Pomona’s Yule Ball Turns Into Yule Brawl

Bystander video from inside Frary Dining Hall captures an altercation between campus security and students attempting to enter the party. Courtesy Emma Li.

Pomona College’s annual Yule Ball party turned violent last December when physical conflict erupted between students trying to enter Frary Dining Hall and Campus Safety officers blocking the entrance to keep the event from going over capacity.

According to Virginia Pascal PO ’21, who was close to Frary’s entrance when the brawl took place, the incident was triggered by a group of line cutters.

“A bunch of seemingly drunk … guys saw this happening and decided they would join too, so they stumbled up the stairs breaking even more glasses,” Pascal said. “When they were at the top by the entrance of Frary that was already very crowded, they [started] pushing people in so that they could get through the door. When the people at the bottom of the stairs saw this, they thought they were going to be let in, so even more people stormed the front level of Frary.”

The situation quickly grew dangerous, she said.

“The entire time I couldn’t even move my body because people were squished so close to me,” Pascal said.

During the scuffle, which bystanders captured on video, students took down a decorative wooden archway at the entry and tried to use it to push past Campus Safety officers. Others shattered glass decorations on the Frary steps.

According to a statement by the Pomona Events Committee, which held Yule Ball, Campus Safety officers feared for their safety as the incident became violent. Officers were unable to block the crowds with their bodies, but the staff at the Yule Ball eventually managed to close the Frary doors.

“I first heard a loud noise and we looked outside; we were nervous and confused because we weren’t quite sure what was happening,” Kristine Chang PO ’21 said. “We saw the archway was being carried away by the crowd. Then the door was shut and we were told that no one was allowed to go inside.”

Emma Li PO ’21 also witnessed and filmed the incident from inside Frary.

“Two of my friends were stuck in the front and the crowd pushed them through security,” she said. “I wanted to show people who couldn’t see how crazy it got.”

To prevent injuries, organizers shut down the event, and had Frary cleared before midnight. No injuries were reported during the incident, Director of Campus Safety Stan Skipworth said.

“When crowd safety became an issue due to people rushing and pushing against the door, Pomona College officials decided to clear the event,” Skipworth wrote in an email to TSL.

Some students who attended Yule Ball, or hoped to attend, were disappointed with the outcome.

“I was quite annoyed …  especially because we [had] only been inside for 30 minutes and had waited for such a long time outside,” Sei-kashe M’pfunya PO ’21 said.

However, M’pfunya said she believes Campus Safety acted properly. “[They] did what they should have done and ensured our safety,” she said.

In its statement, PEC criticized students’ behavior.

“We’re disappointed at the level of entitlement that was on display within our 5C community last night, and upset that individuals would turn to violence that ended up reflecting poorly on all of us,” the statement posted on Facebook read. “Events like Yule Ball should be spaces that represent us at our best and allow for a night of respite from all the stress on our campuses and in our country, and it’s concerning that the actions of a few took that away from the rest of us.”

The incident was partly caused by a miscommunication between Campus Safety and the organizers about the maximum number of people they could allow inside, said ASPC Vice President Andy Pelos, who helped organize the event. Without the miscommunication, Pelos said, Campus Safety could have allowed 100 more students inside.

“We were actually in the process of communicating with Campus Safety. If we [had had] five more minutes, the event [wouldn’t have had] to be shut down,” Pelos said.

The day before the event, student organizers and Campus Safety staff met to discuss the number of Campus Safety officers needed for Yule Ball and finally agreed on using six officers, Pelos said. Taking into account the fact that Yule Ball was open to all 5Cs, ASPC requested security based on a plan called “Pomona Plus Guests.”

However, according to Pelos, an “unprecedented number of students” attended, perhaps because “Yule Ball was held at the end of the semester when everyone wants to relax.”

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