Spring Weekend at the University of Connecticut was an infamously “chaotic, alcohol-infused orgy,” but UConn gained control of the event in 2011, Paul Shapiro, mayor of Mansfield, said.
From the late ‘90s to 2010 UConn hosted thousands of people from across the region during the third weekend of April. After nearly 20 years of parties, the event ceased to exist in 2011.
“Spring Weekend should have been stopped years before it was stopped,” Shapiro said. “Anyone who had ever seen the crowds of hundreds of drunken people could have seen that it was a recipe for disaster.”
The end of Spring Weekend
Disaster struck in 2010 when a junior at UConn, Jafar Karzoun, 20, died after he was punched in an altercation with Edi Rapo, 19, of East Hartford.
Police charged Rapo, who was not a UConn student, with second-degree assault. He received a four-and-a-half year sentence in 2011, according to NBC Connecticut.
“It was a tragedy waiting to happen and it did,” Shapiro said.
UConn Deputy Police Chief Hans Rhynhart said that the UConn administration and police began a de-escalation of the event in 2010, but he said it was not enough.
In 2011, the campus was “locked down,” Rhynhart said.
“Lockdown is the right word,” he said. “There were no guests allowed in any of the residence halls, there were severe parking restrictions and it was recommended that students go home for the weekend.”
Rhynhart said that the goal of the administration was to make UConn’s campus less attractive to non-UConn students because the majority of arrests were people not affiliated with the university.
Rhynhart, who started with the UConn Police Department in 2001 and graduated from UConn in 1993, said he saw the event evolve over the years.
“It was not that big when I was here in the early ‘90s,” he said. “But it grew into a regional-wide event and we were not ready for that.”
Shapiro, who worked from 1982 to 2003 as the assistant attorney general at UConn, said the administration was as much to blame for the chaos as the students.
“We enabled them,” he said. “We basically expected that there would be thousands of drunken kids in the area and we let them do this… this was not something they would do in their parents’ backyard.”
The return of Spring Weekend
Now, Rhynhart said, the UConn police and administration are attempting to reach a happy medium between fun and safety.
UConn has gradually eased restrictions on students since the lockdown in 2011.
Last year was the first year that there was live entertainment during Spring Weekend since 2010, and students from UConn’s regional campuses were allowed to visit the Storrs campus as guests.
George Wang, a sophomore at UConn and the chair of the Spring Weekend planning committee for the UConn Student Activities Committee, said he hopes to see more restrictions lifted.
“There was a big push within the UConn student government to get some programming for the weekend,” Wang said. “There are still a lot of restrictions on students and we would like to get the conversation started to lift some of those restrictions.”
Wang said he understands why those restrictions are in place, but thinks the general feel of Spring Weekend has changed over the past six years.
“We aren’t there yet, but we are moving in that direction,” he said. “I think it has evolved into a real good weekend where people are going to have fun, but there is still room for improvement.”
Shapiro partially credited UConn President Susan Herbst with the “new-and-improved” Spring Weekend.
“I believe Susan Herbst’s decision to cancel the weekend [in 2011] was the best decision that could be made,” Shapiro said. “It did what we should have done years ago… it made UConn a safe place to be.”
Herbst made the final call to cancel the weekend in 2011, but Rhynhart said that the decision was made by a combination of state officials, university administration, Mansfield residents and UConn students.
Mansfield Town Council member Toni Moran said 2010 was a turning point for UConn and the town of Mansfield.
“Over the past 6 years or so, communications between UConn staff, UConn police and fire services and town staff has vastly improved,” Moran wrote in an email. “We made a concentrated effort with mutual aid agreements, weekly meetings and policies of cooperation and coordination.”
Moran still has concerns about the weekend.
“The real problem now is smaller and more scattered house parties that can rise to hundreds of people,” she said. “The parties are also scattered over a larger area, with more students walking on busy roads, causing additional problems.”
On the whole, Moran said she feels Storrs campus is much safer now than it was six years ago.
Wang will meet with UConn officials and Rhynhart in mid-April to discuss increased programming for this year’s Spring Weekend.
Wang said students should expect looser restrictions this year, but said the “old” Spring Weekend is a thing of the past.
“We want to build it to the point where students have more freedoms,” he said. “At the same time, we want to, at all costs, avoid the same situations that were commonly happening about 10 years ago.”
Officials said there will be no more mass destruction of property come late April at UConn.
Public safety, the president’s office, student affairs, the town of Mansfield and even more groups are working together to make this happen, Rhynhart said.
He provided some advice to students taking part.
“Take advantage of some of the events that the university provides,” Rhynhart said. “Know the people you are with if you have a party and be responsible.”
This year’s Spring Weekend is scheduled from April 22 to 24.
Jon Hull is a staff writer for The Daily Campus. He can be reached via email firstname.lastname@example.org.