Catch up with University Union before its biggest event of the semester
Ally Moreo | Photo Editor
Caitlin Russell turned to her friend and co-worker Chrysann Panos, imagining out loud how incredible it would have been to be at the 2010 Block Party headlined by Drake, who just dropped his album “More Life,” which has practically stopped hip hop and rap fans in their tracks since its March 18 release.
That would have been sick.
Russell and Panos both work for University Union, the student group that has been bringing the day’s latest entertainment to Syracuse University since 1962. Though it wasn’t made the official programming board of the university until 2011, UU is and was responsible for bringing pop culture icons like Drake to campus.
“This is like our four-year long internship,” Chyrsann Panos, a senior public relations major and vice president of UU said.
With YouTuber Issa Rae speaking at campus Friday, UU board of directors elections coming up on April 2 and Mayfest and Block Party on the horizon, April is perhaps the organization’s busiest month. Russell, a senior in the Bandier program and UU’s director of public relations, sometimes forgets that school goes on after Mayfest and Block Party.
There are several levels of involvement. Panos and Russell are on the board of directors, meaning they are in charge of UU’s vital operations. There are eight departments headed by a director, each with its own executive board.
“I think sometimes students think we’re run by the school, but we’re all student-run,” Panos said.
Elections are this Sunday. Though board members typically get there by climbing the ladder from general member to executive board staffer to the board of directors, students sometimes make it on without any prior experience. Once everyone is elected, the board of directors has a retreat where they hash out individual and organization-wide goals for six hours.
“It’s always on a Friday morning,” Will Woods, senior marketing and finance dual major and UU marketing director, groaned.
Last year, UU wanted to revitalize and revamp its programming. And with Mayfest coming up, Panos and Russell are proud of what they accomplished this year.
Their highlight reel is predictable, as they cited Juice Jam, “Get Out,” The 1975 and the collaborative University Lectures Brandon Stanton event and their favorite events of the semester. But all these events symbolized UU’s greater goal.
“We want to make sure everyone’s happy,” Panos said.
But just a few months ago, no one was happy when Fetty Wap failed to deliver his headlining set at Juice Jam due to travel problems. University Union wrote a letter to the students apologizing to and thoroughly explaining the time planning and logistical issues they ran into the day of the event.
Erin Singleton, senior Bandier major and UU’s concerts director, emphasized that the situation was disappointing for UU too, which typically spends five months planning and booking its big concerts: Juice Jam and Block Party. Fetty Wap had repeatedly showed up on the University Union Student Survey where one-third of the student body is invited to share which acts they’d like to see come to campus.
“We just knew we needed to get back on our feet and do right by the students,” she said. “You can’t sit back and cry ‘woe is me.’”
That’s why UU decided to make sure profits from Juice Jam went back towards improving the student experience, i.e., making Block Party better.
While Juice Jam was disappointing, Rock the Dome was a big success and one of Singleton’s favorite events of the semester.
Rock the Dome was a Fall 2012 Carrier Dome concert. Ludacris and Rick Ross played, but the event failed to cement itself as an annual student life staple due to scheduling conflicts. One of UU’s goals this semester was to bring more rock artists to campus, as UU typically brings electronic dance music and rap to campus, genres that consistently dominate the UU Student Survey.
Playing off the “rock” in “Rock the Dome,” Singleton explained how they played off the name of the event when choosing who to bring. The 1975 was their ideal artist for the event — the Manchester, United Kingdom group had also been popular on the student survey, appealing to a wide range of music tastes. It just so happened that The 1975 would be passing right through Syracuse on its tour.
“They were the first artist we went after, and it worked out,” Singleton said, noting that artists they originally plan on bringing rarely end up actually playing.
“It’s a delicate balance of who’s available and who’s in our price range,” she said.
The best part of the whole concert, though, wasn’t seeing The 1975’s elaborate stage set up or hearing the hit “Chocolate” as the encore.
“It’s seeing the crowd interact with the artist,” Singleton said. Seeing the smiles on their faces.
Audience interaction was a big success with UU’s advanced screening of “Get Out,” now a hugely successful film that made $30.5 million opening weekend – it had a budget of $4.5 million. The horror films are usually popular, and Russell and Panos said they love watching people laugh after being scared by the movies’ jump scares. They love the palpable, buzzing energy in the room.
The “Ouija: Origin of Evil” advanced screening drew the same size crows as the “Get Out” screening, but Russell and Panos said it was cool to see “Get Out” actually go on to become successful in the real-life industry. Anticipation is key, and it all pays off in the end.
“We’ve been getting everyone a year before they break,” Woods said, citing the Red Hot Chili Peppers who played Mayfest in 1988.
Drake, who headlined Block Party in 2010 armed with the hit “Best I Ever Had,” went on that summer to collaborate with Kanye West, Jay-Z, Lil Wayne and Kings of Leon on his album “Thank Me Later,” cementing himself as a hip-hop heavy-hitter.
None of these successful events would even exist without hard work. Between classes, UU board of directors members stop in their office space in the Office of Student Activities in Schine Student Center. Inside, they have about a dozen desks. It’s just an office, but the defining feature of their think tank is the framed posters on the wall. A previous UU president compiled all the past posters from UU events and hung them up, a visual representation of what they have accomplished.
And there are some big names there too — the Chili Peppers and Drake are just two.
Panos remembers hanging out in the office once when a UU alumnus came in. He pointed at the Kanye West poster on the wall and said, “Oh, I helped bring him here.”
After graduation, Panos, Russell, Singleton and Woods will be those alumni, another generation of students who worked to keep their friends and peers entertained.
Published on March 27, 2017 at 10:03 pm