By: Matthew Worsham – Managing Editor
As St. Patrick’s Day approaches, University of Dayton and law enforcement officials are concerned about potential trouble on Saturday. Personally, I was surprised by this prediction. I think, with the holiday not until Tuesday, we’re going to see a pretty tame weekend and St. Patrick’s Day week in general. But now that concerns have been raised, we ought to entertain the possibility that the celebration might turn south, and we need to consider how we are going to behave – and allow others to behave – in order to prevent that from happening. To do that, let’s turn to history.
It may be tempting to compare the enforcement plans this year to that of the Elite 8 celebrations, but I’d ask you to refrain. For one thing, you can’t compare the spontaneous outpourings of pride and joy that were last year’s March Madness celebrations with the annually premeditated events of St. Patrick’s Day.
Instead, this year’s security measures are a reaction to the disturbance that occurred in the wee hours of March 17, 2013. According to WHIO, the throwing of an empty bottle into a police cruiser’s windshield catalyzed a police response that dispersed the gathered crowd of more than 1,000 people on Kiefaber St. that morning. The result was 11 damaged vehicles and one arrest. Students and President Curran were also struck with riot shields in the process of clearing the streets and yards.
It seems so pointless, that such a blatant act of destruction by one person could cause so much collective strife for the community. And of course, the reality was more complex than that. There were flaws in the police response as there were also flaws in the revelers’ behavior. Ultimately, however, the students paid the price, even those not involved. Thus, this incident serves as a poignant reminder that, unfortunately, we will all be remembered for the destructive actions of a few.
Since then (the first major incident in over two decades, according to Dayton Daily News) the administration has been understandably more wary of the risks St. Patrick’s Day can bring. But students are equally concerned, and that’s not always considered. We hold ourselves to a high standard, and in return expect good faith. When both sides bring that to the table, everyone wins.
Let’s rewind another year, to a St. Patrick’s Day that brought much anxiety but that was, in the end, largely a model for success. Today’s seniors and fifth-years will remember the butterflies with which the university approached St. Patrick’s Day 2012, the first Saturday holiday in years during which students would be on campus (until then, the midterm break had been scheduled to coincide with the holiday). Eager to prevent destructive behavior, the university stepped up security, including increased hours for Housing and Residence Life staff and law enforcement personnel in the residence halls and student neighborhoods.
What the community experienced that weekend was more or less peaceful for a warm Saturday on a college campus. The concerns of the administration and its heightened enforcement resonated with the student body, and from what I observed those who chose to celebrate did so in a responsible manner. Students obeyed the instructions of police, and both groups were treated with respect. Not once did I see somebody throw a bottle, climb on a car or obstruct traffic. Instead, it felt like the student neighborhood was holding a festival, and what stood out to me most was that, contrary to popular belief, the students seemed less interested in raucous partying and more interested in relaxing on the front lawns of their homes, basking in the warm sun of the sand volleyball courts and, in many more cases than you would assume, participating in university-sponsored activities like concerts, performances and free food.
I know for a fact that we can throw the best St. Patrick’s Day celebration in the nation, without allowing high-risk behavior that disrespects our fellow community members and ourselves. I know this because I saw it firsthand in March of 2012. Any time university officials, law enforcement personnel and students and their guests regard each other with good faith and respect, we build community.
With the administration’s anxieties running high, this year is an opportunity for us to prove that we’re more like the students of 2012 than that small group in 2013. Together, let’s change the culture of this tradition so that it might be one that is embraced as readily by the administration as it is by the students and alumni. I remain confident that this year’s events will be quite tame, but if you choose to celebrate on Saturday or any day of the week, please keep the lessons of history in mind. Students, administrators and law enforcement – it would serve all of us well to do so.