Thursday, March 17, 2011

I've been meaning to write about this for the past few days, and have had this post in draft since yesterday...but no time to finish it. So here I am, at almost 1 am. 

On Saturday a bunch of (mostly) UA students participated in something called "kegs n' eggs" which apparently is some sort of annual event. I'd never heard of it before, but it is the morning of the city's St. Patrick's Day parade. I'm sure there is much partying every year, but this year it got out of hand, and the students damaged cars, threw televisions and other junk out of second story windows and harrassed some police officers, all the while taking pictures and video with their ever-present smart phones, and then plastering them all over the Internet. Dumb.

I didn't know this happened until Monday, when an email appeared in my in-box from the university president. Naturally, after I read it, I googled for video, and came across this site. But I hardly needed to surf, because I discovered there was extensive coverage in the Times Union, and not just news articles, but pictures, video links, and a large number of blog posts (including the ASP's). As usual, the bloggers couldn't resist this story, some even posting more than once or twice, and the comment community jumped on the bandwagon too - most ripping into the students (some way over the top), but a few defending them (generally for all the alleged money they bring into the economy). Plus there was this article today which is masquerading as news, but strikes me as an editorial. What gives?

I've received several emails this week that have left me shaking my head. First, there was the official one about the "riot" or whatever label is appropriate. Next, the Student Association emailed, asking us to mention in class this week's rally advocating for SUNY at the Capitol. It said that students might be coming around asking for a few minutes of class time, so they could recruit participants. I decided if a student appeared asking me that favor, I would say OK, but first you have to mention this event:

Alas, no one came, I should have known apathy would rule. Then, there was an email about a Community Day that was also scheduled for Friday. (I thought really? Is that the best timing?) Then, one about our annual April campus clean up day. (Again, is this good timing? Not for the event itself, but for the email announcing it?) There were emails about graduation and Fountain Day volunteers (are you kidding? That had to be moved to a Sunday because students got out of hand. When it was on a Tuesday, there was no point in holding class.) Today one arrived announcing the Community Day had been postponed, so that faculty and students could participate in the neighborhood clean-up. Someone finally got a clue!

All I can say is that we certainly partied hearty when I was in college, so I am not particularly shocked by all of the behavior. My observation is that many of my peers could drink today's lightweights under the table. "Locals" or "townies" or whatever they were called didn't like us much, either, although their biggest complaint was that we played loud music. And I think some students did puke in the streets on the way home from the bars (18 year old drinking age tends to keep partying more bar than house party focused...and no money for cars leads to a walking while drunk culture, not to DWI. Was "back in the day" better or is that old person talk?). 

There was one Halloween where a mob of students really got out of control and did vandalism to the campus bus. I did not participate in those antics, but I was downtown that Halloween. It created a big controversy, and after that, I believe the college had a break at Halloween, which completely stopped the foolishness. I am not sure why fake holidays such as Halloween and St. Patrick's Day cause such nonsense, but for some reason they do. The bus incident was bad, although I think the students who did it believed the bus to be "ours" and the acting out was directed at the college, not at the community.

They didn't overturn cars or throw televisions out of second story windows or mouth off to cops. (At least not when I was a witness, anyway.) And no one was stupid enough to be photographed or taped! Today everyone has a smart phone camera. You'd think the students would have enough sense to keep their faces off screen, or at least to delete what they captured afterward or only share it off-line. But today everything has to be documented on youtube and facebook and go viral, memory is just not enough.

Last Thursday, when the subject in one of my classes was ethics and academic dishonesty, and I cover the plagiarism episode in the student newspaper (see here), I mentioned some posters that have been distributed on campus for the past few years. I believe they came out of the effort to combat the image the university had after it won the Princeton Review #1 party school, and that's the reason I discussed the subject with students; the plagiarized story was about an alumni and student group's disgust with the party school label. 

Several messages are printed up every semester on posters, and pinned up all over the place on campus. They are statements that are based on the results of surveys of students. The current one says something like "70 percent of students report drinking 0-4 alcoholic drinks when at a bar." Whenever a new one comes out, the faculty with whom I chat laugh and laugh at the ridiculous messages. I've had students in my classes over the years tell me the statements are not supposed to be positive or negative, nor are they intended to be examples of good research - they are supposed to be dialogue starters. I am not sure the office that produces these posters realizes they are only wasting trees - they are not accomplishing any worthwhile discussion.

I could be wrong, but I have a sense that for many students who participated (maybe not as vandals, just those who were there partying in the crowd), it is a badge of honor. They are kind of proud, as if it gives them some sort of street cred. It's a pseudo-event; one of those incidents that goes down in school history for the next several years, it takes on a life of its own and becomes an urban legend, until the last participant has finished graduate school. The tale is told to new freshman every year, older students brag "I was here when the St. Patrick's Day riot happened" and the younger students lament that kegs 'n' eggs is now so tame or has been discontinued entirely. I felt the same thing after the party school ranking, and after the Fountain Day debacle too. It seems it is a lot cooler to imbibe too much, act like a jerk, have your photo taken as evidence and have it then make the news, than it is to be on the Dean's List or to volunteer at the soup kitchen.

This is not related, but another email I received was about how the university system is adopting that ugly logo I mentioned here.

Added: I'm not sure why the post starts out light and changes to a darker typeface. Too late to fool with it any longer!

No comments: