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Chains Harris replaced by gHarmony


Chains Graphic copy
Emma Friedlander, Arts Editor

For the past ten years, Grinnellians have celebrated Valentine’s Day with Chains Harris, an all-campus event that receives anonymous email submissions for pairs of students to be chained together at the Saturday night dance. The tradition ignited controversy in recent years because of its potential to trigger sexual assault and be used as a tool for bullying.

On Feb. 3, 2016 the Student Government Association announced via email that Chains would no longer be held and would be replaced by gHarmony Harris, an event that would allow students to match themselves by submitting lists of ten students with whom they would like to be paired. The cancellation was announced two days after the Chains host had already began accepting email submissions for pairings, eliciting surprise and a mix of positive and negative responses.

“People on SGA Cabinet came forward after the Chains email went out about how this is a problematic event,” said Nicole Albrecht ’16, who chairs All-Campus Events with Nelson Ogbuago ’16. “This person had a friend who had been chained to their sexual assault perpetrator. That one concrete example really pushed us to make the change.”

According to Albrecht and Ogbuago, the decision to end Chains came too close to the date of the Valentine’s Day dance to incorporate campus wide student input. Instead, the decision was made primarily by SGA cabinet members. 

“Obviously we didn’t consult the entire student body on this issue—we would have if we’d had more time,” Albrecht said. “We’re planning on doing so in the future. We want to hold a forum…where students can discuss their feelings about controversial events on campus.”

Besides criticisms of the swiftness of the change, the switch from Chains to gHarmony has also faced backlash because of its alleged

elimination of self-governance.

“By no means are we in the business of taking self-gov away from the students,” Ogbuago said. “But as a community, we really have to look at the programs we’re putting on. The theme of Chains itself, and the environment it created, led to negativity for a nontrivial number of students. This isn’t supposed to be some tyrannical SGA invasion of self-gov. A group of students saw a problem and used the resources we had to solve that problem. That’s what it means to be self-gov.”

Willa Collins ’16 is less angered by SGA’S decision to remove Chains than she is disappointed that it had to happen.

“I really want to believe in self-governance,” Collins said. “But this shows that discourse and communication just aren’t enough. You can talk about consent until you’re blue in the face but it still isn’t going to change people’s actions.”

Nonetheless, Collins does take issue with the way SGA went about making the change. She explained that SGA could have potentially taken steps to reform Chains instead of cancelling it. For instance, Chains could incorporate more preventive measures against bullies, such as the students’ ability to list more than one student to whom they would not want to be chained. Moreover, she concurs that there should have been more student discourse. 

“I would have been interested to see how students could have crowd-sourced the idea of making Chains more impermeable to bullying,” Collins said.

The new gHarmony process has some potential issues itself. The three hosts of gHarmony Harris, who requested to be kept anonymous prior to the Saturday event, admit that they foresee some problems with the new matching system they devised.

“Participation is the major problem,” said one of the hosts. “Moreover, a lot of people don’t feel comfortable sending a list of ten people to a random email address when they don’t know who’s behind it. There’s room for abuse by the people in charge.”

The hosts confided that they have received relatively few submissions, only ten percent of which have matches. However, participation numbers seem to be the least of the hosts’ concerns. Instead, they take issue with SGA’s failure to confer sexual violence prevention groups on campus.

“Leaders of various student groups that deal with sexual violence have not been reached out to at all,” said an anonymous host. “This, and other controversial campus events like Red Light Green Light and Loose Ready, were all canceled without talking to any of the student groups that spend week to week training on advocacy.”

Despite these critiques, many students do applaud the change’s underlying goal of promoting consent and preventing bullying.

“I do admire the desire to root this kind of fun social event in informed consent,” Collins said. “And I will say that gHarmony is the best name they could have chosen.”

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