Opinion Submission: Why my experience at WILD can never happen again

| Class of 2024
The crowd at WILD. Students wave their hands, sat on each other's shoulders

Last semester’s WILD was the first WashU had held since fall of 2019. (Zoe Oppenheimer | Student Life)

Correction Appended Below

I arrived at last semester’s WILD ready to have a blast with my friends. But instead of spending my night watching Zedd perform, I found myself suffocated by the crowd and interrogated by the Washington University Police Department and off-campus paramedics. This was an encounter that made me feel unsafe, angry, and humiliated. WUPD’s incredibly worrying failure to ensure the safety of students — and their bias toward me, a Black student experiencing a medical emergency — made what should have been a night of fun into one of the worst nights of my life. With preparations for Fall WILD already underway, what happened to me absolutely cannot happen again.

My friends and I arrived rather early to WILD; we had nothing better to do and were eager to start experiencing the festivities. In preparation, I took one of my friend’s legal delta-8 hemp gummies and have experienced these before. Initially, there was much fun to be had. I recognized and greeted incoming acquaintances as I saw them, enjoyed listening to the starting acts, and had myself a cold soda. My friends and I took our place right behind the railing in front of the stage, but it wasn’t long before I found myself surrounded on all sides by students both familiar and unfamiliar.

Popular artist IDK took the stage, and the atmosphere increased its energy. Zealous students were crowding up towards the front to get a better look at the performer. Strangers surrounding me in the front started to become frustrated, imploring their peers to stop the pushing. Pushing back became a common response, and those of small stature stranded in the middle were left to adapt to the flow of the crowd. I suddenly found myself responsible for defusing an argument between a few angry boys behind me and one of my friends before fighting broke out. The group I was with when IDK first took the stage was nowhere to be seen, as I had been swept further to the left towards a few other friends. This new group was host to a rather small female friend that appeared to be getting completely crushed under the weight of the big and tall spectators that formed a wall around her, and I became increasingly worried for the safety of her and others in the same situation. With better crowd control, this could’ve easily been avoided, but instead, unprepared students were left to handle the rising tension in their wake.

I tried to look out for her, but I was swept away once again. My jovial attitude from earlier was replaced with worry and frustration, as students once again almost came to blows with each other. I am not a tall person and also don’t weigh a lot, and my face was practically buried in another man’s hair. Jumping spectators around me continuously elbowed me in the front and back, and it wasn’t long before my oxygen supply was depleted. I began to hyperventilate, and my surroundings turned dark. I fell over, going completely limp, but fortunately a few students caught me and called for assistance. I went unconscious for a moment, and I could feel the same concerned students, along with some friends, frantically getting me over the fence and carrying me to a safe location. 

I was unable to see, speak or move as I lay on the ground. EST rushed over to offer me assistance, and I was able to gradually show them that I could understand them and remain somewhat conscious. This was the last time that I felt cared for prior to what followed. I felt safe with whatever student was with me in those moments. She genuinely seemed concerned for my well being, asking me questions and speaking amicably but professionally with my friends. I laid there for a long time while I regained my facilities, before moving my head a little. At this point, my condition got much worse, and I started fading again. Off-campus paramedics and WUPD officers finally arrived, carrying me away from Brookings Quad on a stretcher. What ensued next was incomprehensible. 

As previously mentioned, I took an edible earlier in the day. It made me more extroverted and sociable (I’m an introvert), but that’s about it. I don’t drink for personal reasons, so I hadn’t consumed any alcohol, and I hadn’t smoked anything. Since my condition got worse after I moved my head, my friends had to answer police questions for a while. My good comrade told them what I wrote here: that I hadn’t taken anything but an edible. They asked other questions, like the day I was born, but they had this strange fascination with returning to the question of what substances I had encountered that night. 

Eventually, I was able to answer for myself, and these same questions returned. I explained to them what my friends had told them several times over. There was an accusatory tone to their probing, insinuating that what we were telling them was impossible. They saw the color of my skin, the light orange bandana loosely tied around my signature cadet cap, and my earrings. Surely it was impossible that I didn’t drink. My comrade had to have been lying to protect me. Surely I had to have taken other substances, right? They told us several times about the medical amnesty we are offered, assuming that we were keeping secrets from them. My friends ignored the needless advice, trying to express to them that my passing out had nothing to do with drugs or alcohol.

WUPD and the paramedics needed a personal account of what happened from me, so I reiterated to them the obvious. I was asphyxiated, unable to breathe, and I passed out. What seemed like such a simple situation was elevated to an interrogation based on assumptions that I was lying, for reasons that can’t be removed from the fact that I was a young Black man. 

At no point did I feel an iota of concern or care from the police or these so-called medical professionals. They waited until they had asked repeatedly how much I had drunk before they so much as took my vitals. I felt like I was being interrogated as a suspect for an armed robbery, not a victim in need of medical assistance. It was so clear to see that the notion that I had simply passed out for the reason we had expressed to them wasn’t feasible enough in their prejudiced, cold minds. They searched for some other explanation, an explanation more fitting to the racist image of what a young Black male would do before and during a concert. Surely I snuck in alcohol or weed, and I passed out from substance abuse. That’s just the kind of thing we do, right?

I don’t have a full account of how WUPD handled crowd control after things escalated to that degree for obvious reasons, but the way that such serious situations were handled in general is appalling to me.

Everyone and their grandmas are now well aware of what happened at the AstroWorld Travis Scott concert, and it wouldn’t have been ridiculous for the same sorts of injuries and deaths to happen here. WUPD and the paramedics, however, acted as if they were doing a routine, low-stakes training exercise before an outing at Qdoba. I didn’t feel safe at all. Going to the hospital with those people was out of the question, and I adamantly stated that multiple times while interacting with them. They made me feel like I was so insignificant, and I am so grateful that I wasn’t in need of hospital treatment. It’s easy to imagine an alternate outcome where things could’ve gone way worse.

Once I felt like I was able to walk, I got up and began to head towards my dorm, but after about 20 minutes the full weight of what had transpired hit me. I had never felt more humiliated in my entire life. I began to cry, feeling like I had been reduced to some sort of pathetic animal.

One of the reasons that I sought to attend Washington University is because of its distance from my home state of Mississippi. I do find myself missing the South and the people there quite often; I spent my entire life there. However, I knew that I didn’t want to spend my undergraduate years there if I could help it. We all know at this point the storied, racist history of the state of Mississippi and the innumerable problems that schools there have had with mistreating people of color. While avoiding racism completely is impossible, I desired to be in a place where I knew I wouldn’t have to worry about it to the degree I would need to if I elected to go to Ole Miss, which offered me a full ride. I never would have thought that an on-campus experience at my new university would leave me wondering if I would have been treated with more care and respect in my home state.

The fact that this happened at a school-sanctioned event on campus is beyond me. We were all clearly students of the University, but I was treated like an outsider. I don’t want any other WashU student to go through what I went through at WILD. Before the next WILD, and for the sake of other students like me, something has to change, and soon.

9/24/2022: An earlier version of this opinion submission mistakenly stated that an EST member did not have professional training and equipment. Every crew has EST members who are certified EMTs in the state of Missouri, and carry medical equipment that is approved by Habif Health and Wellness Center. We apologize for the error.

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