That gnawing, unavoidable urge to join in on the screaming, the out-of-control behavior and participate in the barbaric tradition of dancing around a fire, most likely a raggedy couch that made a porch comfortable only hours before.
Was there a death of a well-liked political leader? Are we going to war? Have our constitutional rights been jeopardized?
Such questions are lost in a crowd which seems to be on a rampage to destroy everything and anything in its path.
The neighborhood is aflame with light, blaring chants and half-nude…college students?
Someone slurs a comment about the unjust score, jumping off a balcony and into a tangling mob of pounding fists and shoulder-sitting bodies.

The image isn’t an unusual one.
Universities from coast to coast have seen, heard or experienced such intense riot scenes – mostly the result of unsettling sporting events.
“Mobs are caused by people who are frustrated,” said Stan Kaplowitz, Ph.D., a professor in sociology who has done considerable research on conditions of mob violence as well as the infamous 1999 MSU riots.
College riots, as with general mob behavior, occur when there is a large group of people, heightened excitement, low fear of consequences and an almost guaranteed support from the community, Kaplowitz said.
“They usually occur at nighttime, where the rioters are harder to identify,” Kaplowitz said. “There is a feeling of anonymity at late hours, and of course it is easier to get a crowd together at night, because people are usually not working, or in this case, in class.”
MSU is practically nationwide-known for its drunken students who tend to take loss – or even celebration – just a tad bit too far.
“The riots overwhelmingly occurred after losses,” Kaplowitz said. “But whether we win or lose doesn’t have much to do with it. After tense sporting events, people will be expecting a riot either way.”
And that expectation is what sometimes actually fuels the riot. According to Kaplowitz, there are three conditions that trigger this outlandish behavior by students: alcohol consumption (usually a considerable amount), the knowledge of this inevitable intense reaction, and an anticipation of it – numerous amounts of people just like themselves coming together and acting without inhibitions, and probably without consequences.
On March 27, 1999, MSU lost the Final Four game of the men’s basketball tournament. Post game celebration took on a whole new level. Close to 10,000 people were part of the rioting crowd, and an outlandish amount of money in damage was done. Not to mention the numerous students who were expelled from MSU for partaking in the disturbance that received not only state coverage, but was recognized by the entire country as well.
The scene that was set for these notorious riots was a tense one. Restrictions on alcohol consumption had risen, and students were not happy about it.
“They saw rioting a way to strike back at the university and the community. It was their way of protesting,” Kaplowitz said.
Kaplowitz, who has done a thorough investigation of this particular event, said there are many conditions that aided in this behavior. More general alcohol consumption led to a greater degree of objecting to the restrictions, as well as inebriating the rioters and thus reducing their inhibitions. MSU is also a Big Ten university, and statistics have proven that campus demonstrations have almost always occurred at schools with a large student body.
In his research, Kaplowitz touched base on the two views of riots, according to a variety of writers. Some, he says, view mobs as apolitical rampages, whose participants, typically young males, are motivated by a search for excitement and the thrill of seeing that they can “make things happen.” Others see it in a different angle, accounting riot behavior as politically motivated protests or rebellions against what they perceive as injustice.
The 1999 riots could have been a little of both – using alcohol and the dim light of night as masks in order for them to act outrageously. Maybe some did it to be on the front page of the State News; others may have just been ticked off at MSU, and were rebelling against the university and community restrictions on alcohol consumption.
Other sociologists across the nation have taken notice to what many are calling a “crisis on campus.” In 2002, newspapers from USA Today to campus-based religious news were in aflame with articles about these “celebratory riots.”
According to an interview with Thomas O’Toole in USA Today with Merrill J. Melnick, sports sociologist at Brockport State and co-author of Sports Fans: The Psychology and Social Impact of Spectators, there is a thin line between ecstasy and anti-social behavior.
“These things tend to start off benign, with a lot of social milling. It doesn’t take too much to get things going in a negative direction. It can start with a bonfire or a tipped-over car.”
Melnick, as with Kaplowitz, puts a lot of emphasis on the identification factor. If students are less likely to be identified, usually due to an intense population and the dark of night, they are more likely to partake in the behavior, because there isn’t a fear of penalties.
Many times the large crowd begins non-violent – just a simple “Go Green, Go White!” chant. However, a domino effect of destruction can begin with just one simple violent act.
The 1999 riots brought about 10,000 people into the streets, caused $250,000 in property damage and 132 arrests. In 2003, similar riots beckoned about 2,000 people into the East Lansing streets, causing $40,000 in property damage and 30 arrests.
This past spring, MSU continued the trend with the infamous Apr. 2 and 3 disturbances, which sparked a debate that has prolonged since, still a hot topic even today in these chilly fall months.
Following the team’s 87-71 loss in the Final Four in St. Louis, students gathered in the Cedar Village area and around the city, where several fires were reported and police released tear gas to disperse the crowd.
The actions that took place almost seven months ago aren’t considered “riots.” They are dubbed “celebratory events,” or “civil disturbances.” Why? Well, first off, the crowds just barely hit 3,000 in the Cedar Village area, and only reached as high as 1,500 in downtown East Lansing. It is estimated that police deployed several hundred tear-gas canisters, and 43 arrests people got handcuffed – 21 of which were MSU students.
The issue that has made this event prolong is the response by the police. Many believe that the violent acts performed by the students were encouraged by the equally – and initial – violence by the authority figures.
“I didn’t witness any violent behavior,” said Kevin Lappe, Spanish and economics sophomore, who was in the Cedar Village area at the end of the game. “It was a friendly, jovial atmosphere. No one exhibited any ill feelings.
“Fifteen minutes later, the first tear gas canisters were set off, and the whole demeanor of the crowd changed.”
Lappe was unfortunate enough to be pepper sprayed by the police. While standing on private property, the MSU student hollered at an officer for the safest way out. Eyes burning, Lappe heard the authority figure audibly laugh, whip out two cans of mace and spray him down in a crisscross fashion. And this didn’t just happen once – it occurred again, a few hours later.
“Seems to me that the police had a pre-planned answer to a riot that didn’t occur,” Lappe said. “They were overly aggressive, if not flat out directly hostile to the students. If they hadn’t tear-gassed and maced us, it wouldn’t have evolved in to that.”
Lappe admits that some students were violent, but not until three and a half hours into the celebratory event. He remembers Spartans high-fiving, chanting the MSU colors, and singing the fight song.
“We were sent numerous emails encouraging us to celebrate peacefully and with “class,” Lappe said. “Ninety-nine percent headed to those warnings.”
Obviously, what occurred last spring is up for debate. A riot? The police seem to think so. Celebration after a successful basketball season? Many students agree.
“It was more reminiscent of the Academic Orientation Program that I attended the summer before I came to State, where incoming freshman cheered ‘Go Green! Go White!’ and learned the fight song,” Lappe said. “Yes, some students were overzealous, but the vast majority behaved appropriately.
“The police are sending a bad message: If you gather peacefully, we will tear gas the hell out of you.”
Unfortunately, college, for many partiers, is seen as a drunken playground. They are finally away from the rules of mom and dad, and barriers quickly diminish. Living off-campus, without the restrictions enforced by mentors, allows for a freedom very new. This is apparent as crowds seem to gather by apartment complexes, or down city streets.
Immaturity, inebriation, the feeling of being part of something bigger then themselves, and the lack of fear of consequences rile up these drunkards and give a perfect excuse for getting rid of that old, smelly couch, and maybe even that mattress too. Some students take the violent approach – others are just trying to ask for directions, and possibly help for their burning eyes.
As we embark on a new MSU basketball season, we have to weigh these facts, and take a good look at this behavior. To be a good Spartan and save our furniture, or to skip the trip to the dumpster all together and grab a match instead. What will be our choice?

That gnawing, unavoidable urge to join in on the screaming, the out-of-control behavior and participate in the Native American tradition of dancing around a fire, most likely a raggedy couch that made a porch comfortable only hours before.
Was there a death of a well-liked political leader? Are we going to war? Have our constitutional rights been jeopardized?
Such questions are lost in a crowd which seems to be on a rampage to destroy everything and anything in its path.
The neighborhood is aflame with light, blaring chants and half-nude…college students?
“I can’t believe we lost!” someone slurs, jumping off a balcony and into a tangling mob of pounding fists and shoulder-sitting bodies.
The image isn’t an unusual one.
Universities from coast to coast have seen, heard or experienced such intense riot scenes – mostly the result of unsettling sporting events.
“Mobs are caused by people who are frustrated,” said Stan Kaplowitz, Ph.D., a professor in sociology who has done considerable research on conditions of mob violence such as the infamous 1999 MSU riots. “Frustration from things that are less than they think they ought to get.”
College riots, as with general mob behavior, occur when there is a large group of people, heightened excitement, low fear of consequences and an almost guaranteed support from the community, said Kaplowitz.
“They usually occur at nighttime, where the rioters are harder to identify,” said Kaplowitz. “There is a feeling of anonymity at late hours, and of course it is easier to get a crowd together at night, because people are usually not working, or in this case, in class.”
MSU is practically known nationwide for its drunken students who tend to take loss – or even celebration – just a tad bit too far.
“The riots overwhelmingly occurred after losses,” said Kaplowitz. “But whether we win or lose doesn’t have much to do with it. After tense sporting events, people will be expecting a riot either way.”
And that expectation is what sometimes actually fuels the riot. According to Kaplowitz, there are three conditions that trigger this outlandish behavior by students: alcohol consumption (usually a considerable amount), the knowledge of this inevitable intense reaction and an anticipation of it – numerous amounts of people just like themselves coming together and acting without inhibitions, and probably without consequences.
On March 27, 1999, MSU lost the Final Four game of the men’s basketball tournament. Post game celebration took on a whole new level. Close to 10,000 people were part of the rioting crowd, and $150,000 in damage was done.
The scene that was set for these notorious riots was a tense one. Restrictions on alcohol consumption had risen, and students were not happy about it.
“They saw rioting a way to strike back at the university and the community. It was their way of protesting,” said Kaplowitz.
Kaplowitz, who has done a thorough investigation of this particular event, said there are many conditions that aided in this behavior. More general alcohol consumption led to a greater degree of objecting to the restrictions, as well as inebriating the rioters and thus reducing their inhibitions. MSU is also a Big Ten university, and statistics have proven that campus demonstrations have almost always occurred at schools with a large student body.
In his research, Kaplowitz touched base on the two views of riots, according to a variety of writers. Some, he says, view mobs as apolitical rampages, whose participants, typically young males, are motivated by a search for excitement and the thrill of seeing that they can “make things happen.” Others see it in a different angle, accounting riot behavior as politically motivated protests or rebellions against what they perceive as injustice.
The 1999 riots could be a little of both – using alcohol and the dim light of night as masks in order for them to act outrageously in order to possibly be on the front page of the State News, AND rebelling against the university and community restrictions on alcohol consumption.
Other sociologists across the nation have taken notice to what many are calling a “crisis on campus.” In 2002, newspapers from USA Today to campus-based religious news were in aflame with articles about these “celebratory riots.”
According to an interview with Thomas O’Toole in USA Today with Merrill J. Melnick, sports sociologist at Brockport State and co-author of Sports Fans: The Psychology and Social Impact of Spectators, there is a thin line between ecstasy and anti-social behavior.
“These things tend to start off benign, with a lot of social milling. It doesn’t take too much to get things going in a negative direction. It can start with a bonfire or a tipped-over car.”
Melnick, as with Kaplowitz, puts a lot of emphasis on the identification factor. If students are less likely to be identified, usually due to an intense population and night, they are more likely to partake in the behavior because there isn’t a fear of penalites.
The United States has seen an overwhelming amount of riots in its young history. Most of them, Kaplowski said, have been race-related.
Most Americans know of the Los Angeles riots after the Rodney King hearings, and of the Civil Rights riots. Throughout our country’s history, mob rule has taken the form of executing people accused of witchcraft, lynching many because the color of their skin, to riots and rape culture on contemporary college campus.
Many times the large crowd begins non-violent – just a simple “Go Green, Go White!” chant. However, a domino effect of destruction can begin with just one simple violent act.
Kaplowitz makes a good point: “You usually don’t find corporate executives rioting.”
Age and economic status are huge factors when it comes to this mob mentality. College, for many partiers, is seen as a drunken playground. They are finally away from the rules of mom and dad, and thus, they don’t have any barriers. Living off-campus, without the restrictions enforced by mentors, allows for a freedom very new. This is apparent in the many campus riots that have occurred on street blocks instead of on the quad of a dorm.
Immaturity, inebriation, the feeling of being part of something bigger than themselves and the lack of fear of consequences rile up these drunkards and give a perfect excuse for getting rid of that old, smelly couch, and maybe even that mattress too.
As we embark on a new MSU basketball season, we have to weigh these facts, and take a good look at this seemingly inevitable behavior. To be a good Spartan and save our furniture, or to skip the trip to the dumpster all together and grab a match instead. What will be our choice?

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