The raucous tailgate party before football games at Duke University has been canceled after an underage teenager was found unconscious in a portable toilet following Saturday’s celebrations.
“This incident has vividly revealed that tailgate as is practiced at Duke must come to an end,” Vice President of Student Affairs Larry Moneta said in an e-mail to students Monday night.
Moneta later confirmed the minor, who was a sibling of a student and guest at the event, was taken to the Duke Emergency Department and is in fair condition.
The incident and subsequent cancellation dismayed many students on campus, who have worked with administration to keep it in the past.
“In the last three years, an inordinate amount of time has been put into taking steps to keeping it,” said Chris Brown, who is the student government vice president for athletics and campus services. “But when you have an incident such as this that could’ve ended terribly, it’s really hard to justify a student fight-back.”
The tailgate tradition started in 2003 and has since evolved into a university-wide event complete with costumes, alcohol, loud music and, more recently, regulations from the Duke administration.
“Over the past few years it has gone away from being about football,” said Chris Heltne, director of communications for student affairs. “We’ve tried to make it a safer event, but this has led us to believe what we’ve done hasn’t worked.”
The tailgate’s cancellation has caused controversy among students because it had become one of the campus’s most popular traditions, said Student Body President Mike Lefevre.
“It’s one of the few truly open social events on campus” Lefevre said. “Tailgate and (last day of classes) are the defining social events at Duke to many students.”
Tailgate is open to any group of 20 or more students who register for space in the Blue Zone, a student parking area near the football stadium. The administration limits the tailgate to one guest per Duke Card holder and allows each group no more than 30 cases of beer each.
Tailgate and pre-football game activities are not canceled permanently. Students, athletics and administrators will meet to develop a new football gameday celebration in the spring, Brown said.
“We want to see how other schools do this and how their gameday experience differs from ours,” he said. “We have the chance as students at Duke to define what the new tailgate is going to look like.”
Sophomore Olivia Boger said part of the reason the administration disliked the event was that it didn’t improve student attendance at games. Only around 20 percent actually go to the game, she said.
“That’s the only problem with tailgate right now,” Boger said. “It will be good if they can improve that because it’s one of the things that makes Duke really unique.”
The correlation to student attendance will be important to the new tailgate next year, which will happen despite Moneta’s “fatalistic” e-mail, Lefevre said.
“The reason I’m not up in arms right now is because I know it’s not over and we’ll have a tailgate next year,” he said. “I’m hoping we can really design an event that is even better than before.”
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