On Wednesday, May 19, the glitter-clad cohorts of 2020 and 2021 will have the chance to travel through time and back again as they safely dance the night away at this year’s cyberfuturism-themed Center of the Universe Party (COUP), which will be the college’s first large-scale, close-to-traditional campus-wide celebration in over a year.
Aside from social distancing and strict mask mandates, this COUP will be distinct from previous graduation parties in several other ways, including a date change from the night of commencement—May 21, when graduation COUP is normally held—to Friday, May 14 and then again to Wednesday, May 19 to allow as much of the class of 2020 to attend as possible.
Thesis students Hannah Isabella Gatof, who also works on the Student Events Team (SET), and Magdalena Van Thienen are organizing the event, which will sport pulsing neon and black lights, broken-down computers, holographic materials and projectors in Palm Court.
“Our choice of the cyberfuturism and virtual reality themes were sort of a head dive straight into the new lifestyle we’ve all become accustomed to over the last year due to coronavirus, and how technology has become such a large part of our lives,” Gatof reflected. “We chose to go the route of acceptance and just reveling in the coolness of technology and what the future will look like because of all this and just having fun with it.”
Gatof also created a Pinterest board to inspire students to dress for the theme and give them an idea of what the COUP will actually look like. Van Thienen, who studies art, will also be creating two large sculptures and assisting with the creation of several smaller sculptures, which she described as aesthetically like “the baby of The Matrix, Daft Punk and Tron, and the movie we’re showing, ‘Dirty Computer.’”
“Dirty Computer” (2018), by singer-songwriter Janelle Monáe, will be shown in HCL 8 from 8 to 9 p.m. Monáe called her film an “emotion picture” and Rolling Stone referred to it as a “visually arresting” sci-fi tour de force.
During the coronavirus pandemic, the two previous COUP replacements for Halloween COUP and Valentine’s Day COUP did not have movies, and live music will be another key element of this event that previous COUP replacement events have lacked. Live music is a staple of a traditional COUP, and its return symbolizes what many consider to be more of a return to “normal” as the college returns to in-person classes for the Fall 2021 semester.
There will be two areas for student DJs in the Nook and in Palm Court, and two live bands—the Max Frost Music Collective and Dream Thing—are slated to perform on Z Green. Dream Thing is a New College fan favorite that has played at numerous pre-COVID functions, most recently played at a Bike Shoppe show in December 2019.
To many, the possibility for a large, campus-wide gathering seemed months if not years away due to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic. But the small on-campus population of less than 300 students coupled with rising vaccination rates, early move-outs and projected lower attendance than prior graduation COUPs has made it possible for this virtual reality COUP to become a reality.
The event will also be invite-only and restricted solely to current students and the graduating cohort of 2020, so wristbands will not be distributed this year and there will be no police presence at the event. Instead, to supplement for the lack of campus police and the external security that the college normally hires, Student Affairs staff and student volunteers will be working that evening. Police will have extra officers on call, but won’t be patrolling campus.
“I am really grateful that Student Affairs staff, namely Randy Harrell, have been so willing to work on keeping students safe and comfortable during events,” New College Student Alliance (NCSA) President Sofia Lombardi reflected. “Through open communication with the administration and police we’ve been able to work out a solution that accomplishes that, so it’s a win-win in my opinion.”
In previous years, graduation COUPs have been on the night of graduation, but the date was moved in order for Student Affairs staff to be able to supervise the event rather than external security and campus police.
“Student Affairs staff are going to be working overtime that week, so to have something on the day of graduation was going to be too much of a strain of staff,” Lombardi explained. “I thought that another Friday night would be best, so we decided to move forward with May 14, but that was met with some student and alumni backlash, understandably so. I met with Student Affairs staff again, pushed the May 21 date again to reflect students’ preferences and was met with a firm no, so I put out a poll to students and the class of 2020 to figure out a better time and that’s how we came to the date of May 19.”
Harm reduction is also a major focus of this year’s event, akin to COUPs in previous years. The NCSA, along with Students for Sensible Drug Policy (SSDP), have worked hard to ensure that students in attendance have access to resources such as a chill out room equipped with snacks, water and pillows, which will be located in HCL 7 and free of professional staff and police.
The space will be adequately distanced and masks will be required at all times. SSDP’s “fairies”—essentially, student volunteers who float around campus checking up on students and providing water and snacks—will have lists of emergency contacts, including Randy Harrell and Lombardi, on them at all times.
Additionally, every student volunteering in the chill out room will undergo bystander intervention training the day prior to the event, and there will be a list of numbers to call in case a student is in need. However, Lombardi emphasized that if someone is in real danger, they should call campus police.
For its organizers, as well as the graduating cohorts of 2020 and 2021 and current students, this event serves to celebrate the end of what felt like an endlessly long, difficult academic year during the Coronavirus pandemic.
“I really want this COUP to bring about that sense of NCF community again—a lot of students, but particularly first years, have not had a normal New College experience,” Lombardi said. “At this point, we can safely bring these traditions to them, explain what they are, and let them partake in that fun and in that experience.”