A month-and-a-half after
University of Maryland students and others set about 60 fires that caused
thousands of dollars of damage to the City of College Park, the city and
the university seem to have chalked up the episode as a learning experience.
“This has not negatively affected the city’s relationship
with the university,” said City Manager Richard Conti. “We were able to communicate with the
university right away, and talk with President [Clayton D.] Mote about who from the campus
was involved.... It was not the entire student body.”
Conciliatory comments from city officials contrast starkly with the
explosion of tempers and frustrated statements issued immediately after the
March 31 fires, which cost an estimated $30,000 in damages to city property,
Conti said, and about another $300,000 to Comcast cable lines. College Park Mayor
Michael Jacobs was quoted in the Diamondback saying he was looking for a way to
express himself “without using four-letter words” and that “the community has
had enough." Jacobs also sent a letter
to Gov. Parris Glendening on April 3, asking him to investigate the matter.
“No agency appears willing to be
accountable just as the University has historically not accepted its
responsibility for controlling conditions which are a direct result of its
programs,” Jacobs wrote.
Mote sent a letter
of apology to the mayor the next day, stressing that the incidents were the
isolated actions of a small number of students and that the university was
working with police to arrest those responsible.
Former College Park Mayor Dervey Lomax was not as sanguine as Conti in a recent
interview. Lomax said that the
rampage was likely to take a toll on the university’s improving relationship
with the city.
“This was like throwing
gas on a fire that had already smoldered out,” Lomax said.
Over the years, officials on both sides have
struggled to balance the positive impacts the university has on the city’s
development with the negatives associated with the party habits of college
Last year, University of Maryland’s sixth annual outdoor
concert, Art Attack, prompted 50 to 60 complaints by city residents who said
that the concert was too loud and that the crowd of roughly 20,000 spectators
was out of control. A campus task force
appointed to study concert management in lieu of potential fines to the campus
proposed that all large outdoor concerts be moved to Byrd Stadium, and that
ticketing be used to restrict access.
This year, Art Attack was held in Byrd stadium, and
Jacobs said he received no complaints from residents about noise from the May 4 concert, which drew several thousand attendees. “Art Attack was a significant improvement
over last year,” the mayor said.
With respect to the fires, the mayor and other city
officials have shifted their emphasis from the university’s culpability to the
fact that the fires were set by a small number of people.
minority of folks who were motivated by things that surprise me at
times...created a big amount of damage that brings discredit to the university
and the city,” said Jacobs. “These
actions characterize everyone on campus as irresponsible, but that’s not the
Councilman Stephen Brayman, who said he could see flames
shooting up from his College Park home during the last five minutes of the
game, expressed similar sentiments. He said that the University of Maryland is a commuter school, and most of the
students weren’t present in College Park when the riots took place.
In a mass e-mail distributed campus-wide five days after
the demonstrations, Vice President for Student Affairs Linda Clement said that
“a small number of individuals have stained us all, and are not representative
of our campus community.” She called
the acts of violence and fires “intolerable” and said that they “embarrass” the
the incident, four University of Maryland students have been arrested and face
trial for misdemeanor charges. Initially, the
students also faced felony charges for first-degree malicious burning, but that
charge was dropped because it could not be substantiated, said a spokeswoman
for the Prince George’s County State’s Attorney’s Office.
Chi fraternity national headquarters also took action, suspending the campus chapter for 30
days after two members were quoted in The Washington Post saying that they had participated or
supported the actions of others who rioted.
reactions vary, from those who feel that the responsible students should
be made an example of to those who think that a small number of people are
being treated as scapegoats.
think the whole thing was ridiculous,” said Stephen McClurkin, 22, a government
and politics major who was working at
Kinko’s Copies in College Park when the rampage took place. “I feel like these are
all spoiled little rich kids who don’t understand the value of the things they
were destroying,” McClurkin said, adding that the responsible parties were
going to make property owners less likely to rent to students and more likely
to raise rent.
Others said that a small group of students, especially members of fraternities, are being scapegoated. “It’s not really fair that the frats are getting blamed for it,”
said Casey Maskell, 20, a sophomore in Phi Sigma Kappa. “Everybody was running down to [Fraternity]
Row.... [But] the majority of people weren’t frat guys.”
concedes that the city and its residents have a right to be upset. “It was pretty stupid, so I guess everybody
has a right to be mad,” he said. “Just not at us.”
Some city residents want to see the university taking
greater responsibility for student actions. “The university is no greater than the efforts it brings off-campus,”
said Lomax, who lives on Knox Road. “It
has to take responsibility for the actions of students off-campus.”
Meanwhile, some city businesses seemed unfazed. “We feel like we were separated from all
that,” said Eden Beck, manager of the Cornerstone Grill and Loft. “A lot of the people in here were alumni watching the game, who cleared
out right after it was over.” Beck said
she wasn’t surprised by what happened, because she “know[s] what the Maryland
rivalry with Duke is like.”
City and university officials are also underscoring the importance of
maintaining a partnership and of preventing a similar situation from occurring.
Conti said “it takes proper leadership, and the university has indicated it’s willing
to be part of that.”
Conti alluded to “Greek Week” as an example of how coordinated efforts between city officials and city police can be
successful. He suggested that the Local
Development Corp., an economic partnership between the city and the university,
is a powerful example of the continually improving relationship between the
university and the city.
“We have got to put this incident behind us,” said
Jacobs. “We need to take the initiative
to continue the improving relationship that existed between the city and the
university over the past several years.”
Maryland Newsline reporter Tynisa E. Trapps contributed
to this report.
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