Preparations for Charity Week are once again underway at the University of Dallas. A familiar list of charitable events are scheduled to commence Monday, Oct. 19, and last all week until Saturday, Oct. 24, but with several key changes.
Juniors Faith Starnes and Damien Walz are the co-chairs tasked with organizing this year’s Charity Week. Amidst both heightened levels of social distancing and precautions due to COVID-19, they have had to adapt some of the traditions familiar to the UD community.
Starnes highlighted the fact that this year’s events take place during an unprecedented time in school history.
“Although we would all prefer everything to be back to ‘normal’ and to participate in Charity Week like we always have, we must keep the universities’ [sic] safety at the utmost importance, which is why we have to take these extra steps,” Starnes said in a written response.
Overarching changes include incorporating COVID-19 protocols into the plans for all events, especially making sure that each event maintains social distancing and mask-wearing. More specifically, several events had to be canceled. However, for every event canceled, Starnes and Walz have worked extra hard to replace them with equally fun and interactive events.
The popular Powderpuff game, which usually draws large crowds of students, is being replaced with Bubble Soccer, scheduled after the 5K on the morning of Saturday.
The traditional “Tuck-ins,” in which themed groups of students are paid to dramatically tuck someone into bed, have been renamed “Tacky Room Service”, where a Chick-Fil-A sandwich and a bag of goodies can be delivered to someone’s door as a surprise.
“Although this can’t replace the entertaining and beloved ‘Tuck-ins’ that happen every year, we were hoping to still keep the idea of surprising someone at their room, just in a new way” Starnes said.
Another new event will be the Scavenger Hunt on Monday night, which can be conducted with social distancing.
However, COVID-19 wasn’t the only catalyst for change in the Charity Week dynamic. Certain aspects of several of the events have been altered due to criticism of insensitivity.
“KAOS” (Killing As Organized Sport), the popular schoolwide tournament-style hitman game involving water guns, has been renamed “CHAOS” in an effort to cut out insensitive and violent language. The Male Auction has been renamed “The Charity Week Auction” due to criticism that it excluded women and gave off an image of objectification. Now, both men and women can audition. Starnes said that these changes come with a “greater purpose in mind” of communal charity and unity.
Paul Safranek, ‘23, a philosophy major and an ardent fan of Charity Week, commented on the potential insensitivity of some events.
“I don’t necessarily think it’s insensitive myself, but we have to understand that our community includes more than just those who don’t see any problem with [these events],” Safranek said. “When we can, we should be taking care not to be unnecessarily brash or offensive.”
John Paul Hasson, 21’, spiritual chair of the Society of St. Joseph (SSJ) , the Catholic fraternity on campus dedicated to emulating the works and lifestyle of St. Joseph, commented on the effects of such changes.
“The decision to censor the word ‘killing’ appears excessive and unnecessary,” said Hasson. “I don’t think anyone in good faith would see a water gun fight as an endorsement of real violence, legitimate or otherwise. The end result is that charity week volunteers have to jump through unnecessary hoops to avoid the word “killing” and we also lost an awesome title (KAOS) for the event.”
Another area that received criticism was the Charity Week Jail, traditionally built and sponsored by SSJ. In previous years, students could pay $1 or above to jail a friend or teacher. The jailed person would have to match the donation to be released, or else spend one hour for every dollar with which they were jailed.
While the “jail” itself will be changed to be an open-air holding area, this long-standing tradition has been one of the most memorable aspects of Charity Week. SSJ President Charles Ramsay, ‘21, said that the new format of the jail that came about was in accordance with COVID rules.
“Rather than students being caught by jailers and walked back to an almost inescapable jail, we will have to rely on people’s willingness to play along with this tradition, standing in the jail area until they pay for their release or are allowed to leave” said Ramsay.
Thomas DiBella, ‘23, a psychology major, noted that last year, he immediately noticed how central the jail was to the unifying dynamic of Charity Week.
“I first helped out with the building of the jail [when I was a freshman], and the first thing I noticed was how unifying the event was. The SSJ brothers came closer together, and it was a really cool bonding experience” he said. However, he added that for people who didn’t know enough about the event, it could definitely “come off as strange and a bit juvenile, from the outside”.
The insensitive nature of throwing people in “jail” to raise money for charity holds less value than health concerns surrounding COVID, according to Ramsay.
“I understand and recognize the good in changing traditions to avoid offending groups of people or out of general moral principle” said Ramsay, but “part of the beauty of the University of Dallas is that it’s full of fun, long-practiced traditions.”
“A good number of the SSJ guys were able to put their creativity and skill to work this year to create a COVID-friendly alternative to the traditional jail design” added Ramsay. “This design will help us keep this tradition alive, even through COVID, but will be very different from years past.”
As co-chairs, Starnes and Walz eagerly anticipate the week that they have worked so hard to plan.
“Damien and I are super excited because we, along with the entire Junior Class, are able to host this event [that is], what I would say, the first real UD tradition the freshmen and transfers will see this year,” said Starnes.
As in years past, the whole aim of Charity Week is to raise money for charities. This year’s Charity Week proceeds will be donated to two choice organizations, the Corpus Christi Hope House and St. Jude’s Ranch for Children.
Both organizations were chosen for their commitment to Catholic Social Teaching as well as their orientation towards children, which directly led to the selection of this year’s theme: Dr. Seuss.
Charity Week kicks off at 10 a.m. on Monday, Oct. 19.