Alex Belov/Contributing Photographer

As the sun dipped behind Kaldi’s Coffee at The Depot, dim street lamps and colorful fairy lights illuminated the vast First-Year Quadrangle at Emory University. While the circular field is traditionally host to first-years sunbathing, boys playing intense Spikeball matches and students studying in the open air, the space was transformed into something quite different on April 19. For the first time ever, students from across Emory gathered on this field for the 17th bi-annual Symposium.

Symposium is a music, poetry and art showcase for students, by students. The event is organized and hosted by The Pulse,  a student-driven arts organization whose mission is to “[promote] creatives on campus and [keep] the arts at Emory alive.”  

According to Symposium Chair Alex Belov (25C), The Pulse has been hosting this semesterly celebration of the arts in the Alpha Tau Omega (ATO) residence backlot for nine years. The venue forced a convergence of communities that would not otherwise come together –  artists, poets and fraternity brothers. 

“I think it’s beautiful … this coming together of very different realms at Emory,” said Belov. 

For Raegan Allen (23C), organizations like The Pulse and events like Symposium were integral parts of her college experience. After serving as the co-editor for The Pulse’s blog, Allen felt immense love and admiration for the work of student arts organizations. One of her favorite memories with The Pulse was the first Symposium after students returned from COVID-19.

“The arts at Emory, specifically on a campus that is very STEM and business heavy, have such power,” she said. “I saw so many people literally crying when people were singing or reading poetry.”

Allen also noted the unusual impact of hosting an arts event in a fraternity parking lot. When hosted at ATO, the event combines chaos, catharsis and community. At what other venue are members of a Greek Life organization poking out of their bedroom windows to listen to their peers read poetry? 

“Whenever you see how many people come out, and when you see frat guys watching a freshman shakily read a poem at the mic, that’s such a beautiful thing.” she said. 

Two years later, the ATO parking lot is vacant, but the sounds of Symposium linger in the air. 

Belov received a text from Coordinator of Sorority and Fraternity Life Patrick Wright at 3:05 p.m. on Wednesday, April 17 – two days before The Pulse planned for Symposium to take place in the ATO backlot. The event had been listed and approved on the Hub by Maggie Beker, The Pulse faculty advisor, weeks prior. Belov learned from Wright that the event must be moved from the ATO lot. 

According to Belov, Wright explained that the demand for the venue change was a result of a new policy from Transportation & Parking Services. This policy asserts that parking lots are unable to serve as event spaces. Belov said that he and The Pulse Co-President Sophie Reiss (25C) went to the Office of Sorority and Fraternity Life (OSFL) on Thursday morning in an attempt to keep their space. For every solution the duo suggested, OSFL rebutted, according to Belov.

“[This is] a very easy example of Emory stopping tradition and culture for no reason,” said Belov. 

In an email to The Emory Wheel, Executive Director of Communications and Strategic Initiatives Sara Tanner explained the administrative reasoning behind the location change. 

“The Office of Sorority and Fraternity Life partners with offices across campus to promote safety at registered chapter events and minimize any impact to our larger campus community,” Tanner wrote. “Given the size and scope of this event, the event was relocated.” 

Soon after, The Pulse staff took to Instagram to announce the venue change. On a graphic mimicking a no signal television sign, the group rebelled. “THEY CAN’T KILL US: PROTECT THE ARTS AT SYMPOSIUM XVII!” the flier read. The event was officially moved to the First-Year Quad. 

Evan Covey (24B) has performed with a band called “Groove” at every Symposium since his sophomore year in 2022. This year, he played the guitar with a group of friends and other musicians. 

“Obviously there’s a tradition of performing outside ATO, and I know a lot of people are disappointed that it’s not happening there,” Covey said. “But, what is it they say? ‘The show must go on.’” 

After 48 hours of chaos, the first act took the stage at Symposium XVII. At 8:30 p.m., the thin crowd gradually grew. Groups of friends sat together on rugs in front of the stage, others staked their claim on little white folding chairs in the center of the field and many more socialized in the back. 

The Quad was alive. Tapestries from past Symposiums hung around the borders of the field, creating the effect of a closed space. Students dressed in leather, lace, flowing skirts, biker shorts, fishnet stockings and fraternity T-shirts all watched the sets with interest. 

For a while, the Quad was tame, the crowd was tired and the Symposium staff were anxious about the energy of the night. Belov came on stage multiple times and encouraged students to move to the front. 

Alex Minovici/Contributing Photographer

After a brief intermission and a few miscellaneous acts, “Vacation Chairs” took the stage and everything changed. The student band spearheaded by Kelly Fox (24C) sang a cover of “Murder on the Dancefloor” (2002) by Sophie Ellis-Bextor that resulted in the night’s first round of dancing. People in the front shot up, grabbed their friends and pulled them towards the stage. As the attendees swayed, holding onto strangers with sweat beads forming on foreheads, the essence of Symposium finally emerged. 

This intensity carried the crowd through the second set and into the final few acts. In true Symposium fashion, the small stage became home to intense metal band “Trash Compactor.”

Lead singer Eric Steinberg (23Ox, 25C) took to the mic during this set to address OSFL and the location change. 

“They said we couldn’t do it,” Steinberg yelled. “Look at what we’ve accomplished just today.”

As the night wound down, only a handful of students remained for the final act,  “Sunroom Mafia.” Despite the limited crowd, the Quad still echoed with energy. In the final track of the night, “Party in the USA” (2009) by Miley Cyrus, the students danced, laughed, hugged and threw their hands to the moonlit sky. 

Despite the success of the night, Belov still aches for The Pulse’s return to the ATO backlot venue. 

“I’m really happy with what happened,” Belov said. “I think it was really beautiful. I felt this community, but it wasn’t the same.”

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Catherine Goodman is from Savannah, GA. She is majoring in English and Art History. Outside of the wheel, Goodman is the President of Women’s Club Basketball and a member of Kappa Kappa Gamma. She loves listening to music, attending concerts, reformer pilates and reality TV!