President Kelley, Mayor Brown ask for alcohol-free Springfest

Students gather in a yard near University Park during Springfest 2013. File Photo.

In an attempt to ultimately put a cork in the annual alcohol-saturated Springfest, UND President Robert Kelley and Grand Forks Mayor Mike Brown have come together and asked the City Council not to grant alcohol permits for the weekend before finals this year.

Springfest began more than 10 years ago as a UND-sponsored event, but due to burning furniture and the skyrocketing of citations that have been passed out in recent years, the university has disassociated itself with the festival, according to UND spokesman Peter Johnson.

Out of concern for students and for the city as a whole, Brown and Kelley have paired up to tone down the annual drinking party.

“I think it behooves us of the community to protect and serve and this is one way we can do that,” Brown said. “We especially want to have fun, make our city vibrant and I think this is one way to do that is to have more family friendly activities.”

Brown also pointed to students’ ages as a reason for the move.

“You know three-fourths of the students are under 21, they can’t drink, why not have events that include them, rather than exclude them,” he said. “That way they can have fun, too.”

Co-chairwoman of the Campus Community Committee on High-Risk Alcohol Use Lori Reesor has been working with her counterpart, council member Kevin Vein, for the past two and a half years to facilitate conversation amongst students, UND staff and the city of Grand Forks regarding alcohol consumption, and she believes Springfest needs to be looked at in a different light.

“We’re not anti-drinking and we’re not anti-fun, we want students to have fun, we want them to have positive activities and things that they can do to have fun, and sometimes that can involve drinking and that’s OK,” Reesor said. “It’s about changing the culture and shifting a weekend that doesn’t have a positive impact on the university or on students.”

But many students are upset by the recent news.

“This will stop nothing and change nothing,” senior engineering student Devin Aune said. “If the public has learned anything about UND and changing traditions, they don’t bode well.”

Senior Nicole Johnson agreed with Aune, saying, “this approach isn’t going to cause students to drink less. Students are going to drink whether they cancel the Upark event or not. Drinking will be accomplished elsewhere.”

English student Emily Mell wants to believe that Brown’s and Kelley’s intentions were in the right place, but still can’t wrap her head around their logic.

“Although part of me recognizes the cancellation as a good thing–particularly in terms of trying to prevent the slew of rapes and molestations that apparently happen every year — I also think that abandoning the control that they did have will potentially have been a bad idea,” Mell said. “I’m just hoping that I’m wrong.”

So far no one has sent in permit requests to the City Council, so there is nothing to vote on, but Reesor said that could change.

For the past few years, Rhombus Guys has hosted the event at University Park, offering pizza, beer and putting on music for those 21 and older. After discussing this year’s plans with Brown and Kelley and members of the CCC, however, the business partners who own the pizza shop downtown have decided not to apply for the permits.

“Other owners and agencies might still try to do something and if that happens it happens and we’ll address that there,” Reesor said. “But we wanted the support of Rhombus Guys to try to think differently … I would welcome student feedback about what activities and programs they would like to see us plan all year long.”

Johnson said the university’s goal is to take the emphasis off of the weekend before finals, encouraging students to study and also to have fun throughout the entirety of the academic school year.

“We shouldn’t have just one thing that people look forward to,” he said. “We need to create a rhythm of opportunities, whatever that ends up being.”

Marie Monson is a staff writer for The Dakota Student. She can be reached at [email protected].