Riot reputation doesn’t help MSU


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MSU is a respectable, distinguished university. It’s a Big Ten school with countless famous alumni from Los Angeles and New York City to London and Japan. Students past and present know it’s a great university.

But recent events have once again shed a bad light on the reputation of the university many people have worked hard to build up.

Although the disturbances that occurred last week barely registered in East Lansing, the rest of the country saw something more. They saw the Associated Press and the Detroit Free Press reporting on the couch and garbage fires happening around the Cedar Village area. It goes without saying that these events weren’t nearly as bad as the chaos in 1999 or 2005; in fact, last weekend wasn’t even a sliver of what those were.

March 27, 1999, is sometimes referred to as the “darkest night” in East Lansing’s history. Following MSU men’s basketball’s loss to Duke in the Final Four, about 10,000 Spartans took the streets, setting fire to anything flammable and destroying anything that could be destroyed. People woke up the next morning in jail, their eyes still stinging with tear gas.

In April 2005, an entirely new group of MSU students decided to relive the riot they missed a few years back, and once again tore East Lansing to shreds. This incident followed another MSU men’s basketball loss in the Final Four, this time to the University of North Carolina. The events that followed were similar: fires, arrests and rebellion.

There were also “mini riots” in 1998, 2003 and 2008, but 1999 and 2005 are the ones that seem to stick out in people’s minds. As I said earlier, last weekend was nothing close to that. There were few arrests, few couches burnt and things were cleared up in a matter of about 30 minutes.

But that’s not what people care about.

When the Detroit Free Press covered the disturbances, they threw this sentence in the middle of the article: “In 1999, when the Spartans lost in the Final Four to Duke, a melee broke out in East Lansing that included couch burnings and tarnished the school’s image.”

Every time there is a piece of furniture burnt in East Lansing — even if it’s only one — the past disturbances will be brought up. MSU always will be known as the university with the chaotic students who light stuff on fire when its basketball team loses. The media will jump at every little chance to bring up events that occurred years ago, and that story involves current students as well.

Current students still were in elementary school in 1999, but the bad decisions of 10,000 students at that time continues to reflect poorly on us today — that was made apparent last weekend.

We obviously can’t go back and change the poor choices former MSU students made, and the image stamped on MSU because of those people is not fair. But once again, there’s nothing we can do
about that.

The only possible solution is for current Spartans to hang our heads after a loss, stay far away from flammable objects and move on. People aren’t going to talk about the past if we don’t give them a reason to; it’s as simple as that. Remember, just a few fires last week was all the media needed to bring up the riots in 1999 and 2005, reminding the country that MSU students are roving pyromaniacs.

Sure, other universities across the country have been known to set fire to furniture from time to time. Penn State University students hit the streets with a vengeance when long time football coach Joe Paterno got fired for a child sex abuse scandal. Students at West Virginia University set off about 35 fires during St. Patrick’s Day weekend. But those incidences aren’t our concern.

MSU students have to deal with a tarnished image brought upon us by past events, and we need to do everything we can to make the rest of our country look at MSU for what it really is: an admirable university whose students care about more than useless rioting.

Alyssa Girardi is the State News opinion writer. Reach her at

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