Brawls prompt a party limit

Rules say parties at UM union must end at midnight

January 26, 2008|By Gadi Dechter | Gadi Dechter,Sun reporter

The University of Maryland, College Park has declared a moratorium on late-night parties at the campus student union amid mounting concern about what police describe as brawls at student events that can draw upward of a thousand people, officials said yesterday.

Student leaders at the state's flagship public campus said yesterday that they were upset about not being consulted on the decision - which comes the week before they return from winter break. They said the ban could have a disproportionate impact on minority students, who tend to rely on the facility for social events. But student leaders also acknowledged that fights and rowdiness have repeatedly marred popular "late-night socials" in recent years.

"We've had some police officers say they don't want to work our events anymore because the events are out of control," said Gretchen Metzelaars, an administrator who oversees the Adele H. Stamp Student Union. "And when police are concerned, then I become concerned."

On Nov. 17, police broke up two large brawls involving a total of more than 50 people at a go-go concert at the Stamp facility, said campus police spokesman Paul Dillon. Go-go music has roots in nearby Washington and typically features live musicians playing funky party music.

"There were also three ejections at the concert for alcohol and drugs, two people were ejected for having sex in the ballroom, and one 18-year-old female was transported to the hospital for alcohol" poisoning, Dillon said.

Outside the student union, a fight broke out involving 25 people, some who tore metal covers off nearby ground lights and brandished them as weapons, Dillon said.

That incident led campus administrators to conclude that heightened safety precautions taken last year to stem a string of violent outbreaks at parties were insufficient, Metzelaars said.

She said Facebook and other social-networking Web sites have made it easier for students to advertise events to people who don't attend the university. "Ninety-nine percent of the time it's non-students" who cause problems, Metzelaars said.

Under the terms of the moratorium, large-scale parties will be open only to current UM students and may not go past midnight.

Student leaders predicted that the surprise announcement would upset the many undergraduates who attend the dances, concerts and fundraisers held every semester at the cavernous Stamp building.

"I'm a little disappointed because I was not involved in the discussion of this policy," said student body President Andrew Friedson. "It's a very large venue, and it's really popular."

He and the heads of other student organization were informed of Metzelaars' decision in an e-mail Thursday.

Eric Brady, president of the Alpha Phi Alpha fraternity and a former officer of the Black Student Union, said the moratorium would be acutely felt by minority students.

"The predominantly black and Hispanic and Asian sororities and fraternities don't have houses on campus," Brady said. "So their parties have to take place" at the student union.

But in addition to party-related incidents, the College Park campus struggled with a surge in violence last year, including a suspected serial sex predator targeting female students, a carjacking outside a student dorm and a recent strong-arm robbery.

"It's all about safety," Metzelaars said.

Though it is in the center of the sprawling 35,000-student campus, the Stamp building is difficult to secure, officials said. "The student union has 13 entrances, so we have problems controlling who's in and who's out," Metzelaars said.

Last year, a committee of student leaders and administrators agreed on stricter rules for large parties, including separating men and women in admissions lines, requiring college identification and forcing student organizers to pay for extra security guards.

"We did all of those things, and they didn't work," Metzelaars said.

She said she will meet with student leaders early next semester to hammer out additional restrictions, which could include limiting to 500 the number of students who can attend a late-night party and limiting which groups can hold them.

Metzelaars said she hoped the moratorium could be lifted within a month if an agreement can be worked out with the student union's advisory board.

gadi.dechter@baltsun.com

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