Spring Fest 2013: A Portrait of America

By Aidan Ryan and Kevin Daley
Griffin Editors

 

Spring-Fest-copsBreak out those powder wigs and denim overalls, because Spring Fest starts bright and early on Friday, May 3 – and this year the theme is “Made in America.”

The decision, according to Neil Savoy, sophomore senator, Mr. Canisius, Student Programming Board member, and Event Coordinator for Spring Fest, was more a matter of aesthetics than of patriotism – he and the other planners, freshmen Megan Cook, David Carmel, and Katie Murphy, wanted a theme and a color scheme that would be easy to follow. When asked if the theme had anything to do with President Obama’s re-election, the self-styled “Bull Moose Progressive” shook his head. “I can’t say that it does,” he said. “It was purely aesthetic … Red, white, and blue … I look pretty good in those colors.”

Earlier in the year, Savoy tossed around other theme ideas, including “Jailbreak” and “Le Sacre du Printemps” – an homage to Igor Stravinsky’s controversial ballet. However, Savoy thought that the administrators would be opposed to his plan to select a virgin for sacrifice. “I guess I just realized that the administration wouldn’t be for it,” he said. “It would be hard, first of all, to find a virgin on campus, and harder to get her to sacrifice herself in public.”

Savoy looked wistful, recalling these early plans. “I know it’s something that the student body would’ve been for,” he said, “but it’s not something the administration would have gone for.”

At any rate, Savoy and the Spring Fest team settled on the stars and stripes.

As Savoy pointed out, Spring Fest always inspires elaborate costumes, no matter the theme. Previous years have seen homemade cutoff tees, questionable body paint, and so much blinding, clashing neon, that attendants simply must wear sunglasses (conveniently distributed by the Spring Fest committee). Students have indeed sported Spring Fest sunglasses, along with duct tape underwear and actual Buffalo Police Department handcuffs. Spring Fest fashion gurus expect this year to see lots of denim, plenty of stripes, and maybe some of that red-white-and-blue lingerie that Auntie Sam usually saves for the Uncle.

Sophomore Mike Lillis told The Griffin that he plans to wear jorts spray painted with stars and stripes, with his shoulders wrapped in the American flag to prevent sunburn.

If you don’t have something America-themed to wear, check your local thrift shop: there’s no better place start looking for the true, plaque-coated heart of America. I’d recommend the Salvation Army on Elmwood, the Goodwill on Delaware, or the St. Vincent DePaul’s discount store (run by Canisius alum Mark Zirnheld, ‘82) just down Main Street.

. . .

Fashion, though, was the last thing on anyone’s mind when school officials met with student senators on Tuesday, April 16 to discuss the festivities. Public Safety Chief Gary Everett briefed the Undergraduate Student Association on security measures for the day, announcing a private security firm had been contracted for crowd control, while public safety officers would work in tandem with Buffalo Police to organize stationary posts and roadblocks starting at 10 a.m. Waxing nostalgic for the tomfoolery of previous years, Everett recalled occasions where students burned couches, climbed gutters, and rocked elementary school buses, as children, still inside, shrieked in mixed horror and glee. He also recalled when SWAT teams rolled in to enforce order. “It was kind of funny sometimes, but we can’t have people keep falling off of roofs,” he said.

Dean of Students Dr. Terri Mangione continued off of Everett’s themes, imploring students to behave responsibly. This semester’s office supplies freeze required that the traditional Spring Fest warning letter would not be sent from administrators to parents, placing the onus on students to make good choices. “Have a good time,” Mangione urged students, “but not such a good time that you end up in the hospital, or end up getting arrested.”

Last year, three students were hospitalized in alcohol-related incidents. One student was arrested, and another was banned from commencement and all senior week activities. “Have a plan, be safe about it” she continued, “but students who start drinking at eight and are drunk by noon … that’s just not a good time.”

“Especially the next morning,” added Dr. Ellen Conley, outgoing VP for Student Affairs.

These sober comments were born out of traumatic experiences with rowdier Spring Fests – then called “Quad Parties” – in the not-so-distant past. Everett, Mangione, Conley, and other administrators remember SWAT tanks rolling down Meech, and students lined up at the open doors of Black Marias, ready to be shipped off to the Erie County Holding Center.

The most controversial year in Spring Fest’s long history was 2007, when Hamlin Park residents and the BPD tried to put the kibosh on Canisius’ Dionysian revelry.

“Generally speaking,” Michael DeGeorge said, spokesman for the BPD and Mayor Byron Brown, “police had received complaints from homeowners in the area … homeowners had become concerned about safety issues, and the safety of the students.” DeGeorge said that after consulting with city officials, Canisius officials, and Hamlin park residents, BPD Commissioner Daniel Derenda planned to have “police personnel on hand.”

Having “police personnel on hand” amounted to a massive, orchestrated effort; in one picture, which Mangione, Conley, and Everett distributed to the Senate, one can count thirty-two uniformed Buffalo police officers in what looks to be a few square yards of T.S. Eliot’s “Wasteland.”

Some believe, though, that the crackdown was only partially the result of Canisius’ yearly festivities – pointing to the fact that it came hot on the heels of Byron Brown Jr.’s drunken joyride down the streets adjacent to Canisius.

In February 2007, Brown the Younger donned the cloak of legend in a fit of joyriding that would put even Ferris Bueller to shame. Junior rammed the Brown family SUV into three parked cars, all of which belonged to members of the Canisius community. Mrs. Brown, attempting to protect the reputation and future of her son, reported the car as stolen. Unfortunately for the Browns, Canisius College Public Safety surveillance cameras caught the perpetrator on tape – twice – and this footage ultimately led to the arrest of Brown Jr. on multiple charges.

That same year, Mayor Brown attempted to use the weight of his office to end Spring Fest for good. The celebration was saved by the bravado of Drs. Conley and Mangione, who met with the Mayor to ensure its continuity. “I spoke up to the mayor,” said Conley “but Terri was next to me with a revolver.”

DeGeorge remembers it differently. “I’m not sure if the mayor specifically said that,” he said, responding to questions about the mayor’s rumored intent to shut down the vernal tradition.

As for allegations that Canisius’ involvement in young Byron Jr.’s apprehension, DeGeorge said that “That incident was resolved.”

“The issue had become that the residents who lived in the area – and Canisius College – had become concerned with the event,” he said. According to DeGeorge, the younger Brown’s joyride had “nothing to do” with the Quad Party crackdown.

When asked to what extent the mayor was involved in the decisions leading up to that day, DeGeorge pointed out that Brown is a member of the Hamlin Park community, and lives on Blaine. “Mayor Brown goes to block clubs in every neighborhood of the city,” he said.

Everett also dismissed the rumors. “We weren’t innocent,” he said, and pointed out that the Mayor faced pressure from all sides to rein in the out-of-control event – long before his son’s midnight ride. “People said ‘a minority group with a party like this would have police all over’ – look at Juneteenth,” he explained, referring to the June 19 festival, held in Buffalo’s Martin Luther King Park, commemorating the end of slavery, and at which BPD presence regularly includes armored vehicles.

Before the drinking age was raised to 21, Quad Party was self-contained and relatively tame. “It was in the quad,” said Everett. “We had beer trucks, live bands. Some neighbors complained about the noise, but it was over by six.”

The National Minimum Drinking Age Act of 1984 ended that; the party was forced off-campus, into basements and onto unstable Hamlin Park porches. “People would tell me, ‘it’s the happiest day of the year, don’t ruin that,’ “ said Everett. “But it’s not the happiest day of the year for everyone. Don’t tell me there weren’t sexual assaults, behind closed doors. Don’t tell me there wasn’t some student, who got in a car and got a DWI. It’s not the happiest day of the year for everyone.”

. . .

Since 2007, though, Spring Fest has quieted down. Everett has an HQ, hired help, the full support of the BPD, and a multi-layered plan to prevent chaos and injury. “And a lot of the time, we’re trying to prevent students from being arrested,” he added. Hamlin Park on May 3, 2013, will look nothing like it did in 2007. Everett has done much to reverse the trend, and both Mayor Brown and BPD Commissioner Daniel Derenda have praised him for his efforts.

Still, some students think the “law and order” line is old hat.

“I’d say the less the better,” said sophomore Claire Dirrigl, in regard to security. “Ain’t nobody got time for that.”

Savoy hoped to assuage such student concerns, bringing the focus back to the fun.

“Spring Fest is about the students and Canisius College being able to let loose, say goodbye to their classes, relax before a stressful exam week, and enjoy themselves,” he said. He insisted, though, that “Spring Fest is in no way planned to facilitate drinking among the student body.”

The presence of US Security Hessians, patrolling Resident Assistants, and bag-checks run by Hall Directors, as well as bulk purchases of bottled water for “overheated” students suggests that alcohol, if not central to the purpose of Spring Fest, is still a cornerstone of most planning. Beyond this, students might face stiff penalties if caught on the wrong side of a bottle – seniors may not be allowed to walk at commencement, while underclassmen may not be allowed to return in the fall.

When asked to comment on this, Savoy expressed hope that students would practice “Ignatian judgment.”

Other students were less reserved about their intentions. Sophomore Colin Shanahan is excited for the event, but voiced several complaints.

“I’d be more excited if it was in the Quad,” he said. Shanahan blames scrutiny from the city for the move to the Lyons field. “I disapprove,” he said; “We’re a college. I don’t think the city should be worried.” Police efforts, in his estimation, should be entirely restricted to “keeping students safe” – a concern which, according to DeGeorge, is at the top of the BPD’s priorities.

As for classes, Shanahan plans to attend, but isn’t thrilled about it. When asked if he planned on being sober for class, Shanahan responded, “Um … maybe …”

At the very least, you’ll see Shanahan, and The Griffin staff, over on Lyons lawn to celebrate, deviate, and spread some patriotic love. And remember, nothing says “America” like staying hydrated.

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