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.