By Kristina Goetz
The Cincinnati Enquirer
In an effort to tame wild Cinco de Mayo parties near the University of Cincinnati - which turned violent two years in a row - campus officials are warning students of a new law that strips students of state financial aid and expels them for rioting.
University of Cincinnati student Tonya Doup, 21, sits on a porch over Stratford Avenue, site of violent student parties the last two years.
The Cincinnati Enquirer/TONY JONES
With only three weeks until the annual "Cinco de Stratford," named for a street near campus, UC officials have begun a targeted campaign to educate students about the state law as well as some proposed changes to the university's student code of conduct.
The new law says students convicted of rioting must be expelled immediately, denied access to any state-supported institution for one year and lose financial aid for two.
Conviction on charges of failure to disperse or misconduct at an emergency will result in loss of financial aid.
The sanctions could apply to students at other Ohio universities, too, if they are caught and convicted of rioting near the UC campus.
"Will this event happen again?" Frank Bowen, UC's dean of students, asked Tuesday before Cincinnati City Council's Law and Public Safety Committee. "We don't know, but we're planning for it. We are much better prepared to address those types of issues than we have been in the past."
Passed in 2003 by the state legislature, sections of House Bill 95 were written to discourage the kind of celebratory rioting that has proliferated across the nation's college campuses. In the past decade, celebrations of sports championships and holidays have degenerated from harmless fun into violence, property damage and multiple arrests.
On Stratford Avenue, two years in a row, UC students, residents and out-of-town visitors have torched couches, hurled beer bottles at police and overturned cars. At least eight people were convicted of crimes - some as serious as aggravated riot and attempted arson - in connection with last year's party.
Since then, a committee of UC officials, residents and Cincinnati police officers have met to discuss ways to prevent another riot.
Beyond the new state law, UC's Board of Trustees is expected to vote in May on new language in the student code of conduct that would allow the university to punish students convicted of crimes committed up to a half-mile off campus.
It would include only the most violent offenses, such as armed robbery or rape; it would not include underage drinking.
"We will be able to reach you off campus if you misbehave," Bowen said.
Under a new plan, city police will provide campus officers with copies of reports that include either students arrested for crimes or those who are victims of them.
And, if asked by Cincinnati police, campus Police Chief Gene Ferrara said he would send officers with video cameras to record misconduct during any Cinco de Stratford-type parties. The university will then use the tapes to identify the students, a strategy it used last year, he said.
"We will follow what happens with them criminally, and if a conviction is found, we will follow up on the expulsion and financial-aid part of House Bill 95," he said.
Cinco de Stratford is a takeoff on Cinco de Mayo, Mexicans' celebration of their victory over the French army at the Battle of Puebla in 1862. The anniversary falls on May 5, a Wednesday this year. Officials say Cinco de Stratford could begin anytime during that week.
Police say they are ready. They won't detail their plans, but officers say about 50 of them are being pulled into a special squad to work the area the first week of May.
"Let me tell you, we are prepared," said Lt. Kurt Byrd, department spokesman. "We have a whole plan in place."
UC officials also say students and residents should look for door hangers that will be distributed the weekend of April 24. They'll provide details about House Bill 95 and several phone numbers for residents to call if they wish to file a complaint or report a crime. A letter with similar informationwill be sent to students April 26.
College students enrolled at other state-supported schools across Ohio should take heed, too, UC administrators say. Bowen will send a letter to student deans later this month that says UC will notify other schools if their students are arrested in Cincinnati.
Reaction from UC students who live on Stratford Avenue is mixed.
Andrea Spicker, a fifth-year senior political-science major, vividly remembers the first riot.
"I came home to that apartment to find there were people I didn't know strewn about my front yard and porch," Spicker said. "There were two dents in my car that took $1,000 to have repaired."
She's skeptical of the new law.
"If the thought of getting arrested and going to jail for the night doesn't stop them, how will this?" she said.
Drew Klein, a junior electronic-media major from Findlay, says something should be done about riotous behavior, but it shouldn't go as far as expulsion.
"The state shouldn't get involved in students getting drunk and having too much fun on the weekend," he said.
His friend Tonya Doup, a junior nursing student from Findlay, said she probably won't go to a Cinco de Stratford party this year and hopes her fellow students learn more about the repercussions.
"Maybe freshmen would think it's a big deal," she said, "but it's not all that it's cracked up to be."
Nationally, researchers say celebratory riots are occurring more often, they're getting bigger, and they have a greater likelihood to produce injuries than do protest events. While sports victories trigger some disturbances, the number of riots linked to holidays, such as Halloween or St. Patrick's Day, have increased dramatically over the past 20 years.
There is cause for concern, says Jerry M. Lewis, a professor emeritus at Kent State University who has studied crowd behavior for nearly 40 years. He was an eyewitness to the 1970 National Guard shootings there.
"College students are the greatest source of crowd behavior now in our society," he says. "If we don't get this problem solved, we're going to have another Kent State."
Jane Prendergast contributed. E-mail firstname.lastname@example.org
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