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Pumpkin Fair riot: Should Keene State College students be expelled?

College and city officials are reviewing video of the riots Saturday and Sunday at the Pumpkin Fair in Keene, N.H. What do Keene State College students say about punishment for participation? 

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Keene, N.H. police, firefighters and ambulances in New Hampshire responded to large crowds of students as the annual Pumpkin Festival is underway near Keene State College Saturday, Oct. 18, 2014.

(AP Photo/Seth Meyer)

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On Monday morning, Keene State College Student Body President Bobby Graham sat in his econometrics class, one day after he had walked door to door apologizing to area businesses on behalf of the rioters.

On Saturday, Graham had watched what he describes as “disgusting things”: people ripping down signs, flipping cars in Keene, N.H. At least 14 arrests on Saturday and Sunday were appeared connected to the riots, The Associated Press reported. More than 30 people suffered injuries, the Union Leader reported

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In class Monday, the riots were the “elephant in the room,” he says in a phone interview. While his professor mentioned the weekend’s events, the class did not dwell on the riots. “We had things to learn,” he says. 

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The riots that took place when hundreds of young adults took to the streets just steps away from Keene State’s campus have shaken the 5,400-student campus. Some of the Keene State students say they were not entirely responsible for the riots that prompted arrests and caused injuries.

But Anne Huot, the college’s president, said in a Sunday statement that the most serious offenders may be expelled, implying that Keene State students could be responsible. 

“We are actively working to identify the individuals who participated in unlawful behavior, and those who are identified will be held accountable,” she wrote in a statement that the institution’s Facebook page posted. “We are reviewing images, videos, media coverage, social media postings, and information we have about off-campus residences. The most serious offenders will face interim suspension, followed by conduct action up to, and including, expulsion.”

The vandalism and unruly behavior was well documented – videos show nighttime and daytime disturbances, with screams and fights. The events prompted police in riot gear to descend, firing pepper spray and tear gas into the crowd. State officials have scheduled a news conference for 4 p.m. Monday and will discuss the violence, the AP reported.

Grounds for suspension or expulsion from Keene State are clearly spelled out. 

The college considers riot participation, demonstrations, or events that disrupt “the normal operations” of Keene State – on or off campus – as behaviors that are “disorderly, disruptive or indecent,” according to the student handbook. The handbook notes that instigating a riot “will most likely result in disciplinary suspension or disciplinary dismissal” from the institution. 

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Mr. Graham, a junior who says he knows a large portion of the student body, says he did not recognize many faces when he witnessed the riots Saturday. Many area students come to Pumpkin Fest, where thousands of jack-‘o-lanterns draw many tourists, he says.

If Keene State students are found responsible, disciplinary action should be determined on a case-by-case basis, he suggests.

Expulsion for students involved may be a fair outcome, wrote Chelsea Harris, the senior class president, in an email.

“I think that people need to realize that their actions have consequences, and if the school thinks that those consequences need to be expulsion, then that is what it needs to be,” she wrote, adding that she trusts administrators’ judgment on how to respond to the riots.

Though Ms. Harris wrote that she was not at the riots at any point in time, she suspects that Keene State students do not comprise a large percentage of those rioting.

Many students, she noted, are “saddened” by the events, and have been cleaning up in the community and apologizing.

To Graham, the negative media attention is eating at the student body. And users of Yik Yak, a popular anonymous chat app, decried the loss in reputation brought by the riots.

“All over the U.S. now Keene is going to be known for this riot when really this isn’t how Keene really is,” read one. “National news means the world is watching us! Let’s turn this around with PEACE,” another said.

A third: “Can we all take a moment to be thankful that nobody died?”

In 2012, some 1,500 students at University of Massachusetts at Amherst rioted following the New England Patriots SuperBowl loss. Thirteen students were arrested and at least one was expelled, CBS reported at the time