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Saturday, October 9, 2010

Texax A&M University "Bonfire" November 19,1999- Is Springfest JMU's version of Bonfire?

Below is from :
"Dying to Drink: Confronting Binge Drinking on College Campuses", by Henry Wechsler, Director, Harvard School of Public Health, College Alcohol Study, and Bernice Wuethrich, Rodale 2002.

"...Every year since 1909, when a group of student cadets razed furniture from around campus and set it ablaze, students at Texas A&M University in College Station have built Bonfire.  They burn their creation before the season's final football game, played between Texas A&M and arch rival University of Texas, or TU, as it is called. For Aggies, Bonfire represents "the burning desire to beat the hell out of TU.".....
    By 1999 Bonfire had grown to be a student-managed project of massive proportions.  From a simple tepee structure it had evolved into a layered wedding-cake design with thousands of logs piled together, stack upon stack.  It reached a height of sixty feet and weighed close to two million pounds, about as much as two 747 jets.  Students passed down instructions for building Bonfire by word of mouth, year after year, as older students instructed younger. There was neither blueprint nor systematic professional engineering oversight........
  On the night of November 19, 1999, as Bonfire neared completion, the unthinkable happened. At 2:45 that morning, with seventy young mend and women working on the structure, something shifted at its base as a restraining wire wrapped around several logs in the bottom-most tier snapped.  Then another wire snapped, and another. Suddenly all that had been holding the mammoth structure together, every safeguard assumed to be in place, failed as the structure collapsed like a house of cards.  Logs began to fall away from the bottom stack's southeast side. Second-stack logs followed, shifting sideways and hurtling into the gaps below. Students screamed and scrambled for safety as their friends plunged down with the logs....
   Twelve students were crushed to death, and twenty-seven were injured, retrieved from the twisted pile of logs and wire disbelief and grief were as tangible as death was intangible.  The loss reverberated throughout the university and the state.  When alumni heard the news, some are reported to have wept. ...
  In the tragedy's aftermath the university appointed an independent special commission to determine the cause of the collapse....
   What role did alcohol play in this college tradition?  The report found "considerable evidence of irresponsible behavior in Bonfire.  Alcohol use was substantial, although student leaders prohibited alcohol....Laban Toscano, a Sergeant with the Texas Alcoholic Beverage Commission who helped investigate the Bonfire tragedy, said " You've got people drinking beer while putting together a complex structure.  You have to wonder if, over the years, that isn't what caused the change in the structure, the hand-me-downs of instructions from students getting convoluted while under the influence."


     I invited the JMU Board of Visitors to appoint an Independent Commission at it's October 1, 2010 meeting.  The Rector rejected that suggestion.  I have asked the Governor to consider the issue also- have not heard back from him as yet.  I believe that you can appoint a commission before students die and I believe the Springfest riots of April 2010 were the signal that the JMU Springfest tradition is as out of control as the Texas A&M Bonfire tradition was out of control in 1999.
   The more I review the literature and JMU's own data, the more convinced I am that it will take an external force such as an independent commission or a lawsuit in order to change the negative alcohol culture at JMU

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