By David Loomis
INDIANA – Five years ago this month, IUPatty’s made its reputation as a “yearly bacchanalian bash” when hundreds of young people in Kelly green T-shirts rioted on South Seventh Street. Video captured the mayhem. Pittsburgh TV aired it. Social media spread it. It became a thing.
During March 2017’s revel, two off-campus shootings left one dead and three injured.
Indiana University of Pennsylvania’s response has been to ban the word IUPatty’s from its official lexicon. Instead, administrators use the wordier euphemism “spring high-celebratory events.” Speak no revel.
More substantively, the university has deployed a local variation of shock and awe. The university recruited a coalition of cops from at least four local and state agencies, supported by a chopper, mounted troopers and, most recently, a drone. Police were backed up by a rear echelon of more than a dozen institutions ranging from the university to the Chamber of Commerce. Landlords were recruited for private-party-pooping detail.
For that, citizens can be thankful. But other citizen sentiments popped up on social media during the weekend’s running postings. Why is IUPatty’s “still a thing?” Is “zero tolerance,” blue-wall policing overdone? Counterproductive? Prohibitionist?
Two longtime Philadelphia Street restaurateurs elaborated.
Nick Karas, chef at Nap’s Cucina Mia and neighboring Josephine’s Pizzeria & Enoteca, surveyed police activity at the borough’s municipal building on Saturday.
“Let’s let kids be kids,” said Karas. “There needs to be space where 19-year-old kids can act like kids, and I’m not talking debauchery and chaos.”
Tim McQuaide, owner of The Coney, described the weekend as “problem free” and “good for business.” But he added that other residents believe IUPatty’s and Homecoming (the university-endorsed fall party weekend) are “a huge problem – the boogeyman is coming.”
McQuaide said the fears were “unfounded.” Party weekends this year and last were “no problem.” Meanwhile, the borough has bigger concerns.
“This is a struggling university town,” he said in a Monday phone interview. “There are not enough students here.”
Changing circumstances suggest the borough should consider a different approach, McQuaide said.
“When we have a lot of law enforcement here, it gives the town a bad image,” he added. “I applaud the police doing something about 2014. But now it’s an overemphasis on the past.”
INDIANA BOROUGH COUNCIL Vice President Gerald Smith elaborated on comments he posted on Facebook during the weekend. He acknowledged the problems of IUPatty’s past. But he saw it now as a tamed opportunity for the community’s future.
“IUPatty’s is a really fun day,” Smith wrote in a March 25 email. “In the long view, I hope students have such a fantastic time here at IUP that they build positive memories about Indiana and want to come back and even figure out how to settle here. This is how communities stay strong. Look at State College.”
He suggested a way forward.
“What I don’t want to have happen is that IUPatty’s completely goes away, and we lose the opportunity to build on some positive reputation,” he added. “However, the event needs to be official, it needs to be sanctioned, and efforts need to be made to make sure that people can be safe.”
“Ultimately, that means that some organization or entity has to decide that they want to pick up the banner of IUPatty’s and build on the positive parts of the day.”
David Loomis, Ph.D., emeritus professor of journalism at Indiana University of Pennsylvania, is editor of The HawkEye.
The HawkEye invites comments on this and other issues of community interest. Email email@example.com