Spring Fling behind the scenes: Program Board changes artist vetting process

After last year, when students took to Overheard at GW to protest the Program Board’s choice of Spring Fling performer, the group changed their artist vetting process to make sure students are comfortable at this year’s concert.

This year, when considering potential performers, the Program Board asked leaders in the Student Association and Students Against Sexual Assault to consult on the final artists under consideration after student outrage when the organization booked an artist with controversial lyrics. The new vetting steps are written out in a formal Center for Student Engagement document for future campus concerts the Program Board hosts, the group’s leader said.

Maddy Daley, the executive chair of the Program Board, said in an interview last week that under the new vetting process, the Program Board split up a list of about 150 artists for the group’s executive board members to research so each person is investigating fewer artists. The potential artists’ lyrics, social media posts and other information about them, like news stories and interviews, are reviewed and artists are disqualified if anything “concerning” is found, she said.

Then, they presented the options to their adviser in the CSE, Victoria Heithaus, who completed a similar evaluation and brought any concerns she had back to the Program Board, Daley said.

Spring Fling will be held this Saturday in University Yard where DJ Matoma and rapper Sage the Gemini will take the stage as headliners and rapper Isaiah Rashad will open the show.

Daley said that after she was elected to the position last year, she and the executive vice chair, Lindsay Mackinson, wanted to change the process to make sure all students felt safe attending their events.

“Lindsay and I knew that we wanted to be more selective in our artists processes because we really wanted to represent what students wanted to hear,” Daley said. “After the Spring Fling last year, it was a call to action.”

Last year, Action Bronson was originally scheduled to perform, but was cancelled at the last minute based on students’ concerns about his misogynistic lyrics, particularly in his song “Consensual Rape.”

Daley said that this year, the Program Board wanted to invite an artist to perform but the CSE adviser found a problematic lyric. At that point, Daley called in leaders from the SA and SASA to get “another set of eyes” to look at the lyrics and see if they made the artist unfit to perform on campus.

This relationship between the groups is now listed in their vetting process as an option for further evaluation and will continue in future years, Daley said.

One of the challenges in changing the artist vetting process was deciding where to “draw the line,” Daley added. This fall, the Program Board put out a survey to find out what genre of performers students want to see at Fall Fest and Spring Fling and the most popular genre was rap, but those artists’ lyrics are not always appropriate, she said.

“It’s a very gray area between what students want and us never wanting to never make anyone feel unsafe,” she said. “But also the number one genre request was rap and hip hop, in which there are a majority of misogynistic lyrics.”

Tim Miller, the associate dean of students and the Program Board’s CSE adviser from August to October, said he is “proud” of the new vetting process and hopes they continue to get feedback from the entire community.

“Program Board’s leadership has done an incredible job this year involving a broad range of feedback from across campus so they can create the best event for our community,” Miller said.

Miller added that although it is hard to please the entire student body with one performer, students shouldn’t feel unwelcome because of who the artist is.

“While the performers at these events may not always be everyone’s cup of tea,” he said “They should never be the type of artists that divide our community.”

SA President Erika Feinman said in an email that the executive chair of the Program Board reached out “several” times during the process of planning Spring Fling to get their opinion on whether a particular artist would be appropriate for the student body. While Feinman is graduating this spring and won’t be involved in the SA next year, they said they hope the close relationship between the Program Board and SA continues.

“I was definitely impressed with the high level of care that Maddy and Program Board took in selecting the performers for this year,” Feinman said.

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