Social media played a role in attracting more than 1,000 people to gather at 4 a.m. in a student neighborhood of the University of Dayton for a St. Patrick’s Day celebration that required police wearing riot gear from 12 agencies to shut down.
Party-goers from Dayton and other cities began posting messages on social media (viewable by anyone in the public) around 1 a.m. about plans to drink 40-ounce bottles of beer at 4 a.m. Those bottles later littered Kiefaber Street with broken glass, when people in the large crowd threw them at officers who responded to a false fire alarm. Others stood on cars, 11 of which were damaged, including a police cruiser. The university’s president, Daniel J. Curran, who responded to help, was escorted from the scene after being struck with a police shield, one non-student was arrested for underage drinking and public intoxication and five students were cited by the university for not complying with officers who responded to the alarm, according to UD. No one was injured.
Students said the party grew so large in part due to the Catholic university’s No. 1 spot on a list of top St. Patrick’s Day party locations, released days before the holiday by the online site “BroBible.”
“That really expanded it from the normal parameters of how many people would come,” said freshman Kelcey Batzer, who added that even her friends in New York expressed interest in the ranking.
While some on social media websites boasted about the required police response, others in official capacities quickly condemned party-goers’ actions, including university officials, the school’s student government president and the editorial board of UD’s student newspaper, the Flyer News.
“The behavior was unacceptable, but does not characterize the vast majority of University of Dayton students,” UD Board of Trustees Chairman Allen Hill said in a statement. “We appreciate law enforcement’s swift response that helped confine the incident to a small portion of one block of Kiefaber Street and resulted in no injuries.”
The incident adds UD to a list of schools nationwide trying to address out-of-control parties on or around St. Patrick’s Day. UD has already announced plans to conduct a sweeping review, which could lead to new policies, such as scheduling spring break to coincide with the drinking holiday or all-together banning large parties on the day.
Hill said the trustees support the university’s response. “Administrators are taking immediate disciplinary action against UD students who engaged in inappropriate behavior. Administrators also have launched a thorough review of the incident and the inappropriate use of alcohol by some students. That’s an issue that faces universities across the nation, and as a university and a board, we have a responsibility to address it,” he said.
Penn State University this year offered $5,000 to bars near campus that did not sell alcohol on “State Patty’s Day,” an early St. Patrick’s Day celebration that was created in 2007 and has since attracted a growing number of out-of-town revelers because of talks about it on social media, according to the Associated Press.
Police in Canada took to social media this year to help control rowdy parties and avoid a repeat of a 2012 St. Patrick’s Day riot that included 1,000 people throwing objects at police, starting a massive street fire, burning a news vehicle and damaging 22 police cars. Constable Ken Steeves said the London Police Service in Ontario used Twitter to alert the public of parties that were shut down by police. And for the first time, this year the city issued $615 nuisance party tickets to nine houses, he said. There were no serious incidents this year.
Steeves said he used Twitter to convey a strong message “that the actions that were displayed previously were not acceptable and would not be tolerated.” Although the 2012 riot potentially gave the college a bad name at the time, “it was an isolated incident. It certainly isn’t the norm here in London.” Less than one-third of the 68 people charged with crimes in the riot were students of the college and one-third were not residents of the city, he said. “We don’t want one incident to taint the image of our city,” he said.
Ohio University police Chief Andrew D. Powers said social media plays a role in organizing large spring block parties near campus, one of which resulted last year in the mayor declaring the area a riot zone when authorities could not get to a house fire because of a large number of people in the streets. The university is also famous for Halloween celebrations, and the school works to minimize high-risk behavior by limiting dorm residents to one guest, who must register, pay a $35 fee and wear a wristband while on campus. Last year, 1,145 guests stayed in the dorms, according to the university.
Powers said Facebook does it make easier for people to plan their attendance and the site has a page devoted to “Fests of Athens,” which enhances the advertising reach of those block parties far beyond word-of-mouth. But, he added that social media is a “double-edged sword.”
“Certainly people tweeting about a situation may draw people to the area to ‘see what’s going on,’” he said. At the same time, there were a large number of tweets during the recent block party, known as Mill Fest. “Most of them were in the vein of, ‘Watch out because there are tons of cops here,’ which may actually have deterred some people from attending,” he said.
“I guess in the final analysis, social media is like any other communication technology — sometimes it will work for us, sometimes against us,” Powers said.
Media expert Jeff Blevins, head of the the University of Cincinnati Department of Journalism, said social media can provide a way for people to organize quickly, but it benefits law enforcement, as well.
“It only takes one tweet to come across for a law enforcement officer to immediately know what’s going on, who’s involved and probably who started it,” Blevins said.
Batzer said this year’s incident at UD should be used as a warning to students next year. But, moving spring break would not squash what is commonly the biggest party on campus, said freshman Erin Straslicka
“No matter what you do, we’re still going to end up celebrating it,” she said.
Blevins said university would have a hard time limiting what students can post on social media, but that they can use those posts to enforce code of conduct violations. UD said in a statement it does not monitor what students post on those sites. Students at universities across the country regularly post about underage drinking and photos of drinking in dorm rooms, some of which can be seen on “passouts” sites that have popped up for many schools, including the University of Dayton.
Students are likely not to think about the consequences of what they post online, “much like they don’t think about the consequences of skipping class,” said Carla Gesell-Streeter, chair of the communication and theater department and professor of a course called Managing Your Digital Profile.
“People think if they delete it, it’s gone. Well, not necessarily,” she said.