OzFest: tragic beginning of annual event

Traditionally, the last Friday of classes at Oswego State has been a time of celebration. It is a day when students can choose between two events to mark the end of another year. One of the events, OzFest, the school-sponsored day of campus-wide celebration with a Student Association-sponsored concert in the evening, is a relatively recent addition. 

The other is Bridge Street Run, shortened to BSR. It is a pub-crawl down the main street of Oswego that has been around for decades. OzFest began four years ago, in the spring of 2015, as a response to a tragedy during BSR. 

Three Oswego State students overdosed on heroin on May 10, 2014, during the end-of-year-celebrations, according to reporting done by The Oswegonian at the time. One student, who was found on campus, died, while two students who were in a house on Bridge Street at the time were sent to the emergency room but ultimately survived. 

At the time, the college released an emergency alert that warned people, “Danger: Oswego heroin may be lethal. One person dead; two hospitalized. Please beware.”

These overdoses hit the Oswego State community especially hard, as they came just two weeks after another student had overdosed in his off-campus home. 

Two men, Brian Tumolo and Gabriel Gonzalez, were arrested in connection to the heroin the students had taken. 

Also that night, two people were injured by a trolley that was driving students to the bars, and the community overall was angered. That year had been especially rowdy, and city property was damaged as students flocked between different bars downtown as early as 4 p.m.

The Common Council for the City of Oswego voted to bill the school for the police overtime costs, the fire department costs from responding to health-related calls that night, as well as the repair costs incurred by the Department of Public Works, and later banned BSR for 2015. 

When students returned to Oswego State in the fall of 2014, many of them remembered the events of the previous year. President Deborah Stanley spoke to the Student Association that year, and Jerri Howland, vice president of student affairs and enrollment affairs for Oswego State, remembers what she said. 

“When I started in the fall, the president came to speak to SA in October. She talked about how it was time for the campus to pledge to redouble their efforts to discourage excessive intoxication and overindulgence in alcohol,” Howland said.

Former SA president Tucker Sholtes began talking to the administration about sponsoring an event on campus that would give students an option besides BSR. Howland said he described the event as an “attractive, alternative celebration on campus.”

Howland said the event was never expected to stop BSR totally, but that the hope was an alternative option would be attractive to a large number of students. It turns out they were correct. 

The first annual OzFest was put on with the collaboration of multiple campus offices and groups. Auxiliary Services had been holding an annual event called May Day, where they would put up food stations for free around campus. They offered to move that to the day of OzFest, to make it a part of the event itself. 

Howland said Resident Life and Housing came to offer to roll in their own event, called Casa-Palooza, into OzFest as well. The Resident Life program involved games and inflatables. The Student Affairs office offered funding for the event as well, in line with their usual donations to student events at the end of the semester. 

Finally, SA proposed to fund the biggest part of OzFest: the concert. Howland said Sholtes and SA offered $150,000 from the SA reserves to sponsor a concert with a “big name artist,” to be held alongside the combined May Day and Casa-Palooza events.

According to the original SA resolution, from the third Senate meeting of the year on Sept. 30, 2014, SA actually entered a spending deficit of $150,000 to sponsor the concert but proposed that all ticket sale income would go toward a Certificate of Deposit to accrue interest and fund another event the following year. 

Howland said that this, unfortunately, never happened. 

The event, however, was a huge success. The Marano Campus Center Ice Arena filled with students as Time Flies, B.o.B., Mac Miller and Big Sean performed a concert that began at about 7 p.m. Photos taken by The Oswegonian’s photographers at the time show many students still wearing the traditional white shirts for BSR, with signatures in sharpie all over them. 

Things at Oswego State have changed. Almost all of the students who were present in the spring of 2014 graduated in the spring of 2017 or earlier, and many faculty members have moved positions or left since then. Howland said even the book of resolutions passed by SA for that year is missing now. 

Howland said this coming year, the Student Association Planning Board, the entity that funds and organizes all of the SA-sponsored events, is facing a budget cut. 

“The senators in SA were considering cutting the funding for the concert,” Howland said. 

Howland said SAPB is being faced with a budget that will force them to decide between hosting SA-sponsored events throughout the year or hosting the concert, but they will not be able to afford both. This comes as SA attempts to grapple with years of overspending by reducing their spending, cutting club budgets and reducing financial commitments in an attempt to balance the books.

Whichever route Student Association takes, Howland said she would caution them to evaluate the things they are cutting when they reduce costs. 

“Sometimes, when you’re making a decision to reduce spending, some aspects of what you provide shouldn’t be cut if they have a high value, and I think that sometimes decisions aren’t made with value in mind,” Howland said. 

Correction: The Oswegonian previously reported that the students injured by the trolley were drunk, and that the trolley was owned by the current “D-Bus,” operators. There is no indication that the students were drunk, and the trolley was then operated by a company that is no longer in Oswego.

The Oswegonian file photo

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