YOUTHFUL SHENANIGANS

Growing up in the Chicago area I was only vaguely aware that anything existed south of Interstate 80. I did hear rumors of some distant hamlet called Carbondale, which would not be noteworthy (or perhaps even exist) except as the location of Southern Illinois University. With respect to SIU alumni and faculty, some of whom are among my friends, SIU is a party school. Located near nothing, excepting the fireworks-and-Oxycontin vortex point at which Missouri, Kentucky, southern Illinois, Arkansas, and Tennessee converge, SIU is the school that Chicago-area high school students choose when they can't get into University of Illinois, or UIC, or Northern Illinois, or somehow not even Illinois State. While some of its academic programs are actually pretty good, the modal SIU student does not really belong in college and has interests ranging from drinking to getting high to facilitating unplanned pregnancies.

Southern found its way into the national news once per year at Halloween, when the students rioted. Literally rioted. Tore that one-horse town a new asshole. Overturned cars, smashed windows, injured themselves and one another, and set fires. It got to the point at which the school was known for little other than the annual Grain Alcohol Thunderdome. After many years of tolerating the rampage – Party Schools face the Catch-22 of trying to limit delinquent behavior while admitting to themselves that it is part of the attraction for potential students – Carbondale and the university cracked down hard in 2000 after a particularly destructive melee. Bars were closed on Halloween, fraternities were not allowed to host parties, and so on.

Even young and conformity-prone Ed kind of thought it odd that for so many years it was considered Good Old Fashioned Fun for thousands of mostly white college kids to have a riot. Euphemisms like "party" or "disturbance" were used; the police responded but with remarkably little enthusiasm, content to let the kids go nuts and make a few arrests of kids who crossed the line from Acceptable Crimes (minor property damage, disorderly behavior) to Unacceptable Crimes like assault or use of weapons. The authorities seemed to treat the riot like a regular, predictable weather event – batten down the hatches, board up the windows, and wait for the destruction to run its course. Because what else can you do, right?

It goes without saying that there is a double standard involved in media coverage of and social attitudes toward "urban" riots – the kind that involve poor and dark-skinned people – and the Youthful Shenanigans of white middle class college kids. The former must be repressed with the maximum available force to ensure that the natural order of society is not disturbed and that the poor remain docile, servile, and without illusions about their second-class status. The latter…well, that's just boys being boys. After all, it's important for white college students to get the opportunity to rebel against the social institutions that bend over backwards to coddle and privilege them.

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30 Responses to “YOUTHFUL SHENANIGANS”

  1. ladiesbane Says:

    We know the limits of people Like Us — there isn't too much they would do that would harm their sacred selves — but with the unknown (people of color, poverty, hopelessness, whatever) having Nothing Left To Lose makes them an unknown quantity, and therefore frightening. The real story is fear, as always.

  2. wetcasements Says:

    Related: rich white college kids "experiment" with drugs. University police basically exist just to insulate thesm from the actual criminal justice system.

    Meanwhile, black kids are hopelessly addicted to demon weed and a culture of violence.

  3. AB Says:

    Here in Germany it isn't particularly different; on May 1 there are always "left-wing" riots in major German cities that are mostly tolerated by the police, as long as property destruction isn't too severe (and these riots are spectator events for the hipster crowd). If brown minorities demonstrate though, then maximum force is the norm, plus said minorities are often the target of far-right parties and groups.

  4. Misterben Says:

    I went to MSU in the '90s, where it was also common for the neighborhoods around campus to be plagued by minor-to-severe student riots. These were widely condemned by everyone except the frat-types (and aspiring-frat-types) who tended to be involved, along with their hangers-on and camp-followers.

    Since then, whenever I find myself stuck in a meeting, listening to some knob drone on and on, I wonder, "did you flip over a car after a college basketball game when you were in school? Set fire to a couch, maybe?"

  5. Major Kong Says:

    I went to the University of Illinois. One year we did a road trip down to Carbondale for Halloween. It was pretty wild as I recall.

    A few years later, U of I tried to copy it with disastrous results. A person actually was killed by getting hit in the head with a bottle someone had thrown.

  6. Fredric Says:

    I went to WVU back in the early 2000s. We kind of set the standard for sports induced bad behavior in the university ranks. After we upset VT when they were ranked second in the country we tore the town apart. Grant Avenue was the center of the riot. The main fire was a toxic nightmare of porch – couches and dumpsters.

    The cops responded pretty harshly in the open of my younger eyes. Dispersing the crowd with indiscriminate pepper spray.

    This weekend the same thing happened, the shenanigans were much much more subdued. But the authorities responded with tear gas and rubber bullets.

    Idk if this is the will of the administration / powers that be that WVU be a "respectable" institution or if this was the police force just following the national tendency of police to be violent fuck faces.

  7. Shawn Ritchie Says:

    To Fredric: I'm quite alright with the cops putting down white riots as violently as possible. If they're going to do it to the browns and poors, might as well let the Chads of the middle class get a taste of the social system they're supporting and supported by.

    I mean, setting fires and flipping cars because some geographically-near team of violent jagoffs scored more points than some other geographically-near team of violent jagoffs? Fuck the lot of 'em. We curb-stomp the poor and the black for shit not 1/10th as violent as that crap, and said violence is usually in response to an actual situation, like a member of the community being gunned down by the police.

    Not because Redneck U beat Other Redneck U in football for once.

  8. sluggo Says:

    1. The SIU party school rep goes back at least to 1980, when I was a high school student.
    2. I actually was accepted into SIU despite never filling out an application (look Ma! no paperwork).
    3. Pantless and Vaccineless Jenny McCarthy is an alum.

    Three strikes.

  9. Sour Kraut Says:

    @Misterben,

    My parents attended MSU in the 60s. One particular student apartment complex (whose name escapes me at the moment) had a burning-couches-and-general-mayhem reputation even back then. It's probably one of those campus traditions the university would rather not talk about.

    @sluggo,

    Jenny McCarthy went there? That explains a lot.

  10. Anubis Bard Says:

    Talking Points Memo has a nice rundown of some of the mockery of our white culture of violence.

  11. negative 1 Says:

    Isn't the behavior you're describing for the SIU kids basically the embodiment of the racist boogieman urban legend "Hell Night" in Detroit? Except I never heard anyone talk about the scary minorities and their scary behavior as 'youthful highjinks'.

  12. blahedo Says:

    I was *certain* when I started reading this post that Ed was leading up to talk about the pumpkin riots in New Hampshire this weekend. It's been making the rounds, and got some traction on Twitter when a bunch of people started applying to it the negative rhetoric usually reserved for rioting by darker-skinned folks.

    Much of the news media definitely started out with an aw-shucks attitude (the report at http://www.cbsnews.com/news/keene-new-hampshire-pumpkin-festival-turns-to-mayhem/ refers to it as "mayhem"; others used words like "unruly"), although after the pushback it's pretty widely referred to as a riot at this point.

  13. Mark H. Says:

    I came down to spend the weekend with a friend at SIU for Halloween in 1980. Wow. I had no idea what it was going to be like. We were walking around downtown and at what seemed like a predetermined at around 4 in the afternoon, we heard a loud roar and then at that moment the streets were taken. No traffic from that point on. You would stop at the liquor store and buy a 12-pack of beer and walk around town drinking until sometime in the morning. It was basically lawlessness.

    The bad one now is unofficial St. Patrick's Day at U of I. The university actually sends e-mails to the parents telling them what they are going to do to limit the damage and to tell them to tell their kids not to be part of the problem.

  14. Jon Says:

    Attended SIUC 99-02. That was the only time I've ever been tear gassed. Wasn't a pleasant experience. You mostly hit the nail on the head about the school not really having figured out if it wanted to embrace being a party school or not. And the Carbondale PD really had its head up its ass the whole time. They could have very easily prevented any rioting if they wanted to. During the rest of the year, the easily clear the streets at 2am when the bars close even though no one wants to go home. But for some reason during Halloween, they decline to do so, going so far as to close off the streets to traffic and allowing 1,000 drunk students to fill them until someone throws a bottle and then it's Grain Alcohol Thunderdome. At which point they fire off the tear gas and everyone goes home, until the next night, when they do it all over again.

    I will say this though, I left NIU for SIU. NIU was a terrible school and don't anyone tell you otherwise. Academically, socially, etc. They may have a decent CPA program, but that's it. Their science/engineering department was (is?) a joke. I left SIUC with a BS in CS that has paid off handsomely.

  15. Fredric Says:

    Shawn, I certainly understand that feeling. Getting beat up as a people is hard to endure, watching others have to endure the same experience for the first time can be a satisfying experience.

    For instance; when fracking makes it way to wealthier areas the reaction pleases me. Not like those people ever cared what happened to my mountains.

    All universities are places of privilege; WVU isn't exactly a bastion of "Chads" though.

    Redneck is a fine descriptor though. I'm personally proud of the term. It always reminds of the labor history in WV.

  16. Shawn Ritchie Says:

    @Fredic:

    Great point on the fracking, I totally agree and have wished for someone to discover shale oil under Wilmette since I first heard of fracking being a thing.

    I was thinking "Chads" more in response to this weekend's Pumpkin Riot that Ed was obliquely referencing with this post, along with dumb shit like SIU's annual dipshit rodeo.

    I'll be honest and admit complete ignorance when it comes to the social/class makeup of WVU's student body, but thought redneck might fit. I really don't use that descriptor as an insult, just as easy word shorthand for "rural white person like to spend way more time in a pickup truck than I ever will".

  17. Skipper Says:

    You apparently haven't gotten the newsroom memo on how to describe these things.

    If the perpetrators are black, they're "thugs." If they're white, they're "rowdy."

    If they're black, they're "animals." If they're white, they're "mischievous."

    If they're black, they're "destroying their community." If they're white, they're "engaged in shenanigans."

    There are more, but this gives you a little perspective.

  18. Captain Blicero Says:

    Ha. My law school roommate went to WVU (started a few years after the incident you describe) and boy did he have some stories to tell. Morgantown sounds like an interesting place to say the least.

  19. Bob Says:

  20. Major Kong Says:

    @Skipper

    I recall differing news stories after hurricane Katrina.

    Blacks were described as "looters" while Whites "found food and supplies".

  21. Robert Says:

    My family (Scots-Irish) settled in Appalachia in the 1720s. I am entirely certain that I have whole rafts of relatives who could qualify as rednecks, and possibly hillbillies. One of them started heading West after the War of 1812 and didn't stop until he hit Oregon. Absent that, I would most likely have grown up back there. That would have had a tremendous effect on me.

    This is what occurs to me when I see stories like this. Oh, and Ed – the phrase 'fireworks-and-Oxycontin vortex point' is brilliantly evocative.

  22. Anonymouse Says:

    The long-running cartoon The Simpson had their take on this a number of years ago. Homer Simpson takes the family down to Florida for Spring Break and has a rowdy time acting the fool for a week. After the spring break crowds leave, he continues to act the fool and is promptly arrested by the police, who explain that they turn a blind eye during Spring Break, but afterwards they go back to normal.

  23. HoosierPoli Says:

    AB: As far as I can tell, "maximum force" in Germany involves reading the relevant subsection of the Grundgesetz in a loud, stern voice. I've never seen anything approaching the baton-and-tear-gas level that has become the norm in the US.

  24. Linda Says:

    Major Kong: I just read a post at CBS news, in which a poster indignantly pointed out an important difference between New Hampshire and Ferguson: they didn't loot in New Hampshire. So attacking police and burning their cars are okay donkey, as opposed to what the dark savages do.

  25. Arslan Says:

    I regret posting this story in a more recent entry about riots, if only because this one is more on topic and I sincerely didn't want to come off as a spammer: http://nobsrussia.com/2014/10/21/those-people/

    The question is- Where are the white community leaders with the courage to call this out? Those white folks really need to stop making excuses and learn the value of personal responsibility!

  26. April Says:

    As a '76 grad of SIU, I must agree that their science departments were very good. Had no problem getting accepted to U of B'ham England for graduate school with SIU degree.

    At the time I was there, the "party school" rep was there, but faint.

  27. sc Says:

    for a brief shining period SIU was, as my former math professor would say, "the second jewel in the illinois state system" after UIUC. those were the morris years, when a slightly monomaniac university chancellor in the space of twenty years whipped a backwater teacher's college into a research university that employed buckminster fuller.

    my ma was there in that time (graduated 1973) but she pissed it away by being a young republican.

    SIU has a beautiful campus, but the 2009 windstorm and some misguided capital improvements have marred it a bit.

  28. sc Says:

    also, screw you for the fireworks-and-oxycontin remark. i grew up down there, dammit.