Citing frustration with overzealous safety rules, thousands of Ohio State University students defied police orders and stormed through barricades to participate in an annual school tradition on Monday.
Once a year, Ohio State students show their mettle by jumping into the frigid waters of a pond called Mirror Lake. This raucous custom, which last year drew 15,000 people, had gone largely undisturbed for two decades. This year, however, university officials decided a major overhaul was needed after one student died following an unrelated, isolated drowning incident in August.
The university's newspaper, The Lantern, details the extent to which administrators went to deprive the event of any spontaneity or danger and make it more like Soviet breadline than a night of collegiate camaraderie:
OSU officials had announced there would be increased safety and security efforts for the Mirror Lake jump… Fences were installed surrounding Mirror Lake with one designated entrance spot and multiple exits. Students, whether jumping or watching, were set to be required to wear a wristband issued to those with [student identification] only for admission to the area.
University police also used their squad cars to act as additional barricades around the perimeter.
School officials overestimated the students' complacency. Campus Police Chief Paul Denton told the school paper over the weekend that he didn't anticipate students resisting the planned protocol, but said the police were prepared to handle it if they did. Vice President for Student Life Javaune Adams-Gaston said, "I know that change is difficult and people have the right to have views about that change, but I also know that our student population is one that is spirited and not disruptive,"
The Columbus Dispatch states that despite the presence of several dozen officers guarding the area, the collegians knocked down the six-foot fences and jumped in defiance of the restrictions. Reports vary on how many students participated in the protest last night, but the newspaper ballparks it in the thousands. Once the students began flooding in, the police declined to stop them.
One student told the Dispatch that defying the administrators was her "way of protesting the university telling me when, where and how I should jump."
"We wanted a night that is unregulated and something the students can own and can continue a really fun and really great tradition," another student told the school paper.
Ironically, the attempt to micromanage the situation could have backfired for the school, the Dispatch notes:
And there's an odd angle to Ohio State trying to control the jump, said at least one lawyer. The university could be increasing its liability if a student were to get hurt once wristbands are required, said Gerry Leeseberg, a Columbus lawyer who specializes in wrongful-death and personal-injury cases. "The more control they exert, the further the risk they take," he said.