18:00 PM

Task Force on Celebratory Riots delivers report

COLUMBUS – Four months of intensive study into the causes and possible solutions to the kinds of celebratory riots which have occurred at Ohio State and in other communities around the nation have found some disturbing trends and hopeful signs. What is clear, however, is that solving the problem will take a long-term, comprehensive approach led by students, and supported by the university, the city and the community.

That’s the conclusion of The Task Force on Preventing Celebratory Riots, a group convened by Ohio State President Karen A. Holbrook and Columbus Mayor Michael B. Coleman. President Holbrook and Mayor Coleman will be briefed later this week.

The task force was formed in December 2002 in response to disturbances following the Ohio State-Michigan football game in Columbus.

David Andrews, dean of Ohio State’s College of Human Ecology and chair of the task force, said that completing the report signals the next phase in the effort to understand and seek solutions to the root causes of celebratory rioting that occurred in the neighborhoods near campus.

The task force report outlines a need for both short-term and long-term strategies in preventing riots. It recommends 13 actions to minimize the likelihood of riots in the near future. The report also calls for a long term, multi-year comprehensive campaign to prevent riots by capitalizing on some of the positive aspects associated with being a good citizen and good student. The full report is available at http://hec.osu.edu/taskforce/FinalReport.pdf

Columbus Safety Director Mitch Brown agreed that the report is an important first step.

“The results make it clear that we need to engage the residents, the community and businesses, in addition to the university and the city, if we are to prevent the kind of violence and property destruction that have been characteristic of these kinds of events.”

The task force consisted of working groups that focused on four distinct elements thought to be related to celebratory riots. These included alcohol consumption and high-risk and binge drinking; the role of community, culture and media in either facilitating or inhibiting the events; the overall risk-taking characteristics of young adults seeking independence; and best practices in celebration management.

The working groups gathered information from existing research, expert testimony, student interviews and focus group data. But task force members said they were often frustrated by the lack of research and documentation on issues related to riots.

Andrews says it became apparent early on that the group was investigating a problem that has gotten very little research-based attention.

“As we looked for models and solid research in this area we saw a clear need for a better understanding of what leads to riotous behavior, and the strategies that can be used to prevent such behavior,” he said. “Any new approaches that are adopted as a result of our recommendations should be measured and tracked.”

While the riots have several common elements, he said, there is no single strategy that is identified as effective in deterring them. Prevention efforts will include a comprehensive, long-term approach aimed at changing behavior, coupled with effective law-enforcement, student connection to the university and community, and improvements in entertainment options.

The Task Force presents two sets of recommendations:

A long-term comprehensive campaign that emphasizes the positive, proactive community involvement of students, faculty, alumni, staff, community members and city officials. The goals of the campaign will be to:

a. Instill pride and enhance the positive engagement of students in both their
university and their community.

b. Promote safety and health within the student body.

c. Reduce illegal and irresponsible behavior within the student body

As one of its key components, the campaign will provide an opportunity for the
university and city to work together, with students in a lead role, to build a supportive,
civil, caring environment based on mutual respect and the highest displays of character.

In the near-term, implement “immediate prevention actions” to have the highest possible impact on preventing disturbances in spring 2003.

a. The university and the city should clearly communicate the consequences of illegal and dangerous behavior and should be visible before and after sanctions have been imposed.

b. Appropriate officials should consistently enforce underage drinking laws through the OSU campus and University District neighborhoods.

c. Appropriate officials should consistently enforce open container laws.

d. The university should mail letters to parents spelling out consequences for alcohol and riot behavior, and expand parental notification of alcohol related infractions.

e. The city should invest in creative surveillance measures in riot areas for the purpose of making identification.

f. The university and the city should publish video tapes of riot behavior on respective web sites for identification.

g. Appropriate officials should consider establishing a municipal court near site on nights of potential riots.

Additional short-term recommendations are included in the full report.
The Task Force on Preventing Celebratory Riots -- Report Facts

• Celebratory Riots on university campuses are not a new phenomenon, but are clearly escalating in prevalence and magnitude.

• While the urgency of implementing short-term strategies is warranted in trying to prevent spring 2003 disturbances, the greater impact will come from the implementation of a comprehensive campaign to engage students, faculty, alumni and community in proactive initiatives based upon mutual respect.

• The proposed campaign will be multi-faceted and sustained over multiple years.

• The Mayor of the City of Columbus and the President of The Ohio State University are committed to providing leadership and direction in assuring the implementation and sustainability of the effort.

• Many of the Task Force’s recommendations do not require additional funding. Instead, they involve a redirection of effort and approach.

• Nearly 90 percent of students enrolled in 2002-2003 have never seen a riot, even from a distance. An even smaller percentage of students, less than 4 percent, have been close enough to be considered involved. Less than 1 percent of students - .2 percent - have been directly involved in the disturbances.

• Nearly 90 percent of student respondents to a task force survey – 88.8 percent – said the behavior of the rioters is embarrassing to the university.

• Most students (nearly 90 percent) believe that the primary responsibility for preventing future events lies within the student body.

• Students living off-campus were more likely to believe that the behavior of the rioters was embarrassing to the university (63.1 percent of off-campus students compared to 49.7 percent of on-campus).

• Alcohol consumption in and of itself is not a sufficient explanation for riotous behavior, nor should it be the single point of intervention.

• One of the strongest sets of recommendations emerging from the Task Force was the need for ongoing research and evaluation on effective strategies for engaging students in pro-social behavior, reducing high-risk drinking and eliminating destructive behavior.