Editors' note: The Spectrum spoke on-the-record to a number of students who later requested anonymity due to the sensitive nature of the sexual assault allegations contained within. The Spectrum doesn't usually grant anonymity to sources unless they "may face danger, retribution or other harm," as enumerated in the SPJ Code of Ethics, but has made the decision to do so here in order to protect these people's identities.
The Academic Spine bustled with colors and costumes over the weekend as the UB community came together for UBCon XXXI — the first in-person fandom convention on campus since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic.
From Jack Sparrow to steampunk shields, anime openings to hard rock, event participants flooded the Student Union as UBMusicians took to the stage after two months of practice, setting the tone for the events that followed.
Vendors, maid cafés and Nerf wars were all on the schedule for the popular convention.
A hentai showing scandal was not.
UBCon XXXI began its three-day run on Friday, April 8, the product of months of planning by UB SARPA, supporting volunteers and organizations. The convention, which stretched from Clemens to Baldy Hall, included a myriad of creative panels and interactive discussions.
Organizing this multi-day extravaganza was not an easy feat, especially with e-boards teeming with officers who had either never attended the convention in pre-pandemic times or never organized such a large-scale event.
“We didn’t have the same type of experience or training that previous e-boards would get just due to sheer, you know, actually getting to do the normal events,” one UB alum told The Spectrum. “So I have stayed on since usually the role is for at least a year.”
This student wasn’t the only UB grad to lend a helping hand to less experienced members. The president of another organization says many past UB SARPA, Cosplay and Anime e-board members returned to ensure the smooth operation of the in-person convention.
The return to campus for fandom-based clubs was a rewarding experience for recent graduates who saw their final years at UB devoid of in-person events.
“It was funny, a couple minutes ago I went out and looked at the crowd that had all gathered up,” another UB alum and former club vice president, said. “I just kind of had a smile because I’m happy that cons are back and this is one of the things I enjoy doing.”
The alum, who graduated in 2020, was unable to host the con he was set to direct as a result of COVID-19.
Yet, despite the joy alumni found in revisiting UBCon and the relief they provided for still-learning club leaders, those involved in the convention planning process reported that not everyone was on board with enlisting non-UB students for volunteer work.
“Some things with SA [the Student Association] and UB staff [is that they] have been wanting the con to be centered around UB and solely around UB,” the first alum said.
Faced with pressure to limit UBCon to the UB community, the alum congratulated SARPA on ensuring the event continued to be a welcoming place for even non-UB students.
Despite the hiccups in arranging the event, participants said that SARPA put together a weekend of fandom fun that created a safe space for its engagers.
QuintonReviews, a content creator who talked about Nickelodeon’s “Victorious” for 13 consecutive hours on YouTube, hosted an engaging comedy panel for the community. Down the hall, attendees competed for anime-themed stickers in an intense rendition of the marble match from Netflix’s “Squid Game.” As the event progressed, one constant was the bustling vendor market.
Student Union 145 became a colorful marketplace, packed to the gills with stuffed animals, fandom-related merch, board game accessories and more. Upstairs in the Landmark Room, roughly 10 vendors showcased handmade goods ranging from homemade squishmallows to pins and keychains.
Tamela Faulkner, a vendor from the Western New York area, sold steampunk-themed modified nerf guns. Faulkner says vending at UBCon has helped keep their passion alive.
“This is the only con I do as it takes me a while to make these [modded Nerf guns],” they said. “Living in Buffalo, you only have summer five to three months, so I spray paint on the weekends…This is my homeland. So I always come to UBCon.”
Patricia Johnson* says UBCon offered a day of tittering acceptance for her cosplay costume as she went from class to convention.
“It definitely was weird doing it [cosplay] for UB because I had classes before and I was like half cosplaying,” Johnson said. “People definitely looked at me weird with the contacts, but I think my favorite part about it is just going here and knowing that people are going to interact with you and be so positive.”
Johnson wasn’t alone in reveling in this accepting convention atmosphere. Junior chemistry major Brynn Nelson encouraged people to come to UBCon for the camaraderie.
“There’s gonna be someone who recognizes you. There’s gonna be somebody willing to take a picture, who’s gonna wave to you,” they said. “It’s super exciting. I feel like a kid in a candy store.”
The weekend festivities may have been positively received, but UBCon XXXI nonetheless found itself embroiled in controversy.
On Tuesday, a Reddit post by the user u/Comfortable-Dog9390 went viral on UBReddit. The post, which has been upvoted more than 425 times and commented on 180 times, details allegations of misconduct at one of the 18+ panels featured at UBCon.
UBCon organizers hosted three 18+ panels, two of which escaped scandal-free. But “Mystery Theater 3000” came under fire after the organizers allegedly didn’t check people’s IDs and displayed hentai — anime-related pornographic content — on the smartboard.
One event participant, Jordan Greene*, says “it was an hour straight of pornography on the screen in Knox [Hall].”
Greene says the smartboard displayed “dubiously consensual, explicit acts” without a content warning, and that everyone in the room was in on the “joke,” because conventions often showcase hentai for the sake of either “commentary” or “comedy” — due to its bad animation and dubbing quality.
But Greene said event participants weren’t aware it was going to be “dubiously consensual.”
Greene also says the event leader “shushed” people during “exposition” scenes and “yelled” at people to stop recording during the showing. They say they couldn’t believe such an incident could happen at an event where consent was so heavily stressed.
“There were signs everywhere saying ‘cosplay is not consent, don’t take pictures of people without asking first’ and it was, like, really stressed,” Greene said. “It [the lack of content warning] was very out of place, that they wouldn’t do something similar for this event. I think it was just partially due to poor planning and negligence.”
In a statement, SARPA said it “treats all complaints we have received seriously” but hasn’t found reason to believe any illegal activity occurred.
“SARPA has made a positive impact on UB for many years; we have strived to create a supportive community where all UB students can make new friendships,” the statement read. “We treat all complaints received seriously. SARPA has no evidence that any minors have attended the 18+ panel, we have no evidence that any illegal activity has occurred. This 18+ panel has been canceled for all future UBCons. We have reported all evidence to the Student Association and the appropriate people at UB, and will continue to do so if new evidence is reported to us.”
SARPA did not comment in time for publication confirming sexually explicit content was shown at this panel.
The SA also declined to comment.
*These sources have been granted anonymity due to fears of retribution.
Kara Anderson is a senior arts editor and can be reached at email@example.com
Jack Porcari is a senior news/features editor and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org
Jack Porcari is a senior news/features editor at The Spectrum. He is a political science major with a minor in journalism. Aside from writing and editing, he enjoys playing piano, flow arts, reptiles and activism.
Kara Anderson is a senior arts editor at The Spectrum. She is an English and Spanish double major and is pursuing a certificate in creative writing. She enjoys baking chocolate chip cookies, procrastinating with solitaire and binging reality TV on the weekends.