A year after the COVID-19 pandemic led to its cancellation, Prez Ball — the annual dance hosted by College Union — will take place on Monday, Feb. 21 at the Old Post Office in Chicago. Students will have to show either proof of vaccination or a negative COVID test in order to attend.
While past Prez Balls have traditionally been held in Chicago— including the 2020 Prez Ball at the Field Museum— finding the right downtown location proved to be more of a challenge this year.
Chicago’s current COVID-19 regulations require proof of vaccination to dine indoors, visit the gym or enjoy entertainment venues where food and drink is consumed. However, according to the college’s COVID-19 dashboard, about 19% of students are unvaccinated and would be unable to attend an event in Chicago that offered food and drink.
When Chicago’s vaccine mandate went into effect on Jan. 3, the original venue that College Union had booked — the Museum of Science and Industry — was no longer an option. The Museum has a restaurant on the second floor, which means the entire building is considered an eating space that is only open to fully vaccinated visitors.
“That was the main reason we had to back out of that venue,” said Dee Anna Bricker, a sophomore psychology major and one of CU’s Prez Ball event coordinators. “We could either go to a smaller venue , or only vaccinated students could go.”
Bricker expressed College Union’s determination to provide a Prez Ball experience in which all students could participate.
“We really wanted to make it as inclusive as possible,” said Bricker. “We found that it was okay for unvaccinated adults to come as long as we don’t serve food.”
Once CU decided against the Museum of Science and Industry, they considered alternative venues like the Adler Planetarium, the Old Post Office and Union Station. After several virtual meetings over Christmas break, the CU event coordinators settled on the Old Post Office since it could host thousands of students and lacked an in-house restaurant. The venue, an art-deco building built in the 1920s, is located right next to the Chicago River in the heart of downtown.
Bricker said the coordinators prioritized choosing a venue that has space for activities beyond just dancing.
“For people who might not be super comfortable in crowds or don’t love dancing, the Old Post Office has bocce ball and pool on the second floor,” said Bricker. “We’re also bringing in laser tag, and there are tons of couches in places to sit down and talk. It brings the larger range of options that we were looking for.”
Because of the city’s vaccine mandate, there will not be food available at this year’s event, a fact that caused College Union to reduce this year’s ticket prices by $10.
Sophomore political science major Jacob Fopma is planning to attend Prez Ball and expressed relief that College Union was able to find a suitable location.
“I was just surprised they’re able to find a location so fast, especially in Chicago considering their current COVID policies,” said Fopma.
Adi Lopez, a sophomore communication major and another Prez Ball coordinator on CU, emphasized the challenge of trying to find a venue that met their needs. “We were just so stressed and didn’t really know what to do,” Lopez said. “But everything just started falling into place a little bit, which was definitely the Lord working.”
Student Health Services (SHS) is working to ensure all attendees are either fully vaccinated or have a negative COVID test result taken within 72 hours of attendance.
Unvaccinated students who usually test weekly on Thursdays will instead test on Friday, Feb. 18, which fits into the 72-hour window for Prez Ball. According to the CU email, SHS will check the list of attendees with their system and flag anyone who does not meet the negative test or vaccination requirement.
Despite the efforts of CU to accommodate all students for Prez Ball, some students decided against attending.
Noah Doolan, a freshman archeology and French double major, decided not to attend the dance and expressed frustration that the venue will not serve food.
“I’ve just never really been a fan of this sort of thing in general, so I thought I could probably find something better to do,” he said. “Also, there’s no food. I like food.”
The first Prez Ball was held in 2012, nine years after the College removed its ban on dancing. For all of Wheaton’s freshmen and sophomores, this will be their first-ever Prez Ball hosted in Chicago. The dance in February 2021 was canceled due to COVID-19 restrictions, prompting College Union to host an alternative event titled “Mask-querade.” It was held in the Beamer Center on campus, with masking and social distancing requirements that were not strictly enforced.
This year, CU members were determined to host a true Prez Ball experience in the city despite continuing COVID-19 regulations.
“With the Mask-querade, Wheaton wanted to give the students something despite the COVID challenges,” said Lopez. “It was not easy and took a lot of work. Today, we are still dealing with COVID, and we have had to tackle COVID challenges as well, but they look a lot different.”
Senior psychology major Emily Stier is grateful to have a Prez Ball in Chicago that is closer to normal.
“Although there won’t be food, I am so excited that it will be at a venue again instead of in Lower Beamer,” said Stier. “I am really thankful that it is happening despite COVID.”
Lopez expressed excitement that CU is able to bring back Prez Ball this year for all students in a COVID-safe way.
“Our vision and our goal are always just to cater to students here and to just give them an experience but also make sure that we uphold inclusive spaces,” said Lopez. “We just want to make sure that everyone not only has fun but feels safe too.”