8/10/18 150 Anniversary banners, Elliott

Banners on Elliott Hall of Music celebrate Purdue's 150th anniversary.

After a performer at the Boiler Gold Rush closing ceremony told a girl to touch his leg, one BGR team leader refused to cooperate further with him.

“I said, ‘OK, this is not right,’” said Elicia Winkler, a BGR team leader and student in the College of Health and Human Sciences. “I was planning on leaving with my students and getting them out of there. ... So I was texting on my phone in GroupMe asking if I could leave.”

Winkler was approached as a volunteer for the next trick, but she repeatedly refused.

“I tried to grab the mic away from him but he didn’t let me,” she said. “He then moved on to the student to the left of me in the aisle over and I said, ‘No, she’s not volunteering either.’ ... As a team leader, in that moment, I was like “No, nothing’s happening, I have to take care of the students.’”

Andy Gross is a 50-year-old former professional racquetball player who retired at the age of 26 “to focus on entertainment,” per his website. He was invited to BGR to perform at the closing ceremony of the orientation program, where the sexual nature of his set was met with disgust and condemnation by students.

“Well, all of the BGR teams were in (the Elliott Hall of Music) for the closing ceremonies,” said Matthew Byrn, a freshman in Exploratory Studies, through messages. “They highlighted some things from the week, including (four) speeches regarding Freezone.

“Then they brought on Andy Gross.”

Another freshman, who did not wish to be named because of her discomfort with the situation, that was present at the ceremony stated that the audience grew increasingly uncomfortable with the performance as it went on.

“(At first) it was fine,” the freshman sad. “They showed a tape of him going around with half his body cut off and he pulled a bowling ball out of a piece of paper.”

The student said Gross then asked for a volunteer from the crowd. A BGR supervisor was first picked for the act.

“He brought her up and kept making her step closer to him,” Byrn said. “Then when she was inches away from him he joked about getting an erection, saying, ‘Let me out, let me out!’” in reference to his genitals.

Multiple witness accounts state that Gross then had the supervisor go back-to-back with him and made her place her hand on his leg. Those in the room also stated he made jokes concerning Matt Lauer, a former NBC television news anchor who was fired from the network due to sexual-assault allegations.

“He then purposely failed the card trick and said, ‘Well, at least I got a free feel-up out of it,’” said Jeff Terpstra, a sophomore in the Krannert School of Management and a BGR team leader, via a message exchange.

Following the failed card trick, Winkler looked up from her phone and found Gross standing in the aisle attempting to have her volunteer for the next trick.

“I just gave him a dirty look,” she said.

After continually being refused by Winkler, Gross continued to try and select female volunteers from the crowd. Following Gross’ attempt to select the girl in the aisle over from her, Winkler led her students out the side aisle into the lobby.

“I walked into the girls’ bathroom and I saw girls crying,” she said.

Terpstra also said he became uncomfortable and left the building. When he was leaving, he encountered a group of police officers in the lobby. Terpstra then re-entered Elliot and took his new students out with him.

Some students were confused, according to Winkler, or had no idea what was going on. Others were uncomfortable but didn’t leave.

All BGR participants who left the closing ceremony were not allowed to leave Elliott and instead filled the lower lobby.

Winkler wanted the show to stop, but BGR personnel told her to be respectful and that “it would be handled.”

“In my opinion, it wasn’t handled at all,” Winkler said.

According to an email sent to team leaders by Craig Johnson, the director of orientation programs, Gross’ performance was not representative of Purdue’s values.

“What we are proud of is you,” Johnson wrote of the team leaders in an email. “The chatter on social media and other mediums is overwhelmingly supportive of each other, standing up and speaking out for our fellow Boilermakers and keeping things in the context of Freezone.”

Purdue Counseling and Psychological Services and the Purdue Center for Advocacy, Response & Education were on scene, according to Terpstra.

“The dean of students came on stage afterward to point out that (Gross’) performance does not reflect any of the viewpoints of BGR or Purdue University,” he said.

The official CARE at Purdue Twitter account posted a message at 1:47 a.m. to students seeking support, stating that “CARE was contacted earlier this evening regarding a performance during the BGR closing ceremony that was described as harassing and offensive. As a result, a CARE advocate responded to campus to offer support to students.”

Other social media users have also expressed their outrage on Twitter, calling Gross “misogynistic” and “disgusting.”

After the event, Tim Doty, the director of public information and issues management, sent out the following statement:

“On Saturday night, a comedian performed as part of our BGR student orientation closing session. Accounts differ as to what exactly happened on stage, but some portions of the performance were clearly inappropriate and contrary to the university’s values of respect and support for all. We will not work with this comedian again and are proud of our students who are standing up and voicing their concerns about the performance.”

Winkler says she thinks the situation could’ve been prevented.

“I feel like you should have a script or something from the comedian that (BGR) goes over,” she said. “They should have known what he was planning on performing, and I think they should have ended the show when they noticed the supervisor was crying.”

Winkler took particular issue with the continuance of the show, saying that “it was not OK” for the Student Orientation Committee to continue to let Gross choose volunteers.

“I could have been one of them as well; one of my students could’ve been one of them,” she said. “I just don’t think the people in authority handled it well.”

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