I grew up in an Illinois college town, so I know about the incredible ceremonial traditions of Midwestern colleges. At the University of Illinois, we had a couple annual events that involved fraternities and sororities building elaborate stage sets and floats, as well as constructing a carnival on campus complete with amusement park rides. These were the fun highlights of my teenage life.
But the oldest tradition in this vein actually stems from a tech college located in Ames, Iowa, a town of 60,000 that is also on many top-ten best-places-to-live-in-America lists. Iowa State’s VEISHEA, a student-run organization, has coordinated the ceremonies since 1922. The name is an anagram for the school’s original colleges. The “V,” for example, stands for “Veterinary Medicine.”
Before long, a conflict developed between students and the college administrators over the ceremonial use of alcohol. Eventually, alcohol was banned, so students responded by moving ceremonies to private homes off-campus. Soon the VEISHEA Spring event became known in some quarters as the world’s greatest party and began attracting out-of-towners, quite an achievement for such a small, sleepy town. But around midnight at these events, drunken students typically assembled in Campustown to block traffic, overturn cars, smash windows, start bonfires, and/or pull down street lights.
In 1970, the Spring event took place immediately after the shootings at Kent State, and after long consultations between students and administrators, it was decided to go ahead with the parade, only no weapons were allowed, especially those typically carried by the military and ROTC. In 1988, the rioting peaked, and I think the photo above caught the peak ceremony, as it shows a couch from a nearby home being run into an enormous bonfire by students displaying almost military-like precision, teamwork and zeal.
It was funny to see the news today, because there was a riot at Iowa State last night, and someone was seriously injured when a light pole struck him on the head, but other than that, it was a pretty calm affair. The worst year was 1997, when a student was stabbed and killed by out-of-towners who’d come in to celebrate.
I see the problem here. When the university banned alcohol, they made the alcohol problem much worse and they also lost the center of energy. Eventually, the drunken parties spill into the streets and then morph into thrill-seeking mobs. When mobs collide, problems escalate.
Germany has been holding drunken beer fests for millennium, and you seldom hear about problems associated with their events. As long as you give the ceremony a venue, a stage, and some ceremonial grandmasters to focus the vibes, the audience seems to remain happy and non-violent. But when you force the ceremonies underground, and there’s no center of energy, some really bad vibrations can emerge. That’s just the nature of blowback karma and how energy works.
So if you want a solution to the annual riot at Ames, my advice is let the beer back into the ceremonies, and keep an all-night, out-door venue open where local bands play and people are encouraged to put energy into dancing and not bringing down light poles. And yes, there should be a giant bonfire and maybe even a drum circle involved. Lower the beer drinking age to 18 and make sure malt liquor is not involved, and also legalize marijuana for adults, and decriminalize it for others. The problem is not intoxication, the problem is making intoxication illegal.
Do this, and watch your riots disappear forever. Otherwise, please don’t act so shocked when this sort of thing happens every year.