — that have plagued those groups for years.

A huge part of it is money, as many big donors are insistent Greek Life continue. Attempts at cracking down on them are often met with backlash from wealthy alumni, putting universities in a bind.

Just what is the “college experience” that Brandon Hanks has referred to? Does it involve, as Meryl Kornfield wrote, “large alcohol-laden blowouts”?

Is merely going to football games, congregating with other students on campus or studying for an exam in the library not enough of a “college experience”? If students stop returning to the University because of a lack of a party atmosphere, Tuscaloosa‘s economy will be impacted. Will the mega-developments that constitute virtual mansions near the football stadium and the palatial fraternity and sorority houses, that Al.com‘s Ben Flanagan has written about, be emptied?

That is something that the City Council will have to weigh heavily when the next alcohol license for a large Greek gathering is proposed in T-Town.

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