Magazine article Diverse Issues in Higher Education

Brawls Bring Chaos: Alcohol-Fueled Parties Raise the Question of How Much Control a University Can Have over Students outside of the Classroom

Magazine article Diverse Issues in Higher Education

Brawls Bring Chaos: Alcohol-Fueled Parties Raise the Question of How Much Control a University Can Have over Students outside of the Classroom

Article excerpt

Student riots are rarely opportune, but when revelers associated with Keene State College took to the streets to rage against police for their right to party during a family-friendly Pumpkin Festival weekend in mid-October, the resulting melee was particularly damaging.

The Pumpkin Festival has become an annual tradition for the small New Hampshire town. Families visit from across New England to see pumpkins lining the main streets and stacked in the town green. Each year, Keene competes to set the world record of the largest number of pumpkins in one place.

But in more recent years, college student festivities associated with the event started to take on a life of their own. The weekend became a magnet for students, drawn to parties that were wilder and more notorious every year. Last year, police had to break up a large party on Pumpkin Fest weekend, which resulted in some students being struck in the head with liquor bottles, according to Kemal Atkins, vice president for student affairs at Keene State.

"Crowds need to be dispersed when students are being injured and students are suffering head injuries because they got hit in the head with bottles. Our top concern is the safety of our students," says Atkins.

But even with such a prelude, few would have predicted the events of this year, when, on a Saturday afternoon, thousands of students enraged by police attempts to shut down their parties took to the streets, where they overturned cars, lit fires, hurled bottles and tore down street signs. Police responded with tear gas and pepper spray in an effort to contain the crowds.

Keene's alcohol-fueled brawl raises the question of how much control a university can, and should, have over the lives of its students outside of the classroom. Keene is certainly not alone in grappling with this problem.

Nor is it even a new problem.

The University of Virginia (UVA), for example, used to be famous for its "Easters" celebration: a weeklong fete of dances and athletic games intended in part to honor the birthday of Thomas Jefferson on April 13. Easters was founded in the 1800s, but in the latter half of the 20th century became a magnet for students all over the East Coast.

As its popularity grew, Easters slid into alcohol-induced madness. Finally, perturbed administrators canceled Easters in 1982, to the dismay of students and alumni alike.

Revelry leads to violence

It's a case of too much of a good thing: when events grow beyond the capacity of an individual college to contain them, sometimes the chaos spills over into violence.

Bates College, like UVA and Keene, has its own annual tradition: Trick or Drink, a pre-Halloween celebration. Trick or Drink took place at off-campus student housing, resulting in hundreds of students roving throughout mixed residential and student areas. Alcohol was the motivating feature of the event, as the name suggests.

"After every Trick or Drink, we would get a large number of complaints from local residents," says Kent Fischer, director of media relations and policy advisor. Students were known to damage property and disturb neighbors during the Trick or Drink festivities in Lewiston, Maine, where Bates is located.

Fisher explains that Bates had initiated a campuswide conversation about student drinking last spring when an inebriated junior, Mac Jackson, broke into the home of an elderly Lewiston resident in April. …

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