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The Blue & Gray Press | August 19, 2019

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Student Indignation a National Phenomenon

Student Indignation a National Phenomenon

Campuses nationwide have seen a growing number of students lash out at police following arrests.

In October, after the Bullet reported on the arrests of 14 current and one former student in an ongoing drug investigation led by city police, the online story garnered over 150 comments. The remarks became a heated debate over both the paper’s coverage and the actions of the students arrested.

“Shame on you UMW, you should protect your students instead of making an example out of them,” wrote a commenter identified as John D. “If any of them are found innocent, this article still casts a black cloud over their personal life, and potentially their future careers.”

Natatia Bledsoe, public information officer for the Fredericksburg Police Department, said that she and Sgt. Pat Reed, the lead narcotics officer on these cases, experienced a greater backlash than any other case Bledsoe has previously been involved with.

“We received more complaints from arrestees, parents of arrestees, lawyers of arrestees than we ever have,” Bledsoe said.  “The typical person who gets arrested does not call to talk about [the arrest].  [The callers asked] why I had contributed to the downfall of the students.”

Bledsoe has been with the Fredericksburg Police since 1991, and has been the public information officer since 2007.

However, Mary Washington is not alone in this backlash.

In September, 35 University of Notre Dame students were arrested on alcohol-related charges, ending with one police officer in the hospital after being punched and kicked by a belligerent party-goer, according to the Observer, the student newspaper at Notre Dame.

At Bates College in Lewiston, Maine, the Huffington Post reported that 11 students were arrested for failure to disperse, disorderly conduct and refusing to submit to arrest in May at an end of year party.

The incident ended with an officer with a broken leg, as well as many protests from students regarding the actions taken by police.

In a statement regarding the arrests, College President Elaine Tuttle Hansen said the incident was “highly unusual for Bates.”

During homecoming celebrations at the University of Virginia at Wise in October, at least seven students were arrested on charges ranging from public intoxication to driving under the influence, according to the Highland Cavalier, the student newspaper.  One arrested student fought with the police and attempted to injure a police K-9.

Experts say the student indignation may stem from modern parenting methods and postponement of adulthood’s independence.

A notable case occurred at Brandeis University near Boston in October.

A dance hosted by the international club known as “Pachanga” at Brandeis led to the arrests of two students, as well as the hospitalization or medical care of approximately 30 students, according to the Justice, the independent student newspaper at Brandeis.

The Justice reported that one of the students bit a police officer while he was being arrested.  The bite broke the skin of the officer, and he was sent to the Newton-Wellesley Hospital for treatment.

In an e-mail to the student body, President Jehuda Reinharz called the incident “unprecedented” in his 16 years at the university.

“They cause me and other members of this community great concern,” Reinharz wrote.  “All of this news is disheartening because in addition to unacceptable health risks, it demonstrates a lack of basic respect that students must show to each other and to the staff who are here to protect our community. We will not tolerate this conduct and those who engage in it will face campus disciplinary procedures and possible criminal charges.”

In the article, the Justice listed the names and ages of the two students arrested, which resulted in over 75 comments online, many similar to those left on the Bullet website.

“These two students have literally had their lives, social and otherwise, at Brandeis ruined by this article,” one commenter stated.

“As a student, I demand accountability from the author Nashrah Rahman and the editor in chief Rebecca Blady. This should never have crossed her desk and made it into publication on the FRONT PAGE of the Justice.”

Bledsoe said students should not expect to be exempt from the law and was surprised to see that many students at UMW didn’t realize the crimes would be public record.

“In the real world, there is no shielding,” Bledsoe said.  “This is the real world; this is the adult world.  You are adults, as adults you need to accept adult consequences.”

While the many experts speculated on reasons for these behaviors, none of the professors know any of the arrested UMW students personally and said each case must be analyzed individually.

Debra Steckler, chair of the department of psychology at UMW, attributed these attitudes to “helicopter parents,” or parents who run every aspect of their child’s life, which hinders the child’s ability to become independent.

The term “helicopter” parent is “a parent who takes an excessive and overprotective interest in the life of his or her child, especially with regard to education,” according to the Oxford English Dictionary. It was first coined in 1989 in the Frederick News Post.

“What happens is, if their kid gets in trouble, which most kids do at one time or another, the parents kind of immediately go fend for their child,” Steckler said.

This is a result of changes within parenting methods as well as in society, which may make children feel like they are not subject to normal consequences of their actions, according to Steckler.

“Every single kid on a team at least gets a certificate of participation,” she said.  “You don’t have to be rewarded for just showing up.”

UMW Assistant Professor of Psychology Virginia Mackintosh, who teaches developmental psychology, echoed Steckler’s opinion, and also noted that society’s current perception of adulthood is changing.

“Adulthood is being progressed later and later and later,” Mackintosh said.  She explained that whereas in previous generations when 18-year-olds would live independently, today’s youth remains greatly dependent on their parents beyond high school years.

Parents frequently have difficulty determining how involved they should be in their children’s lives once the child reaches college-age, according to Mackintosh.

“I don’t know how, as a parent, I would react to such a thing,” Mackintosh said.

David Rettinger, associate professor of psychology and Honor Council advisor, said many times when he has encountered students who have cheated, they feel the need to neutralize circumstances by convincing themselves that the situation allows them to break the rules.

“I think that every one of these students want to think of themselves as good people,” Rettinger said.  “They’re defending their own self-image as a law-abiding citizen.”

Doug Searcy, vice president for student affairs, said the response following the drug arrests is not indicative of the student body as a whole.

“Issues of entitlement are individual, not corporate, but it is still a societal issue,” Searcy said.  “Trends in society have changed so that themes of entitlement are more pronounced.”

Searcy also said that the severity of the crimes may have influenced the backlash.

“Each situation is different and in this case there were some very serious charges,” Searcy said.  “There were multiple students arrested which could have lead to a group response.  When more than one person is involved it creates a different point of leverage.”

Despite these situations, Cpl. Josh Lynch, a patrol officer with the Fredericksburg Police Department, said there doesn’t seem to be any animosity between UMW students and the police.

“I’ve run into mostly compliant students,” Lynch said.  “Sometimes they act out of place, but nothing belligerent…They have a lot to lose and they know that.”

Searcy emphasized the impact a crime can have on a student’s life.

“You certainly want to know that any choice you would make would benefit you, not hurt you,” Searcy said.


  1. Jason

    Wow. What a surprise, college students binge drinking and causing trouble? Maybe, instead of just be appalled we should look at changing the culture of college. I’m sick of hearing people talk about how awesome of a ‘party’ school their school is. That is not why you go to college. You go to get your life started. Not to waste four years killing your liver and making a douche out of yourself. College students are dumb. Face it. Ever wonder why we only graduate only 57% of our students from a 4 year institution? What about the 30% that actually make it out of those tough 2 year institutions? Our generation is supposed to be the future. I want to help President Obama in driving our nation into the future, but I’m sad to inform him that my peer could care less. The majority of them care only about the next party. I’m not against having fun, but Jesus, at least remember why you went to school.

  2. Ben Bower

    Firstly, assaulting a police officer is something quite different from issuing a complaint against the police department for actively pursuing perpetrators of non-violent (specifically, non-lethal) “crimes” in an area experiencing a rise in violent crimes. Violence is not “indignance.” On a side note: is that actually a word? Regardless, the two should not be compared, as this article explicitly does.

    Secondly, I don’t believe the author of this article is really qualified to pursue (and, subsequently, publish) a psychological evaluation of both the parents and the students involved in the arrests. This is just silly. If you’re going to look at the wider “social problem,” why not think about looking into the notion that we live in a system that treats legal adults as children–for instance, by legislating that we are not responsible enough to consume alcohol until the age of 21? Might you consider that a society which treats a certain section of its citizens as children could, possibly, produce child-citizens? But that’s really not my point here. My point is that the author of this article is seeking a specific explanation for the behavior of a certain group of students, and this explanation is drawn from a specific discourse (namely, one that gives more credit to the “science”–a term I really have to laugh at in this case, given the use of the term “helicopter parents” which is, to put it bluntly, stupid–of psychology than to any other alternatives). And you can’t really claim that you were “just asking a professional opinion,” because it matters where you go to seek those opinions. You already show a preference in where you look. Be critical.

    This is a misplaced analysis in my opinion and, though I cannot honestly say I expect more from the Bullet, I hope this type of thing doesn’t continue. You all should have left the issue alone after the horrible failure of the first article on the drug arrests.

  3. Ben Bower

    No offense though.

  4. um

    While the arrests and the coverage of it were perfectly justified, and while the term “helicopter parents” has just become my new favorite phrase, I have to admit that the attempt to psychoanalyze those involved in the events that transpired is a little silly and pretty condescending. I actually do believe that there are lots of “helicopter parents” out there–my parents certainly tried to be. That said, I’m not sure how anyone could possibly know that the individuals involved in this situation were victims of overparenting. After all, true helicopter parents would hover over their kids to such an extent that they would never get sucked into doing drugs! This kind of psuedo-logic will just give the objectors to the Bullet’s coverage more ammunition. I thought the original coverage was fine, but why can’t you let it go?

    Finally, just to be a jerk…does this really qualify as a News story? It doesn’t exactly follow the inverted pyramid format…I’m not sure exactly what the point is or how the headline was chosen. It seems like little more than a rambling, largely defensive narrative intended to justify the Bullet’s previous actions.

  5. KS

    Here’s the simple break-down: someone broke a law / committed a crime. They were arrested. The arrest is public record and, in a small town, big news. The Bullet did exactly what it was supposed to do – publish big news relevant to the entire college and local community. Through my Undergrad years, that type of crime would have been absolutely shocking — and it should still be. I agree there’s no explanation for offering a bizarre psychological explanation that the parents are somehow to blame. I have yet to meet a single individual, of any age, that doesn’t understand 1- drugs are bad and 2- don’t break the law. These are adults who made bad decisions and deserve to face the repercussions. If they are innocent, then they’ll be found not-guilty and have a clean record. If they are guilty, they deserve a record and having to explain their actions to any future employer. So don’t be mad at the newspaper for reporting the news. Don’t defend the people who break the law. If The Bullet hadn’t reported a single word of it, wouldn’t we be talking about how they failed to do their jobs?

  6. Ben Bower

    KS–Have you really failed to meet an individual of any age who has failed to meet those two criterion? How many people do you know?

    All kidding aside, I don’t think anybody who commented was “defending” the subjects of the arrest, though I might do that here by adding that I think anyone who’s not critical enough to question the difference between “law” and “right-ness” is probably not doing their job as a citizen. Being “innocent in the eyes of the law” is one thing, while being “innocent” may be something completely different. As far as “drug use” as a “bad decision” goes, do you drink alcohol? Do you consider it “drug use”? Maybe you should because by any scientific definition (and I assume we’re using a scientific discourse here, or at least one rooted in some sort of empirically-based rationality, because if we’re still floating in the realm of ideologically-motivated rhetoric then I don’t know what I’m doing posting another comment) alcohol is a psychoactive drug. If the state is persecuting a certain action, that doesn’t necessarily mean that we, as a society, should demonize it. I’m not saying that the Bullet did that but I get the impression that you are, and, if there is going to be a reasonable discussion about these sorts of things, we should probably look at things critically instead of looking at them the way we learned to look at things through DARE in elementary school.

    Also, if the Bullet hadn’t said anything about it, I sincerely (and I emphasize that “sincerely”) doubt anybody would be talking about their silence on the subject.

  7. Dear Ben

    I do think that people would have noticed if the Bullet had not covered the drug arrests. As a sting operation lasting several months, affecting the wider Fredericksburg community as well as our own, and involving the federal government…I’d say it was newsworthy.

    The incident is the only that I can think of of its kind at UMW and is certainly an anomaly among campuses nationwide. Newspapers cover drug rings much smaller than this on a regular basis.

    If there was no coverage, readers would simply think that the Bullet was in the administration’s pocket.

    As to the author being qualified to pursue this…does every journalist stick to a set type of story? That is what expert testimony is for. I think the author stayed within the UMW community to give readers a recognisable and trustworthy name.

    No offense though, Ben.

  8. Ben

    None taken, though I’m not entirely sure what part I was supposed to have taken offense to. Kind of just sounded catty, without much substance. No offense though.

    Very few students at UMW pay attention to the Bullet (with the exception, of course, of the ever popular “police-beat” section). I’m not saying they shouldn’t have covered it. I don’t think you’re paying attention. My point towards that end was that nobody would be talking about it months later.

    And as as far as the comment about the “Bullet being in the administration’s pocket” goes–how would it help one to undermine such a claim by publishing stories that demonizing students whose behavior is not in accordance with UMW policy?

    And to respond to the last substantial part of your comment, did you read my first comment? I’m questioning the direction that the author took in seeking out “expert testimony.” This is important because the term “expert” is not a matter of purely “objective fact”–something we seem to miss. My comment about the author’s qualifications was directed towards the unquestioning acceptance of one specific discourse over another, without any comment as to why that should be the case. I think the “sociological” problem is not something that can be really boiled down to an answer given by a UMW psychologist who, admittedly, doesn’t know any of the students personally. Is that good psychology? Making a claim about an individual that you don’t know? Is it good reporting to seek out that kind of an answer? I do not think so. Therefore, I think my criticism was justified. Do you honestly disagree?

  9. Ben

    Woops, typo, that should be “demonize” not “demonizing”

  10. Bullet fan!

    It’s funny how everytime people have commented on this story or the past drug articles they have said “it’s ok, nobody reads the Bullet anyway,”…but wait? didn’t you read the article before you commented?

    womp womp

  11. Beek

    What is Ben Bower even talking about. That should be the news story.

  12. Beek

    no offense ben

  13. Ben

    Beek- Again, don’t really see how that was supposed to be offensive. If you want to criticize someone, maybe you should try a little harder than simply admitting that you fail to understand what they’re talking about. Especially when it’s not all that difficult a subject matter. I’d read that story though, do you think you could write it? or is your ability to comprehend a text limited to things as complicated as what shows up on your twitter?

    Bullet fan!- I don’t really see what’s “funny” about that, by which I mean that I can’t see anything interesting about the connection between people commenting about a sensationalized story and the fact that, when people aren’t writing about it on the rock, only a small percentage of the Mary Washington student population regularly reads the Bullet. Believe it or not, I never read the first article, which is why I never criticized the Bullet for publishing it, though everyone here seems to ignore the fact that I’m not even talking about it. Womp womp.

  14. Beek

    First Ben, it’s indignation. Not “indignance”. And yes, it is a word. I also agree with you, the author probably isn’t qualified to publish a psychological evaluation of both the parents and the students involved in the arrests. Good thing she didn’t. Clearly, it’s relating a trend to something that has been studied and observed by those who have done the research to attribute these problems to a tangible cause. The article goes on to talk about why the police are getting complaints that kids related to crimes that may not be violent, but are still crimes and still effect people. Whether it is selling drugs, driving drunk, attacking police, etc; These things are prevalent on college campuses. It’s not that hard to figure out the intention of this article.

    You’ve just completely missed the point of this piece and thrown a lot of superfluous comments around that really don’t make for a compelling argument or much reason. Thus, why I was baffled and made my comment. You’re not that brilliant Ben. I can understand English and words. You’ve haven’t blown my mind by writing a long diatribe about sensationalized media.

  15. Ben

    Firstly, I’m pretty sure the original title was “indignance.” I’m not against admitting it if I was wrong, but I remember double checking it. Also, the link still has the title with “indignance.” Do you mean that “indignance” is a word? or that “indignation” is a word? I’m familiar with indignation, if that wasn’t clear enough already.

    Secondly, thank you for having something intelligent to say in response. It’s really all I wanted, though I still have to disagree with you. It’s not that I don’t understand the tendency to make these sorts of connections and to go about attempting to explain them in these sorts of ways, it’s just that I find them really problematic. I don’t think it’s “well-researched” stuff at all, and I’m unsure as to whether it’s really the sort of thing that could be researched “well” at all because I don’t think the right question is being asked. Which brings me to my second point, which is that I don’t see this as being a unified “trend” in any significant way. And what do you mean by “good thing she didn’t” make those connections? Because it’s pretty clear that she did in that she sought out several psychology professors to interview, all of whom offered “psychological” evaluations of the parent-child relationship and the ways in which it has changed over the past few decades.

    Also, the second half of your first paragraph is really unintelligible. But if I understand you correctly, you mean to say that, though they may not be violent, things like “selling drugs, driving drunk, attacking police, etc.” “still effect people.” Is that correct? If so, what’s the measure of “effecting people”? Does the medical marijuana dispensary in California who sells to people suffering from Parkinson’s affect people in the same way that the cop killer does? Are you really going to try to argue that selling soft drugs is akin to violence towards police officers? Besides, even if they are “related” (statistically, for instance), the connection is in many ways produced by the issue of substance legality. How many cops are assaulted in Amsterdam over someone smoking a spliff in a coffee shop?

    So the connection that the author establishes is really misguided, which was my point from the beginning. These things may be “problems” (if we choose to define them that way–though we should be aware that designating some of them as such tends to create more problems) but that doesn’t mean that they’re the result of the same “tangible cause.”

    No, I’m not brilliant. I wasn’t trying to blow anyone’s mind. But I have to say that I don’t think I’ve missed the point or “thrown a lot of superfluous comments around.” I meant what I said and I think these are important issues. If you think my writing lacks content, I’d appreciate it if you showed me where.

  16. Playful banter?

    The article focuses on people faced with arrests who lash out against police, it doesn’t say that smoking a blunt is the culprit. That would be a different issue entirely.

    Bringing legality into the subject is a moot matter as well–yes, pot is legal in Amsterdam(though only for actual citizens, not college students trying to get high anymore), but many countries aren’t even considering changing the laws against it. America is taking the forefront with the increasing trend of the legalization of medical marijuana, but we’re not there yet.

    However, the focus of this article was that laws were broken and students reacted to their punishment–I’m sure if students were amicable with law enforcement that would have been included as well(oh wait, it was).

  17. Ben

    Oh, but I think it does concern legality. You can’t separate these sorts of phenomena from the background against which they take place. Here are a few of the lines I have trouble with, to clarify:

    “Experts say the student indignation may stem from modern parenting methods and postponement of adulthood’s independence.”–The issue here is that “indignation” may not be a result of parenting at all. My hope is that the indignation towards police was due to people being fully aware of the fact that a number of people are facing criminal records for something that they don’t have much of a problem with (or, at the very least, recognize to be equally as dangerous as other legal substances). It’s not simply the legality (for instance, in Amsterdam, whose laws I’m aware of, it’s not technically “legal,” even for citizens, though it is “tolerated” to a great extent–though perhaps only tolerated for locals at this point in time) but the fact that it’s this type “crime” that the Fredericksburg police seems concerned with.

    “Debra Steckler, chair of the department of psychology at UMW, attributed these attitudes to “helicopter parents,” or parents who run every aspect of their child’s life, which hinders the child’s ability to become independent…“What happens is, if their kid gets in trouble, which most kids do at one time or another, the parents kind of immediately go fend for their child,” Steckler said…This is a result of changes within parenting methods as well as in society, which may make children feel like they are not subject to normal consequences of their actions, according to Steckler.”–What are “normal consequences”? And why should they be expected in cases where normality doesn’t reflect legitimacy? I’m going to risk a bad analogy and suggest that we look to Egypt to see the importance of this distinction.

    “I think that every one of these students want to think of themselves as good people,” Rettinger said. “They’re defending their own self-image as a law-abiding citizen.”–And why shouldn’t they? They didn’t hurt anyone (certainly not more so than the guy at the ABC store). By any utilitarian measure, they did nothing wrong.

    I never said that “smoking a blunt was the culprit,” only that the unified phenomena of “indignation” is misleading in that it attempts to find a common “root problem” for things as diverse as assaulting police officers and calling the police to let them know that you think they have better things to do than arrest college students who deal pot. I don’t see this as helpful or productive because (at the moment of comparison) it already casts questioning the legitimacy of the law in a negative light.

    I don’t see how legality is a “moot point,” especially considering that the entire article revolves around the law and the idea of being upset at facing consequences. My problem is that there are a number of reasons to be upset about facing consequences. This article looks to psychology and parenting styles for a sort of behavioral analysis that already assumes the complete legitimacy of the state in its actions. It doesn’t consider that maybe people reacting to the drug arrests had legitimate concerns about our laws, the ways in which they’re being enforced or who’s interests they pertain to. I honestly don’t see how that’s not relevant.