Tuesday, March 22, 2011

Rioting 101: UA Has Much to Learn from SA

I was doing my morning Facebook browse recently when I discovered my college friends all a-twitter about the university cancelling the largest on-campus event of the year, Fountain Day. The campus of the University at Albany is focused around a gigantic fountain in the middle of an enormous concrete block that hosts 13 3-story buildings. The block is fondly referred to as the Podium. It looks very sci-fi. In any case, slapping a campus designed around a major water feature in upstate New York was maybe not such a bright idea as the freezing cold temperatures dictate that it be kept off for most of the year. The day when it is turned back on is called Fountain Day and the whole university, students, faculty and staff turn out to enjoy the first of the spring sunshine and splash in the fountain's pool. Apparently that will not be happening this year.


Well, there's another big UAlbany tradition that takes place around St. Patrick's Day. It's called Kegs and Eggs. On the appointed day, people set their alarms for 6 am and start drinking immediately. The bars open at 7. The party lasts all morning. Kegs and Eggs is hardly a venerable tradition, but it certainly helps UA retain their reputation as a massive party school. "We pregame harder than you party," is a common, if idiotic, refrain.

Nevertheless, Kegs and Eggs is not necessarily a troublesome event. Usually the only clue to its presence for non-paricipants is an unusual number of college students pouring into diners and dining halls in the early morning hours under an alcohol-induced haze. The drunken masses choke down a few waffles and then quietly collapse to sleep off the, err, morning. This year was an exception. Kegs and Eggs announced itself with rioting along a city street popular with university students. Some two dozen have been or will be arrested. Expulsions are being threatened. Apparently, the party got out of hand on Hudson Street. Bottle were being thrown, vehicles damaged, and even appliances flung from windows. The police tried to intervene, but the student weren't having any of it. A full-out riot ensued. It was certainly not the university's proudest moment. The Albany community is furious, and very likely yielding to this pressure, UA's president decided to punish the student body by getting rid of Fountain Day 2011.

While most of my friend's objections to this lie in sound, rational fact (a few dozen individuals are responsible for the riot, there are twenty-thousand other students who were not at all involved) my principal objection comes from a very real encounter with a riot of a much more serious nature. Students at a high school in a village outside Kuruman, Batlharos, decided to go on strike after a police officer assaulted a student following the student's refusal to submit to corporal punishment. Their strike lasted several days, involved learners at multiple high schools, and resulted in the blocking of a major road with trees, rocks and destroyed road signs. A police car was burned, and there was an attempt at burning the entire police station. Reinforcements were called in from Kimberley to calm the region after a few days. Reportedly there was also a stabbing related to the strike. This terrifying glimpse into the destruction wreaked by a mob mentality is brought to you by a genuine, South African riot. Two dozen angry drunks and Albany cries the end of civilization. An entire village terrorized by high school students and it's just another day in Africa.

Now that's what I call perspective. If the university insists on their disproportionate response the so-called riot, I suggest importing some South Africans to show them what is "real" riot is all about.

Don't worry, I wasn't present during the worst of the rioting in Batlharos. I just happened to try driving through with my principal on the way to a meeting in Kuruman. "Why are there rocks in the road? What are helicopters doing here? Is that smoke coming from the police station?" I had a few questions...

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