A Riot of Our Own


Why do college kids riot? Mike cites some bluenoses who blame beer ads, and then he shows that they're almost certainly wrong. In the comments section for Mike's post, Clayton Cramer wonders if the increase in daycare is to blame.

Whatever the answer is, I don't think you'll find it if you assume that this is a recent phenomenon. A certain proportion of college kids has always had riots, seizing whatever excuses they can find. Sports are the most convenient rationale, and therefore the most common; live music has also done the trick; sometimes, politics gets dragged in. People who went to school in the '50s have told me about festive violence that broke out after incredibly minor provocations that hardly anyone could remember after they'd calmed down. The only thing that remains constant, year after year, is the riots.

Maybe there's a psychological explanation, something to do with what happens when young people who live in close quarters acquire many of the freedoms but few of the responsibilities of adults. (I suspect you don't see such chaos at commuter colleges.) Or maybe a lot of us just have a deep psychic need to throw and smash things. Or maybe…

Idea for a book I'll never get around to writing: an apolitical history of rioting.

NEXT: Toasted Friedman?

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  1. I remember a riot that started on the Indiana University campus in front of the Phi Delt house during a Kingsmen concert – in fall, 1964. (Remember Louis Louis?)

    Anytime you squeeze a lot of booze and a lot of boys into the same space, you’ve got riot potential. Nothing deep here, folks. Just move along.

  2. Hate to break it to you Bill, but some folks riot sober.

  3. What do we expect from the American educational system? I think the problem of rioting hints at the topic for another book that perhaps has been written, and should carried on, about the curious views of American society on maturity, responsibility, and academia. America has no Japanese sort of deferential bushido-esque honor system, no Israeli style compulsory 3 year army service after high school (which from many accounts I have heard, lends itself well to maturing already hardened youths), nor a European elitist system of college (university) being reserved for truly scholastic pursuits. The American lower and upper educational systems (only lower would really seem to fit) hardly prepare one for real world productivity, let alone the freedoms, pressures, and responsibilities of the college world. England’s universities, the elite ones, have been around since before this country was even fully settled. Tradition there still holds that disrespect is scant tolerated, and offenses such as cheating are punishable by amputation (it hasn’t happened in at least a century, but the rules are still on the books). America has gotten so much right over the rest of the world – freedom, religious toleration, cartoons – so how is it that our educational system essentially pats high school graduates on the back, blindfolds them, hands them a beer, and shoves them of towards the goal posts and green fields of “liberal” “academia”?

  4. Hey, Jesse, were you in East Quad spring ’89, when there were riots two blocks away at the corner of Church and South U in celebration of the NCAA championship?

  5. Maybe its all hopeless and draconian law and armed groundskeepers are the only hope. Scottish men with rakes and scythes should be able to sort out these hooligans. Along with some lions. Or maybe we can finally lay claim to Canada and rename it “Campusia”? It would sort out their brain drain like a clot of hair in the sink. Sometimes imperialism can be mutually beneficial.

  6. Its mulitfaceted:

    You’ve got the

    a) Drunks
    b) Violent
    c) Anarchistic
    d) Bored
    e) Angry

    Just add “THE MAN” (who is keeping everybody DOWN) and you’ve got a riot.

  7. Sol: Not only was I in the dorm, but I was in the riot. I didn’t smash any cars or awnings, though — actually, at least 90% of that crowd was peaceful, albeit rowdy.

    The mood was a lot grimmer a few years later, after I’d graduated, when Michigan *lost* to UNC in the NCAA finals. I stopped by the riot to see what was happening & then got out of there pretty quickly, not least because, as a Chapel Hill native, I’d been cheering for the bad guys. All it would’ve taken was one fellow to out me as a Tarheel, and I might not have survived to blog here today…

  8. Got news for you. Students were rioting in the Medieval Universities, and student riots have occurred with regularity since then. It ain’t new.

  9. Wasn’t that the point of the post?

  10. Jesse: Ah, so you were there too. Cool.

    I should add that my friends and I in the riots were 100% sober and peaceful. We just wanted to see what was going on, and be a part of the celebration.

  11. “I suspect you don’t see such chaos at commuter colleges.”
    In my experience, this is true. I went to a university which had over 22,000 students, only 10% of whom lived on campus. I cannot recall hearing of any riots, at all, during the entire 6 years I was there.

    There were protests, sure enough (college kids will be college kids, especially when some of them have all sorts of victim-entitlement issues), but no violent riots that I ever heard of.

  12. By the way, Sol, I wrote about the NCAA riot of ’89 in this piece, a couple years ago:


    For the record: It was a *Salon* copy editor, and not I, who felt the need to insert the explanation that Professor Moriarty was “the fictional nemesis of Sherlock Holmes.”

  13. Hm. College students, the majority of them of legal age, behave violently…and according to Clayton Cramer and Matt (above), Mom is to blame for having put them in daycare.

    Thank ghod for all those selfish mothers out there. If they didn’t exist, whom would conservatives have to blame for society’s shortcomings?

  14. Gee George, I dunno… Duh, the rich?

  15. It’s probably a mixture of beer and daycare. And stupidity.

    Another interesting thing about college riots is that they seem to happen most often to certain schools. When I went to the University of Virginia a couple years back there were no riots. Ever. At the University of Maryland, they’ll riot whether the team wins or loses.

  16. It’s not that rioting is anything new, but riots seem to be touched off much more easily these days. Take the example of tearing down goalposts after football games. In the old days, this was reserved for very special occasions – ending a long losing streak, pulling off a big upset over a top ranked team, winning a national championship, etc. Today, even wins over teams with losing records (where the winning team was favored by 20+ points in Vegas) somehow merit tearing down the posts.

  17. Matt: My friend was hit by a bottle rocket in the chest after the Cavs won the NIT back in…1978?


  18. I blame those Blues and Greens. If they keep it up, Emperor Justinian is sure to do something about it. I can hardly go to the races anymore without seeing some thuggery.

  19. I’ve lived in Iowa City, Iowa for almost 10 years, and before that I lived in Columbia, Missouri for 8 years. I’ve also spent time in Lawrence, Kansas. Faurot Field in Columbia seats 62,000, although it rarely sells out. Kinnick Stadium in Iowa City seats over 70,000, and draws large crowds, selling out about 20 times from 1990 to 1999. Memorial Stadium in Lawrence has a capacity of 50,000, but rarely sells out.
    MU has a total student enrollment of 27,000 in a town of about 75,000. UofI has 26,000 students in a town of about 62,000. KU has 26,000 students enrolled in a town of 80,000. These three towns are heavily dominated by their student populations.
    Football is a very big deal in Iowa City, especially this year with the Hawkeyes going
    11-1 and finally making a bowl game. Yet, my memories and my search through Google don’t turn up any suggestion of riots (sports related or otherwise) in any of these towns.
    I’m wondering what the actual demographics of these riots are, and if and to what degree students may be unfairly taking the blame. Riots occur after professional sports games, not just university.
    Some numbers for sites of recent riots:
    University of Arizona :enrollment 36k
    Tucson: population 486k
    University of Minnesota: enrollment 59k
    Minneapolis: population 382k
    St Paul: population 287k
    Michigan State University: enrollment 44k
    East Lansing: population 447k
    Ohio State University: enrollment 49k
    Columbus: population 670k

    None of this is sufficient information to draw any conclusions from, but my little bit of research certainly has me curious about what factors may be involved in these riots.

  20. OK, here’s a new spin – how about the propensity to riot in relation to sporting events is related to how bloody frustrating the stupid game is, i.e. American football – rioting college students; soccer in England – rioting working class wide boys.

    Now if you’d all play a proper game like Australian Rules, which is free flowing and unencumbered by mediaeval armour or prima donnas…

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