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Bridgewater

University aims to keep students from acting out

By Christine Legere
Globe Correspondent / September 26, 2010

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Bridgewater State has a new name and new, loftier ambitions. But while some things have changed at the newly designated university, one seems to have stayed the same: student-involved trouble on campus, like the Sept. 10 alcohol-fueled brawls that kicked off the school year with an unwelcome bang.

There have been numerous recent off-campus incidents involving Bridgewater State students as well, with 28 complaints lodged with Bridgewater police in just two weeks since the start of school, according to officials.

Those officials are still chafing at the Sept. 10 on-campus fights that began when about 150 students and their friends returned after a night of clubbing in Providence. As soon as the youths got off tour buses, officials say, three separate melees ensued.

A gun was reportedly brandished in one fracas and shots were heard by a student later that night, although neither gun nor gunman has been found. A student, in a separate confrontation, was taken to the hospital after being cracked on the skull with a glass bottle, said campus Police Chief David Tillinghast.

Two of the three fights involved 25 or more participants, forcing campus police to call in local law enforcement for backup. The third encounter was a face-off between a Whitman resident and a 22-year-old college student, who received a scalp wound when he was struck with a bottle.

Tillinghast said 23-year-old Edwin Vazquez, who is not a BSU student, was charged last week with aggravated assault and battery. Officers were too busy dispersing the crowd to make any arrests the night of the fights.

Tillinghast said student behavior since Sept. 10 has been no better or worse than past years. Still, he added, “I think there will need to be a communication to students that we don’t tolerate this kind of behavior.’’

University spokeswoman Eva Gaffney characterized the Sept. 10 clashes as “isolated,’’ but said they will be investigated. Any student found to have violated the school’s code of conduct could face sanctions ranging from a stiff warning to expulsion, she said.

Bridgewater police Lieutenant Thomas Schlatz said off-campus student shenanigans have been frequent this term. Police responded to 28 complaints the first two weeks of school, some from longtime trouble spots such as the tenements on Burrill Avenue. “It’s been busy,’’ he said. “At the beginning of the year, you have a lot of new off-campus renters and a lot of new students, who haven’t quite figured out yet what the rules are. It’s also a residential area, so we’re very strict.’’

Schlatz said it isn’t just off-campus students causing complaints. “A lot of the problems we have are with kids coming to visit their friends at college,’’ he said.

Local officials hope the incidents are not a harbinger of how the year will go. In 2006, alcohol-fueled incidents resulted in two deaths: One involved a drunk Bridgewater State student who fatally struck a fellow student with her car. The other was a knife fight involving two students and an alumnus, who was fatally stabbed. Both took place off campus.

Public safety leaders, as well as university administrators, instituted preventive measures following the 2006 tragedies. Closing times at local bars were rolled back from 2 a.m. to 1 a.m. On-campus drinking is allowed only in the senior apartment complex, where residents must be at least 21, Tillinghast said.

Christine Legere can be reached at christinelegere@yahoo.com.

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