Yesterday on the Diag, students bounced off the walls of an inflatable moonwalk, people in bright blue shirts gave away free sandwiches and coffee and an a capella group serenaded passersby.
Off to the side, away from all the commotion, two students stood behind a folding table, almost completely overlooked.
“Free condoms!” they called as only a few people stopped to listen.
The two students, from the Office of Lesbian Gay Bisexual and Transgender Affairs, were trying to promote safer sex. They weren’t happy to see Diag traffic diverted by the much flashier Cancer Awareness Week kickoff, hosted by University Students Against Cancer.
“It’s definitely hurting us,” said LSA senior Jenny Gutsue, who was working at the table as part of the office’s Pride Week.
The problem Gutsue faced – competing for students’ attention on a crowded Diag – is one of a few obstacles student organizations deal with when they try to get their message out on the University’s central square.
Another concern for many organizations is cost. The price of holding events on the Diag can be steep.
Gutsue said her organization would love to hold more attention-grabbing events, but that they simply didn’t have the resources.
Diag Administrator Jaden Felix, who reviews every application to hold events on the Diag, said it costs nothing for groups to use the space. But he acknowledged that the costs that normally accompany such events can add up quickly.
Upon receiving an application, Felix estimates how much additional items and services like a podium, electricity and amplification will cost. After he makes sure that the group applying can pay, Felix files a work order with the University’s Plant Operations Division.
Seemingly minor items sometimes come with major price tags. Renting a single trash can costs $80 because groups have to pay for a vehicle to transport the receptacle to and from the Diag.
Playing music at an event is even more costly. Felix estimated that an hour of amplified music would cost groups more than $300. He said that electricity for things like USAC’s inflatable moonwalk runs about $60 an hour, or $360 for its six-hour long event.
Felix said the prices cover not only the equipment rental, but also the cost of labor from the University’s Plant Operations Division, whose employees set up, monitor, and take down the equipment.
The average event hosted by a student group costs $333, he said.
LSA senior Lexi Mitter, who helped organize the Cancer Awareness Week’s Diag Day, said donations of supplies, fundraising and funding from the Michigan Student Assembly made holding the event affordable. However, she said that they would rather the hundreds of dollars they pay the University go to charity.
Gutsue said scheduling was a problem because when they register with SAL, groups aren’t told if any other groups are organizing events for that same day. Gutsue said that when she inquired about other activity on the Diag that day, Felix wouldn’t tell them.
When asked why, Felix cited privacy issues.
“We don’t reveal any student organization information,” he said.
To help prevent one event from overshadowing another, the University does promote a “shared space protocol,” which asks event organizers to be considerate of other groups on the Diag, Felix said.
According to LSA senior Stephanie Somerman, the co-president of the Roosevelt Institution the University’s policies usually work well. She said her organization tries to use the Diag “as much as humanly possible.” But while most of their events have gone smoothly, they have encountered occasional difficulties sharing space.
Once when they were gathering signatures for a petition, she said that members of the notoriously loud pro-affirmative action group By Any Means Necessary were holding a protest at the same time
“It was the worst thing ever,” she said. “It’s really hard to get petitions signed when people are running around yelling.”
Though Gutsue and other group members had planned yesterday’s information table as a one-time event, she said they would schedule another Diag event because of the disruption caused by USAC’s event.
“We think that if we do it again, we’ll be able to reach more students,” she said.
If they’re lucky, they won’t have a moonwalk in their way.