Dionysus' Monster

Reanimating Splitchers and the 'Sco

By Martin Rabot | mrabot@oberlin.edu | March 9, 2018 @ 3:58 pm

'Sco employee Martin Rabot stands behind the counter on a weekday night.

Photo by Angie Vaaler.

As a second-semester Senior, I have been preparing myself for that tight-rope crossing I must perform in a few months’ time. What I had not been preparing myself for is looking back. This school has really changed during my time here, and as a four year ‘Sco employee, that particular space and its (d)evolution has given me many a sleepless night. The Sco’s average Splitchers intake has gone down several hundreds of dollars from my freshman year. Additionally, only on one or two Wednesdays a semester would you find more than 50 people in the space before 11:45 P.M. My freshman and sophomore years, attendees came in as soon as they got a wristband and stayed until they wanted to leave, often until the end. To be honest with you, we managers, we shepherds of the Sco, have been trying and failing to come to terms with what role the Sco plays on today’s campus and what role you students and community members want it to play. It is also undeniable that people who work at the Sco interact with the space in a different way, perhaps a more comfortable way. Maybe that’s why we can’t figure out what’s wrong with it – we never stopped loving being there, you did. So for this article, I tried to stop talking, and just listen.

In Spring 2017, Jake Berstein published a piece in the Grape on the History of Splitchers. It illuminates an event that many people on campus take for granted, one that appears institutional and immovable. But in that article, you will find that Splitchers is not as old as the Sco, nor is it what makes the Sco as special of a place as it is. First run in 2002, the original Splitchers had no music, was set up with tables on the dancefloor, and was packed from open to close. It responded to the campus environment of the time, and when there became a need to dance on Wednesday nights, Splitchers again changed. Perhaps now, too, is time for a change at the Sco.

“I’ve been to Splitchers maybe 2 or 3 times,” says first-year Julia Rohde. “It just isn’t my idea of fun on a Wednesday night.” For Julia, much of this lies in the “vibe” of the Sco. The monotonous, ritualistic Splitchers – Rohde, interviewed on a Wednesday, said that despite only having gone 3 times, she could tell me “exactly what would happen” were she to go that night – has come to be regarded as a concrete element of a status (Sc)quo. This essentializing of Splitchers’ existence, however, impacts the way students view the Sco. Above all, it limits how students see the space as being able to function. “While I don’t think Splitchers is detrimental to the Sco’s reputation,” says senior Sco manager Jake Frankenfield, “we need to let people know that it can be used in other ways.” In my first two years, I witnessed afternoon improv performances, Shakespearean recitations, and multimedia senior capstone presentations, all at the Sco.

The Sco is, after all, under the watch of the Student Union. Sean Lehlbach, Assistant Director of Student Activities at the Union, wants the Sco to be reflective of the student body’s wishes. He gave me an overview of the limitations he would impose on student programming: “No loud music before 4:30 and between 8 and 10, and adherence to liquor laws. Outside of those few things, if a student wants to do something in the space, and we can figure out how to do it, I say let’s do it. If a student wanted to host a sleepover in the Sco, we’d find a way to make that happen.”

If the Sco is reflecting the wishes of the student body, and the current programming is not doing well with today’s student body, the Sco needs to overhaul the ways it invites students to interact with the space. Clara Berger, Class of ’16 and ex-Sco manager, expressed a sadness with regards to this trend in Sco attendance, but emphasized that “the Sco is a space that is supposed to be for the community, for the student body.” Berger was one of the other two people on my first ever shift at the Sco and she taught me how to interact with the space in a meaningful and caring way. The passion she and other older managers had for Splitchers, a feeling I try to carry on every shift, is a sentiment I wanted to get to the root of. She described to me what Splitchers was when she first arrived in 2012. “My older sister had gone to Oberlin and she passed on to me that the Sco was the cool place to be. Sometimes freshmen would go to Splitchers.” My freshman year was like this: if you were an underclassman, Splitchers was a place to hang out with any upperclassmen friends you had, or it was a place to meet new people. Looking inside the room before 11:45 will show you that both of those things are no longer true.

I’m sure other upperclassmen have pointed fingers below them as well, but I’ll stick to the person whose mouth I’ve heard it out of the most: myself. Clinging to the perception of Splitchers, of the Sco, that I came into and that existed before me, is restricting what the Sco can be for today’s student body. For this student body to make the Sco their own, two problems need to be solved.

At some point during the past three or four years, a dynamic that allowed the Sco to thrive stopped working. It consisted of Sco staff programming exciting, challenging events and concerts, and the student body engaging with those events at the Sco, either through attendance and feedback, or programming of their own. I’m not going to engage in a chicken or egg debate about these two problems, and one may not have necessarily caused the other, but they are definitely related and need to be fixed. The Sco is often seen as an organization whose programming ways are, in a sense, pre-programmed. It is not. “People should understand how unique this space is,” Berger asserted at the end of our conversation.The Dionysus Discotheque is a student-run and student-programmed space; it’s about time we, Sco staff and students, start acting like it.

Contact contributing writer Martin Rabot at mrabot@oberlin.edu.

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