Fight for your right to Spring Jam

Students and University police can compromise if nobody freaks out.

Nora Leinen

During James Madison UniversityâÄôs 2010 Springfest on April 10, 8,000 people gathered to celebrate, and things soon got out of control. The combination of a large crowd and a little alcohol created a scene all too similar to the events of Spring Jam 2009 at the University of Minnesota. Fires were set, cars damaged, police in riot gear were called in and bottle-throwing and arrests ensued. By the end, 20 to 30 people were arrested, several injured and quite a few left with tear gas in their eyes. It turns out that situations like these have been a mainstay of college campuses since the 1960s. Although the first were protests focused on civil rights and the Vietnam War, more often these so-called âÄúriotsâÄù have been the result of large college parties getting, in colloquial terms, âÄúout of control.âÄù In 1996, the University of Wisconsin experienced a similar incident at the annual Mifflin Street Block Party when a fire engine was called to extinguish a bonfire, and members of the crowd began throwing bottles and debris. The crowd caused $10,000 in damages to the truck and its police escort. Officers in riot gear were called in to disperse the crowd, and 20 police were injured during the incident. While Mifflin is not technically a university event, its proximity to UW attracts large college parties. But Madison has learned from 1996, and even though MifflinâÄôs attendance has risen at times to as many as 25,000 people, no âÄúriotsâÄù have happened since. Many say this is due to a set 8 p.m. ending time and a constant but not overbearing police presence. Despite the frequency of these incidents, it is always disconcerting for a community to experience any form of what might be considered chaos. In the wake of last yearâÄôs Spring Jam, the University had some decisions to make. âÄúWe thought about whether or not we should even have a Spring Jam formally this year,âÄù Jerry Rinehart, vice provost for student affairs said. âÄúOur conclusion was students were probably going to celebrate one way or the other, and we better at least have something on campus that we have structured, that will appeal to at least a segment of students.âÄù The annual event has been condensed into three days this year, and there will be academic events such as a speech by Nobel Peace Prize winner Rigoberta Menchú Tum, as well as fun events such as concerts and dance competitions. There will also be a food drive to support a local food shelf. University and Minneapolis police will be stepping up patrols throughout the weekend with a heavy presence on campus and within the neighborhoods. Like Madison, the idea is a more comprehensive police presence all day rather than overreacting after the fact. They are also looking to rigorously enforce city ordinances including the newly passed social host ordinance. âÄúItâÄôs kind of a pendulum, and what we want to do is stay in the middle of these things, have things that are free enough that students can really let loose and have fun but not so free that they end up damaging themselves and others and making it an unsafe environment,âÄù Rinehart said. Police and students are going to have to be well-behaved to fulfill RinehartâÄôs vision of a successful Spring Jam, and after last year, all moves will be under scrutiny. A word to students: DonâÄôt set anything on fire. Cops: DonâÄôt show up in riot gear. Just as with every other incident like Spring Jam 2009, when college students see police in riot gear, a strange thing occurs: a fight-or-flight reaction takes hold. Most of the students flee the scene, and others start throwing beer bottles. While we canâÄôt, by any means, say police are responsible for any of the âÄúriotsâÄù on college campuses, I think itâÄôs fair to say they have a tendency to exacerbate the situation. Especially when bystanders are tear-gassed and everyone in proximity is subject to aggressive police behavior. âÄúI think there is, on the studentsâÄô side, a sense of entitlement that itâÄôs the last chance to really celebrate making it through the year, and nobody should interfere with that right. On the other side, we have community standards that the police are expected to uphold, and for the neighbors and in general for the University community âĦ itâÄôs a balancing act,âÄù Rinehart said. LetâÄôs also not forget why we have Spring Jam: to âÄúfocus on building a sense of community on campus and philanthropic efforts to give back to the community,âÄù as committee member Courtney Elmergreen put it. Our community at the University is an exciting and diverse one. A celebration of that community is important, and Spring Jam is a cornerstone of that environment. I think itâÄôs justified to throw one hell of a party. What I propose is a logical evaluation by all citizens of our neighborhoods, police departments and the University community. If a person is drinking a beer with some friends on a front porch, enjoying the spring weather, donâÄôt call the cops or force them to go inside. If there are kids doing beer bongs in their front yard? Probably a good idea to stop the madness. If police ask you to quiet down because itâÄôs getting late and youâÄôre yelling or playing loud music, diligently oblige. If you are quietly walking home, albeit a little intoxicated, and a policeman harasses you, walk on defiantly. Nobody has to be the ass in this situation, but if itâÄôs got to be someone, donâÄôt let it be the students. Nora Leinen welcomes comments at [email protected]