UConn's deplorable exploitation of Jasper Howard's death

On Thursday a UConn task force proposed a series of steps to finally regain control of Spring Weekend. For the unfamiliar, Spring Weekend is a raucous party that occurs every April on the Storrs campus. It always features scores of arrests, there is usually some significant property damage involved, and last year Jafar Karzoun, a UConn student, died after a fight during the weekend. 

Spring Weekend is a huge problem and an annual black eye for the school, so after years of pretending to try and get it under control, UConn seems committed to actually doing something about the madness. Unfortunately, their plan - canceling all the non-drinking events (oozeball, the annual concert, etc.) and asking students not to go to the unsanctioned parties - seems terribly misguided. But that's not a topic I want write about now (look for it later in the week), because while UConn's terrible attempts to manage Spring Weekend have always annoyed me, they do not come close to upsetting me as much as this line from an AP report on the plan:

[The task force] also asked students to participate in a voluntary moratorium on off-campus Spring Weekend parties out of respect for the deaths of Karzoun and football player Jasper Howard, who was stabbed on campus in October 2009.

I was furious when I first saw that and I've only gotten angrier as I have thought about it. UConn has, until now, done a phenomenal job of handling every aspect of Jasper Howard's murder. Randy Edsall, whatever you might think of him now, was there for his team, said all the right things and never, ever used Howard's death in an inappropriate manner. The handling of Howard's death was one of the rare things the school does that was absolutely pitch perfect from start to finish.

But not this. This is pure, naked exploitation.

To review: Jasper Howard's death was a tragedy. It was a senseless murder that occurred six months before Spring Weekend. He was stabbed outside the Student Union on a Saturday night. He was there attending a school-sanctioned dance, and was killed by a cheap thug who snuck off to his car to get a knife because of a disagreement over a girl.

Howard's death had nothing to do with Spring Weekend. He wasn't in X-Lot, or at Carriage, or at Celeron. It did not happen because a party got out of control and it did not happen because police were overwhelmed by thousands of revelers. It happened because a coward thought the answer to an argument at a dance was to go and get a knife.

If you ask students on campus, they'll tell you that if you want to have something to do in Storrs on a Friday or Saturday that does not involve drinking your one and only option is to go to the Student Union. Howard wasn't at the type of wild party the school is asking students to abstain from in his name. He was at the type of appropriate and reasonable alternative to that party that the school has inexplicably cancelled for this year's Spring Weekend.

UConn may want students to stop partying, but it is not because of Howard's death. If that was the case they would have tried to cancel Spring Weekend in his name last year. The school is using Howard's name because it is a big name, and I suspect they think that by making a cheap appeal to the sentiment that brought the campus together in the Fall of 2009 they might be able to keep some egg off of their face in the Spring of 2011.

The worst part about all of this is that a student did die at Spring Weekend last year in a tragedy that was equally senseless. Jafar Karzoun was a member of the UConn community. He was a friend and a classmate to people in Storrs, but he didn't play for the football team so apparently UConn thought his name wasn't important enough to stand alone. That is disgraceful and the school should be ashamed.

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