Letter to the Editor: Bonfire could just be college kids being college kids

Two weeks ago, The Rider News featured an article on the front page asking students if they’re happy. The bottom line is that Rider students have been ranked among The Princeton Review’s least happy students three times since 2011, which is significant.
One possible reason is a limited social life. Students need to be creative to have some fun, and Rider always seems to catch on. Which brings up a recent incident in the backwoods behind Rider’s baseball field, as reported in “Security Briefs” last week.
A group of young ladies were caught walking from the woods, where there was, at least from what I can determine, a good time occurring. This late-night fun with friends reportedly involved booze, a smoldering fire, and some trash cans. Undoubtedly, there were some good conversations.
Well, the fun ended abruptly. A “supplemental patrol officer,” whoever that is, caught these students and called in reinforcements. Public Safety, Lawrence Township police and the Fire Department all showed up. I’m not sure if the National Guard was called; there was no report of that.
The results included two cars being seized and towed, as well as various charges of disorderly conduct and fire safety violations being levied. No actual criminal charges were mentioned. Usually, the fine folks at The Rider News note such serious actions, so I’m saying there were not any.
As for the fire, I called an official who deals with the Lawrence Township Fire Subcode. Calling a fire official and saying “bonfire” apparently raises some alarm, but when I explained the situation, he chuckled and thought it was college kids being, well, college kids. He said that any violations “probably came from the university” even though it is the township that issues permits for bonfires. My guess is that all the “charges” were from the university as the case was “referred to the Office of Community Standards.”
Among other things, the students were charged with “misappropriation of property.” I’m not sure what property was involved, but the report noted that the students had Rider trash cans. Did you catch that? Students had trash cans. Calling moving something from one place to another on campus “misappropriation of property” without waiting for it to be returned is just throwing the book at students.
Sure, students should not be starting random fires, but to put them under “investigation for arson”? That seems excessive. If you’re going all out, why not investigate them for conspiracy to commit terrorism?
My point here is that some students are unhappy. We know that. When students try to have a good time, let’s not treat them like criminals. They’re not. They may make unwise decisions, but they’re not criminals.
Do not get me wrong. There are rules, and the rules should be followed. In all seriousness, we don’t want irresponsible or underage drinking at all.
The Lawrence fire official said students can apply for a fire permit and, if the university is cool with it too, I’d be happy to chaperone a bonfire and see if things can happy up. I know for a fact that there’s a handful of other faculty who’d be willing to join in too.

–David R. Dewberry, Ph.D.
Associate Professor
Department of Communication & Journalism

 

Printed in the 04/29/15 issue.

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3 thoughts on “Letter to the Editor: Bonfire could just be college kids being college kids”

  1. Originally shared as an email to the author:

    Dear Dr. Dewberry,

    I always search for real proposed advancements to Rider student life in The Rider News but seldom find much that doesn’t point the finger solely at students–your letter to the editor blew me away. I wanted to thank you for writing it and have hopes that somehow those in charge of setting and amending the existing super harsh restrictions will read this with an open mind gauged at truly improving “happiness” on campus. Thank you for, with an entirely appropriate term, your great piece.

    If I plan to host a bonfire anytime in the future I’ll be sure to let you know.

    Sincerely,
    Kenny Dillon (freshman, Political Science/Arts Administration)

  2. Dr. Dewberry,

    I wanted to mention that I enjoyed reading your letter to the editor of the Rider News regarding the bonfire. You hit the nail on the head. Rider treats its student like criminals, ALL OF THE TIME. I saw it as an undergrad, I saw it happen as a graduate student, and I see it as a full time staff member.

    I just wanted to let you know, even if no one else says anything, that your letter was an absolutely perfect response to the kind of “unhappy” institution that Rider is. Instead of blaming the students for “not putting themselves out there” or “not getting involved”, it seems that the constant “alcohol or fire safety violations” and the “Referred to the Office of Community Standards” examples are really why people are so upset here.

    Just let us live our lives as college students. By harboring on EVERY LITTLE DETAIL, especially things like “misappropriation of property”, the school is not allowing people to grow up, make mistakes (real mistakes) and understand the difference between severe violations and petty ones.

    Maybe if Rider was a little more laissez-faire, the students would actually STAY on the weekends.

  3. Dear Dr. Dewberry,

    I always search for real proposed advancements to Rider student life in The Rider News but seldom find much that doesn’t point the finger solely at students–your letter to the editor blew me away. I wanted to thank you for writing it and have hopes that somehow those in charge of setting and amending the existing super harsh restrictions will read this with an open mind gauged at truly improving “happiness” on campus. Thank you for your great piece.

    If I plan to host a bonfire anytime in the future I’ll be sure to let you know.

    Sincerely,
    Kenny Dillon (freshman, Political Science/Arts Administration)