When Victoria Angelos, an undergraduate majoring in Business at MSU, arrived at Cedar Village following Michigan State University’s football victory over the University of Michigan, she found a very chaotic scene. There were so many people packed in the area that it was hard to move. Even more people flooded in after she arrived, and on the way, she saw many running out of their houses toward the complex.
At first, everyone was chanting “Go Green,” having a good time, and spraying champagne everywhere, Angelos said.
But then things took a turn. After the rain foiled attempts to burn pieces of furniture, some took to flipping cars.
That is when she decided to leave.
Students have a long history of partaking in couch burning after MSU victories, but Saturday’s events were exceptional. At least two cars were destroyed and dozens of fires occurred on Saturday, as ELi reported.
The East Lansing Police Department received 349 calls on Oct. 30, issuing 20 citations and making five arrests, officials said in a press release. The excess of fires led to firefighters responding without police presence and caused other traffic and safety issues, said ELPD Chief Kim Johnson in the press release.
ELPD is seeking help to identify people who initiated fires in public spaces and destroyed cars and property, and MSU President Sam Stanley promised consequences for students involved, ELi reported earlier this week.
So what do MSU students think about what unfolded?
Hannah Duenas, an undergrad majoring in Genomics & Molecular Genetics, did not witness any of the acts, but she had heard about couch burnings prior to attending MSU. She said she knew it was something that occurred when her dad came to MSU to party as a college student.
She told ELi it is a bad look for the university, but she does not think the university can do anything about it. To her, the burning is inevitable.
“I think it’s just like, it’s so extreme that like, it’s almost comical, you know,” Duenas said. “Because like it’s been going on for so long, too, that, like, at this point, like that even makes it funnier for some reason.”
MSU student Varun Vallury also did not witness any acts, but he shared a different take. He said he preferred the acts did not happen. For Vallury, it was one thing to destroy couches, but the car-flipping was crossing the line. He called it shameful.
“Whatever happens to people who are responsible for that – [they] one hundred percent deserve whatever comes to them,” he said. “Police can only do so much. It’s Halloween. All the students are doing whatever. And, I mean, again, they’re having fun, but like, I just don’t think we should do it in a destructive way.”
Vallury said that the number of people that gathered around these acts is a concern to him because he sees the possibility of Covid-19 spreading. He would not join these crowds.
Overall, he said, what happened does not give the best impression of MSU students.
Some students did go out to witness the events in person.
MSU student Ryan Knight witnessed a couch burning on Saturday. Knight, who is looking to major in mechanical engineering, told ELi that he and his friends walked north of Grand River Avenue and saw many couches get moved into the middle of several intersections. People gathered around and chanted, he said.
Knight said he has seen couch burning online, but this was the first time he witnessed it in person.
“So, I understand the hype behind it, I don’t support it, because obviously it’s wasting the firemen’s time,” Knight said.
One student who requested anonymity said he heard that couch burning and property destruction in the streets were a thing at MSU, so he went to Cedar Village to see it. Although he did not partake, he was not bothered by seeing everything unfold.
“It’s really fun to like see other people do it. It’s like just a culture,” he said. “Not a lot of people get hurt – I don’t think – but if they do that’s unfortunate. But I don’t think anyone got hurt. And it’s like a good practice for the Fire Department, too, just to train their new people.”
He also said the police department knew what to expect and again the concern is only if people get hurt.
Angelos, who left Cedar Village when the car-flipping started, does not think the couch burnings need to stop.
“It is a part of MSU culture, and Cedar Village is known for burning couches. As long as things don’t get super out of hand, I see no problem with couch burnings,” Angelos said. “I am an out-of-state student, and I even knew about the couch burnings in Cedar Village before I was even a student at MSU.”
At Cedar Village, she saw a heavy police presence but left before it got out of control.
Other students saw the acts through social media.
Caroline Wiseley, a Psychology major, did not witness any burnings or car flipping in person but instead saw videos online. She had friends who went to Cedar Village and recorded the flipping of the car.
“I just don’t understand it all, the couch burning,” Wiseley said. “Like I heard here people do that like every year, but I just don’t get it.”
She struggles to understand why this happens at MSU.
“If it’s like a tradition or something, and they don’t get in trouble for it, I guess it’s okay, I just think again, what’s the point,” Wiseley said.
Wiseley said she would have more sympathy if the car was in poor condition, but overall she believes the burnings and fires do not impact her since she did not go.
“I don’t think, like, with or without it, there would be a difference, I guess, because I feel like if it had a huge impact we would have heard about a lot of stuff and I feel like I haven’t really heard anything or like anyone getting in trouble or arrested,” Wiseley said.
How have University officials responded to student behavior?
“While the atmosphere on campus leading up to and during the game was full of excitement and high energy, the behavior immediately after the game in many off-campus locations and around East Lansing was abhorrent and unacceptable,” said MSU President Sam Stanley in a press release on Nov. 2.
Vice President and Spokesperson Emily Guerrant told ELi, “MSU is working with East Lansing Police Department to actively try and identify students who took part in criminal behavior, utilizing social media monitoring and submitted photos/videos.”
Stanley also said in the press release that the University may take action against students involved.
“I want to be clear – students who are reported to have violated university policies, which include arson and vandalism, will go through our student conduct process and will face penalties. Off-campus behavior has on-campus consequences when individuals present a clear danger to themselves or others in these settings.”
Guerrant said that while the actions on Saturday afternoon were completely inappropriate and dangerous, the vast majority of MSU students and fans celebrated responsibly in ways that did not include vandalism.
“Most of the fires and vandalism started soon after the game ended as well, and when they arrived on the scene, law enforcement was able to quickly get the situations under control. We’re grateful for their hard work,” Guerrant said.
Going forward, Guerrant said, the University will continue to work with community partners to send out messages about correct behavior.
“The university had many partners leading into the weekend that helped with social norm behavior messaging – including the city of East Lansing, local businesses, East Lansing Public Schools and many others. We also work with social norm health experts on campus to research and identify the right messaging for these situations.”
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