The Student Life Committee of the UConn Board of Trustees heard about the many costs to the town, to UConn and to the state caused by Spring Weekend’s off-campus parties and other “unsanctioned” events.
At Thursday’s forum, a great deal about what has been done – and what might still be done – to successfully lessen the damages of the University of Connecticut’s nemesis – the infamous Spring Weekend – was shared with The Student Life Committee of the Board of Trustees.
The committee has been charged with “refocusing” Spring Weekend so that students can celebrate the end of the school year, but “demonstrably and significantly” reduce alcohol and substance abuse, risky behavior and injuries – including assaults on women, and damage to property.
The committee heard a lot of positives about cooperation and improved student attitudes from the Mansfield-Campus Community Partnership, which includes town officials, town residents, UConn staff, and students.
Still, speakers often sounded as though they were describing a military operation and not a university “celebration” – with provisions for massive police, fire and emergency medical coverage including a “triage” area, as well as months of planning, training and even developing an operations manual.
Pull the plug?
Town Manager Matt Hart challenged the committee to consider pulling the plug on Spring Weekend..
He listed some of the manpower called out for Spring Weekend, and noted that the main focus is on three “unsanctioned” events: parties at Carriage House Apartments on Thursday, parties at Celeron Square Apartments on Friday, and the massive gathering at what’s called X-Lot on the edge of the UConn campus on Saturday.
“Each of these are attended by thousands,” Hart said.
About 250 to 300 safety personnel work on each of these three nights, he said.
Another 150 State Troopers in plain clothes or on bicycle patrol also are deployed.
About 70 medical personnel staff a “triage” area established by the Mansfield Fire Department.
Mayor Betsy Paterson also noted that Windham Hospital brings in extra staff that weekend, and neighboring fire departments are on standby.
Last year, there were 66 medical incidents, of which 43 needed ambulance transport to the hospital, Hart said,
He added that his figures do not include UConn’s police, fire and emergency personnel.
In fact, throughout the discussion, no one could say exactly how much Spring Weekend costs the community or UConn. Speakers could only guess that it is an “enormous” amount.
Hart added that the State Police are also involved. “We expend vast sums of taxpayer dollars to support this event,” he said.
Spring Weekend also takes its toll on apartment complex owners. “I don’t think it’s realistic to expect landlords to cope… they can’t just tell 8,000 people to go home,” Hart said. And it isn’t fair to the homeowners neighboring the apartments, he said.
The problem with ending the official Spring Weekend, Hart said, is that the off-campus parties would likely continue.
“I wrestled with this question… in my view, it really gets down to a moral issue. Public safety is at risk here,” he said, so despite the costs, the town has to take responsibility.
Keeping the high school kids away
Mansfield Director of Human Services Kevin Grunwald talked about Spring Weekend and the town’s high school students, many of whom – as another speaker noted – work and/or take classes on campus and so, may “blend in” with UConn students.
“There is an incredible amount of binge-drinking that goes on at this event,” he said, and teenagers are at greater risk for alcohol poisoning. As a deterrent UConn has OKed letters sent to parents alerting them to the dates of the parties, and warning that if their high school-age son or daughter is arrested at one of these parties, “it may have an impact on being able to attend the university,” Grunwald said
The committee also heard a recommendation from Julie Elkins, Co-chair of the Mansfield-Campus Community Partnership, to form a standing committee just for Spring Weekend. “We need one central point of collaboration to oversee every aspect of this event,” she said, one with “significant student involvement.”
Other suggestions included making it more difficult for uninvited guests to park anywhere on campus and restricting ticket sales for the big Spring Weekend concert.
Speakers did acknowledge positive steps made by the town and the university, often in partnership, not only to address Spring Weekend but to improve relations between students and the larger community, such as a town ordinance that requires registration of rental property owners, regular inspection of properties rented to students, and the university bringing back the department of Off Campus Student Services.
The next Spring Weekend forum is scheduled for 4 to 9 p.m. on Wednesday, Oct. 15 in Room 410 of the Student Union.
The Student Life Committee also expects to complete a survey of UConn students, faculty and staff concerning Spring Weekend and make its report to the Board of Trustees on Nov. 18.
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