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To some degree, the task force concurs, even while calling the weekend “unwanted, expensive and dangerous” and “a magnet for toxic behavior and criminality.” “If there was a practical way to end Spring Weekend, the university would have eagerly implemented it years ago,” its report states. “The fact remains that thousands of individuals are going to attempt to gather for Spring Weekend, whether the university wants them to or not.” Too aggressive a response against the festivities, it concludes, could “trigger . . . angry, violent, ugly confrontations” and could increase the possibility of weapons being brought on campus.
Saddlemire says university officials are well aware that by ruling out Spring Weekend activities on campus this year, they may be throwing down a gauntlet that will actually intensify activities off-campus. But, he says, “our hope is that it is not seen as a challenge, but more as a humane, genuine request in response to two student deaths due to violence.”
UConn’s Spring Weekend started in the early 1970s, when the drinking age was 18 and alcohol flowed freely on the nation’s college campuses. At UConn, it was first characterized by dorm dinners, charity events, relay races and the like, and it culminated in a large outdoor concert on a hill off of Route 195. Tower of Power and other big acts entertained in the late 1970s, and then the concert switched to Memorial Stadium, where the football team played, with Stevie Ray Vaughn, Little Feat and Living Colour among the featured artists.
In the 1980s, Spring Weekend began to sour, and in 1984 the first real police confrontations took place, partially in response to the renewed 21-year-old-drinking-age law. It wasn’t until Spring Weekend 1998, however, when tougher on-campus drinking laws were put into place, that things really turned ugly. Thousands of rioting students threw rocks and bottles at state police, who responded with dogs and pepper spray. Students also burned couches and other university property, with damage estimates in the thousands of dollars. Eighty-seven people were arrested, the vast majority of them nonstudents charged with underage drinking and minor violence.
By now, the pattern of off-campus Spring Weekend celebrations is essentially unchanging. Beginning on Thursday night, large groups of young people walk the half-mile from campus down North Eagleville Road to Hunting Lodge Road for the massive parties at Carriage House Apartments (Thursday) and Celeron Square apartments (Friday). On Saturday, the scene usually shifts to so-called X-lot, a privately owned parking lot adjacent to the campus, which the university has tried to buy. Public safety officials report that in recent years crowds as large as 15,000 attended the off-campus parties and that about 100 arrests are made by local police each year for underage drinking, public drunkenness, fights and other incidents. State police say that last year they made an additional 19 arrests for similar incidents, and issued tickets for about 75 motor vehicle violations.
Mansfield officials (Storrs is located within the town of Mansfield) have monitored Spring Weekend activities for years. In recent years, they have taken a more proactive role in curbing offenses, particularly those associated with trashed neighborhoods, excessive noise and alcohol abuses. Along with state police, the town has set up vehicle checkpoints around campus, limited some roads to pedestrians, banned alcohol in open bottles, cups and glasses, restricted noise from outdoor parties and worked with landlords to scrutinize nonresident guests. Currently under review is an ordinance that would require permits for “mass assemblies,” such as the thousands of students who gather at X-lot. The town is also working on a “nuisance ordinance” that would attach automatic fines to behaviors such as fights, demonstrations and loud gatherings, even for first-time offenders.
“Enforcement will be the challenge,” says Mansfield Town Manager Matthew Hart. He says that Spring Weekend is difficult to patrol, even with nine full-time resident state troopers and three part-time constables on duty. He estimates the town averages about $30,000 a year in overtime and other personnel costs associated with the weekend, while state police log at least $100,000 a year in extra Spring Weekend costs, a figure similar to UConn campus-police estimates.
Hart says he supports the moratorium this year but the “long term” is a more critical issue. He says that in some ways the town’s hands are tied because it is forced to be “reactive” to events despite careful planning. This year, he hopes the student government will get behind the moratorium and send the word to outsiders looking for a party that there is nothing going on in Storrs that weekend.