Disclaimer: this is an ongoing story, and will be updated as it develops. Check www.westernherald.com for updates.
Last December, Western Michigan University’s Campus Activities Board (CAB) released a poll for students to vote on which artist should perform at the Large Spring Concert on April 10. The poll, a follow-up to a previous survey, was meant to accommodate students’ desire to see a performance by a hip-hop artist.
After selecting an artist based on the poll results, CAB has said that they “were advised not to move forward with the (selected) artist based content issues by the Office of Student Affairs,” according to a letter addressed to student leaders from CAB, leading to the booking of Nick Jonas, who was not an option in the original poll.
Rap star Big Sean originally held the majority vote, but was too far out of CAB’s budget, so the second runner-up, Tyler, the Creator was selected. Tyler has drawn controversy from his lyrics in the past, with references to rape and homophobic slurs present on his earlier works. Tyler has also come under fire for inciting a riot at a concert held during South by Southwest festival in 2014, leading to an arrest and subsequent fine.
Before any artist can be approached for booking, they must be approved by the administration before an offer is sent out. Even if the administration had approved Tyler, it’s unknown whether he would be able to accept the offer.
“When we went to pursue Tyler, we got denied from the administration,” Nicholas Font, CAB Concert Coordinator, said. “We asked why, and it was due to ‘previous content issues’ from some of his later (previous) albums. We ran the most successful survey that we’ve done for our large spring shows, so we countered with, ‘what can we do to make this happen.’ We met with multiple organizations on campus, discussing the controversy that [Tyler] could potentially bring. There weren’t any strong opinions negatively towards his music and we still got denied.”
With the booking of Nick Jonas, the concert has moved away from the hip-hop/rap genre entirely.
“We got urged to move to a different genre due to the conflict of potentially running into the same issue,” Font said. “We asked our middle agent, which bridges the gap between student organizations and the agency which represents the artist themselves. He had a list and Nick Jonas was on that list. We thought, ‘he’s a big name, a great artist, he’s grammy-nominated, so why not.’”
Joe Sánchez, President of the CAB, says he was debating whether or not to move forward with the concert in general.
“I had thought that we did everything as an organization to bring hip-hop,” Sánchez said. “We worked for months to make that happen, and to get a no, we really hit a wall because we were also running out of artists in our price range. As a board, we decided that we still wanted a concert to provide entertainment for students. The pop category did the second best after hip-hop. We were running out of time, and we had to move quickly.”
Chris Sligh, Director of the Office of Student Engagement, said in an email interview that the poll is utilized to “assist with the many logistics that need to be worked out” when putting on a large show like the spring concert.
“After the hip-hop/rap options were no longer viable, the pop genre was considered, as it polled very strongly in the original poll,” Sligh said. “CAB was, and is very enthusiastic about doing something unprecedented in terms of size (and) scale of a concert on this campus. They have doubled their efforts with Student Affairs to work on this.”
Despite the genre switch, Sligh says sales have remained positive.
“WMU has over 23,000 students, and obviously, those students have a wide range of musical interests,” Sligh said. “Ticket sales have started out strong for Nick Jonas, and we will continue to work with CAB in their efforts to provide entertainment that reflects the interests of all students.”
Ticket sales aside, the confusion over the genre switch has left some students feeling as though CAB and the administration ignored their votes.
“I feel as though it’s a huge issue for us to have voted for hip-hop artists to come and perform this year and then for [CAB] not to bring those artists,” WMU sophomore E’Lexus Daniels said. “I think that says our vote doesn’t matter, that our voice doesn’t matter.”
Daniels isn’t the only WMU student who feels this way.
“I think it’s unacceptable for the administration to not come back to the students and ask what we think about it, since it was supposed to be a hip-hop themed concert, and for the administration to put an artist that does not represent that at all is really offensive,” WMU junior Rana Holmes said. “We make up this school, we pay our tuition, so therefore we should have a say in what goes on.”
However, there are students who are eager to see the show.
“I am beyond excited because I have been in love with Nick Jonas since elementary school,” WMU senior Kayla VanderLaan said. “I actually got tickets for my best friend since third grade as well. It’s perfect because we used to stand on her driveway and scream ‘I love Nick Jonas’ for no apparent reason, so we thought it was the absolute most perfect thing to come for my senior year, to finally have a dream come true.”
In response to the varied opinions of the booking, members of CAB are now trying to explain to students what happened.
“We selected an artist, and it wasn’t in the genre that was expected, and students are understandably upset,” Font said. “Right now, we’re just trying to get that communication between the students, us and the administration, and let there be a line of dialogue.”
CAB is currently working to secure an open-forum discussion between themselves, students and other student organizations.
“I think there’s a way for the students who feel upset — once we provide clarity — that they can understand it wasn’t that we didn’t listen to them,” Sánchez said. “What I want to make sure happens is that students are heard. I’m elected to provide entertainment to students on this campus. I want to make sure a change is made so that in the future, there is hip-hop on this campus and students can understand why what has happened has happened. I don’t want this to be sugar-coated. Students need honest answers, you have to provide honest answers to them. Students are the number one priority here. I will make sure that there is a change for students, because it’s an issue that I’m willing to continue fighting about.”
According to a tweet sent out by CAB shortly before 4:30 p.m. Friday, the open-forum meeting is scheduled for 7 p.m. Thursday, Mar. 22, at an undetermined location. The Bernhard Center and Sangren Hall are two locations being considered. Representatives of administration and student organizations will be in attendance, and all students are encouraged to attend.