Checks and balances: SPB’s unstable system
So, Social Programming Board messed up.
They rolled out the red carpet for a racist, problematic pick to take the WILD stage, project his questionable lyricism and views and potentially pocket a large chunk of every student’s activities fee.
When they tried to explain how that happened at a well-attended Student Union Senate session on Tuesday, they instead demonstrated an inexcusable lack of due diligence when researching potential artists, a continued lack of transparency and an inaccessibility to all members of the greater Washington University student body—problems that have long plagued the organization.
They messed up. But it’s not too late for them to do the right thing: cut ties with Lil Dicky and not let him step foot on our campus. Recognize their system is broken. Recognize that they need to change, that their behavior is careless, that they need to apologize.
At its crux, WILD is our school’s unique opportunity to bring together the undergraduate student body for one day of pleasant, popular music, enjoying each other’s company and having some fun. Not to actively perpetuate that racism is funny or okay. Not to offend our students. Not to make them feel unwelcome. Not to make them feel unsafe.
But stopping Lil Dicky doesn’t mean WILD has to be canceled. Instead, SPB can extend the sets of current openers A R I Z O N A and Lizzo—both acts that reflect the diversity and values of our community. Lizzo, a rising star in the hip-hop community, is the antithesis to Lil Dicky, as a black woman who espouses body positivity and unity. Give the stage to people who deserve to be heard.
But there’s another problem here: We’re not getting that significant portion of our collective activities fee back. At this point, Lil Dicky gets our money whether he performs or not. And while it was our right to demand more from SPB before, this egregious and careless move means we now deserve a response so this never happens again.
SPB needs a vetting process when choosing who goes on the WILD survey. At the Senate session, WILD Director Zach Alter complained that the list of potential artists was simply too long and would take too much time to parse through. It seems highly unlikely that with a board of 12 directors—all of whom have made a commitment to SPB and are entrusted with a hefty portion of SU’s general budget—wouldn’t have the time to divide up the 30 or so finalists that make it onto the WILD survey and do 45 minutes of research on each. If this had been instituted sooner, it seems likely they might have found the article titled “Lil Dicky Isn’t a White Supremacist, He’s Just an A——,” which highlights many of Lil Dicky’s offensive statements and behaviors.
Additionally, under the current process few people know the final artist before they’re booked. Instead, before settling on an artist and offering a contract, they should have their board—and possibly a group of students—take a look to make sure it’s a responsible choice.
SPB tried to defend their pick using the claim that Lil Dicky was ranked highly by students in the WILD artist survey. There isn’t even proof of this, however, because time and time again the board refuses to release the final results of the survey. The secrecy engulfing the selection process leads to complaints and cries for transparency year after year. SPB posits that releasing the rankings may lead to a discouraged artist or a disinterested student population. But again, that seems unlikely—the artist is being paid for a gig and students are always going to show up to WILD.
What’s more, the survey itself is flawed: it’s not as accessible as it can be. Most students only know to access it through SPB’s social media pages. However, SPB makes decisions on behalf of the entire student population and there are ways to make sure everyone has access to that survey—whether it’s via all-school email or reaching out to leaders of all SU-recognized clubs.
Ultimately, SPB backs itself into a corner by following the survey religiously while a cloud of uncertainty still hangs around the top vote-getters because of scheduling, price changes and unforeseen difficulties. However, there are ways for SPB to avoid making promises they can’t keep. Even with an accelerated timeline, there may not be a way to always ensure the top vote-getter headlines WILD. But if SPB makes some of these necessary changes and creates a more transparent and informed process, their problems might be remedied through increased autonomy. An elected SPB, as opposed to an appointed one, would be a step toward creating the board the students want.
We have long pressed SPB to be more transparent, to make changes to their process and to take tangible steps—not just words—to prove they’re hearing us. Well, we’ve heard what the student body has to say. Here’s our list. Get working.