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In 2008, the town manager of Mansfield noted that the University of Connecticut community was “extremely fortunate” not to have “witnessed a fatality” during the college’s notorious annual bacchanal known as Spring Weekend.
A year ago, with the death in a fistfight of junior Jafar Karzoun, 20, that all changed.
“It certainly brought home the concern and made more real and tangible the risks to the campus community,” says John Saddlemire, UConn’s vice president for student affairs. “This was an act of violence by a nonstudent to a student, but we can’t just say it was by an outsider. We have to take responsibility.”
Now after months of study, a task force of university, police and Mansfield officials has called for a “voluntary moratorium” on this month’s Spring Weekend 2011. In addition, it has imposed tough restrictions on the presence of nonstudents, who make up the vast majority of those arrested each year. Officials hope the moratorium will be embraced by students out of respect for Karzoun and for former football player Jasper Howard, as well, who was stabbed to death (also by a nonstudent) in November 2009 during a campus scuffle. They especially hope the new rules are observed by the 27 percent of students who live off-campus and whose parties in nearby apartment complexes attract thousands of students and nonstudents each year.
There will be no sanctioned campus activities for the weekend of April 21-24—no concerts, no late-night movies, no eating events and no oozeball tournaments, where a ball game is played in a foot of mud. There will be a complete prohibition on guests in dormitories, where students are normally allowed two overnight guests at one time for up to three nights. The ban on overnight guests is based on data showing that in 2010 between 6,000 and 7,000 “guests” stayed with friends on campus.
“The guests played a major role in contributing to the extraordinary volume of the Spring Weekend gatherings, making them more difficult to manage and increasing the risks associated with them,” the task force report said.
Officials know that a voluntary moratorium on off-campus gatherings is not likely to succeed entirely (even on Easter weekend). What has them concerned, however, is a possible backlash or demonstration against the moratorium.
The warning of a backlash was sounded during a December student government-sponsored forum on Spring Weekend by Jason Ortiz, a senior student activist who had run unsuccessfully on the Green Party ticket for state representative from the 54th district (Mansfield and Chaplin) in November. “It is not physically possible to have enough police to block Spring Weekend,” he cautioned. “But there are certain things we can address—the violence, the big mess on campus. We need people trained in [dealing with] hostility and cleaning up. Adding more police or fire is not the answer. More police will just make things worse. It’s more important to look at how to control the violence.”