The Culture of Cedar Village

BY: LAUREN GIBBONS & CELESTE BOTT

Unassuming by day, a party by night. At least, that’s how the legend goes.

Established in 1968, Cedar Village was built as a way to bring students together. A housing complex close to campus that offered students a neighborhood of their own sounded great on paper. Other rentals from other companies popped up around it to cash in on the idea.

No one could have known then what exactly they’d created.

On an average school day, or even an average weekend, Cedar Village is just another apartment complex. Students go to class, they hang out with their friends. Typical college life.

But that’s not why everyone knows the name.

The chaos that sometimes ensues there after major sports events has been referred to by every definition in the book. Revelries, celebrations, melees, disturbances, riots — the name changes, but the concept stays the same.

MSU plays a big game, and people gather. Win or lose, furniture and anything else disposable is dragged into the street. 

It’s no secret what happens next, because Cedar Village gatherings have become synonymous with March Madness and destruction. Wide-eyed freshmen flock there to bear witness — they've heard stories about this from parents and older siblings. And in 20-some years, they want to tell their kids, too.

Those who live nearby can’t escape the stigma. Some wear their apartment’s history as a badge of honor. Some say they don't care and live there because it's across the street from campus. Others in the neighborhood try to distance themselves, but if they live within a few blocks, they can count themselves as members.

Because Cedar Village isn’t just an apartment complex.

It’s a brand. It’s a tradition.

It’s a culture.

Connection to Athletics

It was one of the worst games in Duke's 1999 season.

Missed shots, too many fouls, poorly executed defense and missed free throws in the last five minutes — and they were up against the tough No. 2 seeded Spartans in the Final Four, with legends like Mateen Cleaves out on the court.

But ultimately, it was the Blue Devils who overpowered the Spartans that night in St. Petersburg, FL with a 68-62 victory.

Back at home, Cedar Village sprung to life. Once known for pre-organized Cedar Fests in May and October, that night in March, it earned a new reputation as a destination for raucous NCAA tournament celebration, win or lose.

In 1999, it was MSU's first time appearing in the Final Four in more than 20 years. Students and locals responded to the disappointing loss with a riot that left eight cars torched, 24 windows broken and 24 people arrested, 11 of them MSU students, according to MSU archives.

Head coach Tom Izzo was outraged.

"You know darn well there's 4,000 or 5,000 students in the riot and 400 or 500 were involved," he told the State News at the time. "I would love for those 400 or 500 to get mad and say they were never coming to another game.

"I will buy their tickets," Izzo said. "I will pay them for their tickets not to come."

But not even disapproval from the beloved Izzo — or his pleas for good behavior, sent in email messages to students prior to games in later years — has managed to inhibit what's become a tournament tradition.

Similar revelries took place in 2003 and 2005, after NCAA tournament losses to Texas and the University of North Carolina, respectively.

On March 30, 2003, about 2,000 people flooded East Lansing streets, causing about $40,000 in damage. Police released more than 135 canisters of chemical ammunition, or tear gas, on campus and in the city, attempting to disperse the revelers. About 30 revelers were arrested in the 2003 disturbances.

In 2005, 21 students were arrested at Cedar Village and the East Lansing Police Department found themselves under fire for releasing tear gas within 20 minutes of the end of the UNC game to disperse large crowds, according to State News archives.

MSU alumnus Jacob Courville attended MSU between 2001 and 2005 during both disturbances.

Before social media became a prominent fixture in the day to day life of the average MSU student, they relied on word of mouth. When it came to Cedar Village, Courville said, "people just knew to come."

Courville might have felt the burning sting of tear gas himself on more than one occasion, but he knew the complex's infamy began long before.

"In 1999, we were playing Duke the first time it happened," he recalled. "For whatever the reason after that, it just became a quick and recognizable tradition. Anytime we were anywhere in the tournament, win or lose, Cedar Village was the place to congregate."

As for police response, it was simply an uneven ratio.

"You'd see a very large group of students and a disproportionate amount of police, and all of a sudden you'd see the tear gas," Courville said. "It was how they dealt with it."

Courville remembers knowing to head to Cedar Village for a good time even before the "ubiquity of sharing things on Facebook."

It was an incredibly popular place to live and not just to visit, but not because of its facilities, he said.

"It was well known as a place that was kind of crusty and overpriced," Courville said. "But if you wanted to be in the middle of the action, of the party, that's where you lived. No one was living there for the amenities, and I'm sure that's still the case."