In an interview with The Daily Campus regarding safety concerns associated with frequent weekend parties at Mirror Lake, University of Connecticut President Thomas Katsouleas said that he encourages students this upcoming Halloween weekend to choose outdoor social gatherings.
When asked whether Residential Life’s no-guest policy for Halloween weekend will push students out of their dorm and to outside parties with friends, President Katsouleas replied with a resounding “I sure hope so.”
“You might be surprised with my answer, but I sure hope so. I would like to see students be safe, and going to an outdoor gathering may be one of the safest alternatives,” President Katsouleas said. “Mirror Lake is a very big space, so it can accommodate a fairly large number of people without it being a tight gathering. … Getting in a costume and going outside, staying six feet away from everyone, I think, is a much better approach to that than having a couple of people in your room.”
Halloween is a notorious time for college parties. Residence halls plan on increasing or doubling the number of resident assistants on duty this weekend in anticipation of increased party activity and more alcohol-related safety incidents.
This semester, Mirror Lake became one of the centers of weekend night-life on campus. With more COVID-19 related restrictions in the dorms, many students have been seen spending their Friday and Saturday nights frequenting the lake, listening to music, drinking and hanging out with friends, often with no masks and no social distancing.
Sergeant Zachary Ladyga of the UConn Police Department said that officers regularly patrol Mirror Lake.
“We do have officers on a weekend basis on high-activity,” Sergeant Ladyga said. “We have bike officers and some officers that have unmarked vehicles that do drive around…When we do get calls, we do send officers over with their cruise lights on and high-visibility just to see.”
President Katsouleas said that of the 71 police incidents documenting Mirror Lake parties that he has seen, very few reported large crowds and violations of COVID-19 safety protocols. Additionally, he said when police ask groups to disperse, students usually comply.
“The report that we’ve been getting is that there are gatherings, but most of the time — I’m not saying all the time, but most of the time — they are relatively compliant. That’s my understanding from [UCPD]. If that changes, that would be a different story,” President Katsouleas said.
Students living in the area say that these parties often grow rowdier as the night goes on. On Friday, a resident assistant at Shippee Hall videoed two students throwing punches at each other next to the Storrs Road and Mansfield Road intersection.
One concern about these gatherings is the lack of supervision. At bars, there are bouncers. At fraternity parties, there are sober brothers. In residential buildings, there are RAs to monitor safety, but on outdoor campus properties like Mirror Lake, no one is consistently present to keep an eye on partiers.
During the interview, President Katsouleas acknowledged that the Mirror Lake parties pose safety risks.
“It’s a double safety issue; there’s the COVID safety issue, and then there’s other aspects of safety, from alcohol poisoning to sexual assault,” President Katsouleas said.
Later in the interview, President Katsouleas said that little evidence suggests outdoor parties increase the risk for COVID-19 infection, and encouraged students to spend their Halloween outside.
“So far we haven’t seen outdoor gatherings like this as being a driver of spread, but that’s something that we’re monitoring all the time, and can change, and we will respond accordingly depending on what we learn,” President Katsouleas said.
Cody Johnson, an RA at Shippee Hall and fifth-semester molecular and cell biology major, said that his main concerns about Mirror Lake partying are not COVID-19, but the dangerous, or even deadly, accidents that can occur. As the months get colder, Johnson said that he worries about drunk partiers passing out and freezing outside, or students crossing the intersection at the wrong time and causing an accident. He said that he does not want to see a tragedy for UConn to take action.
“I don’t think we want to wait for someone to get hit by a car,” President Katsouleas said. “I’m concerned about the safety of our students always. … That’s always our number one priority. We’ll work towards keeping kids safe.”
President Katsouleas said later in the interview that students wanting to socialize on Halloween will be safer outside. He said students gathering on Mirror Lake for Halloween should do so in multiple small groups, wear a mask and stay six feet apart.