The Pause was filled with St. Olaf students singing along and dancing to the band performing onstage, 3OH!3, for Music Entertainment Committee’s (MEC) annual Spring Concert on Saturday, April 6 at 8:30 p.m. Colorful disco lights illuminated the space while attendees raised the hand symbol for 3OH!3 in the air. Meanwhile, down in the Flaten Art Barn, current and former students were performing in and attending the RAINN (Rape Abuse Incest National Network) Charity Concert for Abuse Victims, also known as the alternative spring concert. This concert was a direct result of the pushback for MEC choosing 3OH!3 as the Spring Concert artist.
Immediately following the announcement of 3OH!3, MEC received backlash because of the band’s song lyrics about rape culture, sexual assault, exploitation of women and ableism.
“Students’ dissatisfaction with 3OH!3 was first brought to our attention the day we announced the concert was 3OH!3,” Sumner Pitt ’19, MEC coordinator, said.
An email thread on the alias, St. Olaf Extra, made the controversy public, showing the passionate anger some students felt over the choice. This prompted MEC to release a statement and later hold a discussion about 3OH!3 performing at St. Olaf.
“Immediately following the announcement of 3OH!3, MEC received backlash because of the band’s song lyrics about rape culture, sexual assault, exploitation of women and ableism.” – Katie Anderson ’20
The March 22 statement further explained MEC’s choice of 3OH!3, stating that a student interest poll from last fall showed that the majority of responders (670) voted for 3OH!3.
“MEC is comprised of members of various identities, who collectively recognized the potential for 3OH!3’s lyrics to be interpreted as problematically related to sexual assault, rape culture and ableism. Committee members researched lyrics, music videos, interviews and live videos, then compiled a list of specific concerns which guided our discussion of 3OH!3’s lyrical content during three meetings,” the statement read.
The statement also assured students that the concert would be safe and that Sexual Assault Resource Network (SARN) Advocates would be present at the concert. “We acknowledge the hurt that people are experiencing and are not trying to invalidate the experiences of sexual assault survivors,” the statement read.
A few weeks later, on April 2, MEC hosted a discussion about 3OH!3, inviting students both in support of and opposition to the band to come express their thoughts. The attendance at the event, however, was sparse at best. The majority of attendees were members of MEC or various student groups. Not a single individual who publicly disagreed with the choice of 3OH!3 attended the forum.
Topics of discussion included the acceptance of past spring concert performers with similar lyrics regarding rape culture – including Sage the Gemini – how to prevent this backlash in the future and the idea that MEC “can’t please everyone.”
Those who opposed the concert planned an alternate spring concert to be held in the Art Barn the same night, April 6, at 6:30 p.m. “This event is intended to serve as an alternative for students who do not want to attend or support this year’s Spring Concert,” the Facebook event read. Entry was free for St. Olaf students, but the organizers asked all attendees to bring $5 to donate to RAINN. According to the Facebook event, the concert raised $376 for RAINN.
Three student groups performed at the concert: Bad Advice Club, Snow and Ointment Appointment. While the concert wasn’t as well attended as 3OH!3, it was still considerably popular. It also was staffed by Pause security and EMTs to ensure the safety of performers and attendees.
St. Olaf isn’t the first college to express concerns regarding 3OH!3. In spring 2018, Gustavus Adolphus College also decided to bring 3OH!3 to campus for their own spring concert. This decision was met with similar controversy, leading to a public article of protest on HerCampus.com, which revealed that, based on the author’s own poll, 77% of responders found 3OH!3 a “little bit sleazy.”
This controversy has prompted further conversation about the rape culture at St. Olaf beyond the 3OH!3 concert. On St. Olaf 666 –the popular St. Olaf gag Facebook group with nearly 1000 members – one of the page administrators posted the following April 3: “The Purge: take a peek at the member list of this page – if there is a predator, assailant/shit*er monster in this group and you feel comfortable sending me a DM with their name, I’ll remove them from the group…Predator Purge 2k19.” This was met with mixed responses – some students commented that a purge of this sort could be considered as harassment, while others applauded the administrator’s efforts to make the page a safer place for survivors.
Ultimately, based on attendance of the spring concert and word of mouth post-concert, the controversy surrounding the band did not affect the atmosphere of the show. The energy in the room showed that, while many students opposed 3OH!3, a large number also supported the choice. Besides the alternative concert, the controversy seemed to disappear overnight without any large repercussions. However, it did call to MEC’s attention the effects their choices have on students and how it contributes to the overall atmosphere of St. Olaf.