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Riots and Campus Disturbances

Many campuses and communities across the United States are concerned about the issue of riots and other campus and community disturbances. Sometimes called "celebratory" riots to distinguish them from disruptions with political or other goals, these incidents often occur in conjunction with campus and professional sporting events or scheduled campus celebrations (e.g., fall homecoming or “spring fling”). In other instances, disturbances erupt spontaneously. These events often result in extensive property damage to public, university, and private property, danger to bystanders and safety personnel, and tensions among local residents, students, police, campus administrators, and community leaders.

An array of factors contribute to riots, including student beliefs and expectations, campus and community policies, enforcement efforts, alcohol control efforts, and event management practices,. Experts agree that this problem is complex and there are no easy answers. There are, however, many lessons to be learned from the experiences of campuses and communities across the U.S. The consensus is that successfully addressing riots requires implementation of comprehensive, multifaceted, ongoing efforts that engage both campus and community representatives.

As with other types of violence, effective riot prevention is grounded in proactive planning involving multiple stakeholders, including students, community members, and city and state government representatives, as well as campus officials. This process includes assessing the problems and contributors specific to each campus and identifying needed changes, reviewing research and best practices, and creating a strategic plan with multiple components, each with well-defined goals and objectives. Strategies should be informed by current research and theory and adapted to local conditions and context. Plans should include efforts to prevent, minimize, and respond to disturbances.

Example initiatives that may be undertaken as part of a comprehensive approach include:

  • changing campus policies and community ordinances
  • increasing on- and off-campus enforcement efforts
  • increasing surveillance and patrolling of events
  • offering alcohol-free celebrations
  • educating students about applicable policies and penalties for riotous behavior and alcohol abuse
  • encouraging responsible party hosting
  • informing students about their peers’ disapproval of riotous behavior
  • planning and coordinating campus and community public safety efforts, including interagency agreements, event and crowd management plans, response procedures, and other operational plans
  • educating parents about the legal and financial consequences of riotous behavior and asking them to discuss the issue with their children
  • facilitating connections between off-campus students and their neighbors
Campuses that have engaged in riot prevention efforts emphasize the need for ongoing communication among stakeholders and careful coordination of multiple efforts.


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