Q&A with Daniel Slatkin, Chair of the Geek Week Committee
Cosplayers, videogamers, and geeks of all kinds unite during UCLA’s annual Geek Week, held early in Spring Quarter of each academic year. This much-anticipated event allows UCLA’s nerdiest students to meet up for all manner of fun, including exhibitions and demos for new technologies and videogames, laser tagging, graphic novel and manga experiences, and more!
We scoured the moon of Endor, navigated Bowser’s castle, and cleared all of Aincrad’s 100 floors to bring you this exclusive interview with Daniel Slatkin, Assistant Resident Director of Sproul Hall and player one in all things Geek Week!
How did Geek Week start?
It started three years ago in UCLA Residential Life - our director Brian MacDonald is a huge geek/nerd himself, and he comes from Rutgers University [where they’ve held a Geek Week for several years], and so he’s experienced geek and nerd culture as it’s been celebrated there. He brought up the idea with student and professional staff members here in the department and a bunch of people got on board; we realized that this was a need that is not being fully met and that’s why we’re doing it now.
How long have you been involved in Geek Week?
The first year that Geek Week was at UCLA, I was still a student, and so I got the experience from the student perspective. Then last year I was kind of involved in more of a supportive role working with Jonathan Junpradub, the person chairing the committee. This year he moved on to bigger and better things, so now I’m chairing the committee, and this is my second year working on Geek Week as a professional staff member.
Walk us through the process of setting up Geek Week.
Honestly, it’s kind of an organic process. We have a really good network at UCLA, so a lot of it starts with word of mouth - who do we know, who do we have existing relationships with. We work with a really wide variety of people from student groups, campus partners, vendors, sponsors, companies that might bring speakers, that kind of thing. We work with our Alumni Center to reach out to alumni; this year in particular we’ve done some work with Blackstone Launchpad, and they’ve been amazing.
What kinds of activities are held during Geek Week?
Every year it’s kind of different, but the two big staple events are the kickoff event and the finale. The kickoff event is during Monday of Week 1, and historically we have always had show cars out during that time; the first year I was a student, we definitely had the DeLorean, and I think we had the Batmobile that year as well. The end of the week finale, which is on Friday, goes by different names - this year it’s the UCLA Mega Convention, kind of a Comic-Con for UCLA. So those are the two most staple events. During the first year we also did a huge laser tag event in Covel Grand Horizon room that drew upwards of 1300 RSVPs, and we didn’t manage to pull it off last year, but this year we’re bringing it back on Wednesday. We’re also partnering with Enigma, the student group for science fiction, fantasy, and gaming, as well as Augment, the umbrella group for eSports at UCLA, to host open board and video games on Tuesday.
What is the Library’s role in Geek Week, in your opinion?
We really want Geek Week to be campus-wide, and we alone don’t have the resources to do that. Building a better partnership between campus organizations like UCLA Library and Residential Life really strengthens our residents’ connection to on-campus resources. Also, Powell is in the heart of campus, is great to work with, and has great resources to offer. For instance, this year they’re doing “Blind Date with a Book”, which fosters geek/nerd spirit for literature; they’re introducing students to the videogame collection so students will be able to learn how to check out games and use the consoles; and they’re making them aware of the Enigma book collections as well.
What Geek Week activity has been your favorite?
That’s a hard one. Honestly, I’ve always enjoyed laser tag, just because it brings out such a huge crowd and students love it no matter what. Part of Geek week is not just to celebrate geek and nerd culture for the geeks and the nerds, but also to do outreach and make it more normalized to be a geek or a nerd on campus. Laser tag has this mass appeal and a large influx of students will come out just for that alone, but then they get to experience other aspects of geek and nerd culture at the event. And that, combined with the logistical requirements of moving through so many people and just how awesome laser tag is in and of itself, makes it my favorite. We have a lot of really cool things going on for this year’s laser tag.
Really? Any spoilers for this year?
I will tell you that Disney is sponsoring our laser tag, and it’s going to be Rogue One themed laser tag. There’s going to be Star Wars themed music, the battle scene from Rogue One will be projection-mapped onto the long wall in Grand Horizon where they’re actually playing laser tag, and there will be some unannounced activities in breakout rooms that are also pretty cool. You’re basically going to get a ticket for laser tag and while you’re waiting for your number to be called you’ll be able to go to breakout rooms so you don’t have to wait in line as much and you can do other Rogue One themed activities. Also, on Monday night this year, we’ve reserved the southern half of the IM field and we’re turning it into a “Bruin Warrior Carnival” with tons of inflatables - we have inflatable jousting and bounce houses, the ‘world’s largest obstacle course’, and giant inflatable mazes. And Thursday is our Design and Innovation Fair - it’s all about creative design, innovative thinking, entrepreneurship, blending emerging technologies, and all that.
What is the importance of Geek Week, in your opinion?
Like I was touching on earlier, it’s really to serve the community and to increase overall general awareness and acceptance of geek and nerd culture. Our statement of purpose has two focal points: first, cultivating a safe environment for geeks and nerds, which means considering other possible intersecting identities for geeks and nerds, like what does it mean to be a woman and a geek, or somebody who’s part of the LGBTQ community and a geek; and second, career development - how do you connect your hobbies and interests with your passion for geek and nerd culture, and turn that into your full-time job? So those are the important parts of Geek Week.
The most important question of all: in your opinion, what’s the difference between a geek and a nerd?
This is a hotly contested issue, and we’re actually doing research on Geek Week this year to find out the difference. For me, it feels like being a geek is a lot about the consumption of media and content, like film, movies, and literature, and being a nerd is having a very specific depth of knowledge around one particular subject - like you might be a nerd about Tolkien and Lord of the Rings, but you might geek out over the Marvel and DC universes and other fandoms. But it’s a very broad definition and very fluid, and we try not to confine people to the labels. We call it Geek week just because it sounds good, but in all of our materials and outreach and conversations with people about Geek Week, we always kind of say geek and nerd culture because they’re so closely related.
Thanks, Daniel! You’re the director we need, but not the one we deserve.
Geek Week 2017 will begin on April 3, so be sure to turn out and turn up! Check out the Geek Week Facebook page for more information on each action-packed day.