Going West: IFC Changes Direction of Roundup with New West Fest Rebrand

Every spring, thousands of Longhorns and local community members descend on West Campus for a weekend of fraternity parties, crawfish boils, and live music. The annual event known as Roundup is now as famous for its award-winning philanthropic contributions as it is infamous for its history of discriminatory incidents, which prompted the University to withdraw its support in 1990. This year, the event is making headlines again with its rebrand as West Fest—a celebration that aims to preserve the charitable impact of Roundup with increased safety measures and a zero-tolerance policy for discrimination.

The rebrand is spearheaded by third-year youth and community studies student Zach Siegel, who serves as the Vice President of Large Programming for Texas Interfraternity Council (IFC). Although this year marks Siegel’s most transformative effort with the festival, his work to promote safety and diversity began in spring 2022 when he first inherited the responsibility of planning Roundup. Because he started at UT during the pandemic, Siegel never had the opportunity to attend Roundup socially and went into the role with a blank slate.

“The moment I found out about the controversy, I was sitting in an office in the Sorority and Fraternity Life department, and I was getting forewarned of what I was walking into about the cultural, racial, homophobic history of Roundup,” Siegel says, “I remember asking myself, ‘Who is going to be the person to not rewrite the history, but write the future?’”

Siegel knew that person had to be him. As someone who once felt unwelcome in Greek life, Siegel says he was keenly aware of the way perceptions of the event could limit involvement.

“Being gay, I never felt as if being in Greek life was something that was in the cards for me,” Siegel says. “But after getting to know some of the guys that I was going to be pledging with … they challenged every single one of those stereotypes.”

After unexpectedly finding an inclusive and tight-knit community in his fraternity, Alpha Epsilon Pi, Siegel was passionate about creating a more welcoming reputation for UT Greek life as a whole.

Under Siegel’s leadership, Roundup 2022 was the first year that medical teams were stationed at each fraternity party and a private security company was hired to issue scannable wristbands and check IDs for the event. Although Siegel worried these changes may impact ticket sales, Roundup 2022 successfully raised over $75,000 for community initiatives.

“It was definitely tough moving forward planning the event because I didn’t want to be wrong. I didn’t want to be the reason that more negativity was coming towards this,” Siegel says. “But we were able to raise a lot of money for the local community and have a safe event.”

This year, Siegel felt that the IFC needed to take additional steps to distance the new iteration of the event from the past mistakes its name evokes. He bore the weight of rebranding such a deep-rooted Longhorn tradition with confidence, despite potential backlash, knowing that there might not be anyone else willing to do the job after he graduates.

However, when Siegel and the IFC Board announced their official decision to change the name of Roundup to West Fest, they were met with support from each participating fraternity.

“I think change is always uneasy for people,” Siegel says. “But for the most part there hasn’t been a lot of negativity. I think all of the fraternities and all of the participating members have been really understanding of why it needs to happen.”

Siegel’s effort also spurred a renewed partnership with University Unions’ Forty Acres Fest—an annual live music event that began in the early ’90s as a free alternative to Roundup, explained Dylan Smith, senior student programs advisor for University Unions. This year, West Fest and Forty Acres Fest will both take place the weekend of March 24 with collaboration between the events for the first time ever.

“IFC reached out to us [and] their leadership this year seems very engaged and very energetic in terms of wanting to change the direction of Roundup,” Smith says. “We want a big spring celebration where students can come out and enjoy themselves.”

Forty Acres Fest will feature a headline performance from Remi Wolf on the UT Main Mall, scheduled in the gap between Prismo and Dzeko on the West Fest lineup. Although the events are separate, Smith says their new partnership will encourage the participation of a wider variety of students.

The rebrand has also piqued the interest of Longhorns who previously felt unsafe at the event after learning about its history of racial violence, like second-year PR student Simi Sodipe. Although Sodipe is still undecided about whether she will attend West Fest, she says it makes her happy to see that the IFC is actively acknowledging the event’s history and implementing changes.

“I feel like taking [this] sort of initiative and being intentional with it…really made me more receptive to it,” Sodipe says. “I do think this is a step in the right direction. Obviously, UT has a lot more work to do. And I’m going to see how this plays out … but, you know, I have hope.”

As the weekend draws near, Siegel is also hopeful that students will be receptive to the new form these events will take.

“I really hope that people are willing to give West Fest the opportunity to showcase all of the strides that we’ve made to be more inclusive,” Siegel says. “There’s half of me that is so ridiculously excited, and there’s a part of me that wishes that I had years until the event. There’s always that fear of not knowing, but I think people are really excited … for what this rebranding is going to hold.”

CREDIT: Photos courtesy of Texas Interfraternity Council




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