Under new bill, rioters would lose financial aid

A state legislator wants to stiffen the penalty for students’ destructive behavior.

Stephanie Kudrle

In response to Saturday’s riots at Minnesota State University-Mankato, one Minnesota legislator said she will introduce a bill that would cause students convicted of riot-related crimes to lose their financial aid.

Students at Mankato turned a celebration into a destructive riot following the school’s homecoming football game Saturday.

Mankato police made 45 arrests, and there were 16 reported injuries related to the riot.

If passed, Rep. Carla Nelson’s legislation would cause students convicted of rioting to lose their state aid and in-state tuition for one year, Nelson said.

“Riots give students a black eye,” the Rochester Republican said. “I know most don’t participate in the riots, but this is a strong statement saying we don’t support this.”

University Executive Vice President and Provost Christine Maziar said she understands legislators’ concerns, but she is not certain legislation will solve anything.

“I would be supportive of such legislation if I were convinced it would have the impact of preventing this behavior,” she said. “I am concerned that the sources of this behavior might be rooted in other causes. We will need to address these root causes before that behavior can be eliminated.”

Mankato partiers overturned cars and set fires in the streets, much like Dinkytown rioters following the Gophers men’s hockey championship game April 12 – the University’s second riot in two years.

When alcohol and crowds mix, there is always a potential for riots, one expert said, but the University Police Department is taking a tougher stance on riots in an effort to prevent them.

Christopher Vggen, a sociology professor, said people are drawn to the spectacle riots create.

“That element of danger and loss of control can be perceived as exciting,” Vggen said. “It’s unusual behavior and notable for observers.”

He said many students involved in the University hockey riots were merely watching other rioters.

“It’s disturbing to me at the University to know many of my students wanted to go to Dinkytown just to watch the show,” he said.

Vggen said people often do things in groups they would not do by themselves.

“It can happen incrementally,” Vggen said. “People gradually become emboldened to act out as they observe those around them.”

He said responsibility is often diffused throughout the group and one person will not feel as responsible for his or her actions.

In addition, Vggen said, alcohol gives rioters an excuse for destructive behavior.

“It allows them to take a moral holiday,” he said. “They can account for behavior by saying, ‘I was drunk.’ “

University police Capt. Steve Johnson said officers are training for crowd control and working with other agencies to form a more unified response to future crowds.

“It’s obvious after two riots after hockey championships that young people are willing to come to the community and cause problems,” Johnson said.

He said police are getting better at handling enforcement and are going to take a tougher stance on riots.

Vggen said police have tough decisions to make when dealing with riots.

“It’s easy to say ‘if only police had responded this way,’ but we really just don’t know,” he said.

He said police departments are receiving more training for riot situations and will likely be a more visible form of social control in the future.

Still, Vggen said it is always difficult to anticipate these types of scenarios that fall outside familiar patterns, like in Mankato.

“We can learn from the past but we always have to be forward-looking,” Vggen said.

In response to the 2003 hockey riots, the University’s Office of Student Affairs enacted a revised policy targeting student rioting

According to the policy, University students are prohibited from inciting or participating in a riot on campus, near campus or in response to a University-sponsored event.

Rioters face expulsion, among other punishments, for violating the policy.

Students, however, remain uncertain about whether the increased enforcement and new policies will make a difference.

“There is always a potential for riots on many University campuses,” sophomore Amanda Kirk said. “Students often think they’re showing school pride, but they are just hurting the school’s reputation.”

– Jake Weyer contributed to this report.