About 500 students gathered in the Southwest Residential Area as President Barack Obama’s re-election was called by media outlets nationwide.
The gathering began as a tame celebration. However, students’ behaviors and actions quickly grew rowdier over a half hour period before dwindling down.
The University of Massachusetts Police Department did not break up the gathering. Earlier in the day, a UMPD official said the department wasn’t going to assign additional to officers to Southwest and had not heard of a potential gathering.
Just before midnight, students rushed out of residential halls in Southwest, flooding the concourse outside Berkshire Dining Commons.
At the start of the gathering, students chanted patriotic cheers such as the typical “USA” and the more timely “Four more years” while throwing rolls of toilet paper back and forth in front of John Quincy Adams Tower. Nearby trees were swathed in toilet paper and the ground was littered with it.
Later on, some students set fire to the toilet paper rolls, as small fires began on the ground and in a spindly tree just outside of JQA. The fires went out on their own.
Jackson Schroeder, an undeclared major, said he felt as though most people did not know what to expect and were waiting for indications from the crowd.
“Everyone is gathering because everyone else is gathering,” he said.
By 12:15 a.m., a window was shattered on the fourth floor of JQA’s western façade, and showered glass onto the crowd, which temporarily dispersed only to reconvene a few minutes later.
Three female students rushed into JQA together after being struck by broken shards of glass. One woman was bleeding from a small cut in her arm and joked that the group “bled for Obama.” All three of the students refused to give their names, instead asking to be quoted anonymously.
Soon after the window shattered, the spirit of the gathering shifted as patriotic chants dissolved into cruder chants of a sexual nature as three young women in a JQA dormitory on the third floor began flashing the crowds their bras.
Students then briefly broke out into a spontaneous dance party filling the half-moon circle of open space within the crowd’s center.
The low and piercing drones of sound horns speckled the night’s cheers and jeers from the crowd. While students lifted other students to offer them better views of the spectacle, iPhones and cameras were also thrust into the air by students.
With the exception of the throwing of toilet paper fastballs at random crowd members, students did not appear to have many physical altercations. However, one student running into JQA with a broken half of a skateboard said that “someone had hit someone over the head” with the skateboard, but refused to comment further or give his name.
Several students were surprised by the tone of the gathering.
“I didn’t think it would be like this. It’s a little more destructive than I thought,” said Jake Harrison, an undeclared freshman who was wearing an American flag as a cape at the event. “It was happy at first. It kind of turned destructive.”
Other students, such as a freshman political science major Seth Perkins, who had originally gone outside to celebrate Obama’s re-election, expressed similar confusion over the deterioration of the celebration.
“I’m overjoyed and very happy Obama won,” Perkins said. “I’m very confused why (his win) has translated into people throwing things.”
However, a stray whistle, that many students mistakenly believed to be UMPD, caused most of the remaining students to return to their dorms, leaving behind a small group of approximately 20 people.
At the gathering neared its end, Ashley Olmeda, an environmental science and policy major at Smith College, said she was not surprised that police did not break up the celebration.
“Nobody’s doing anything wrong, everybody’s just excited that Obama won the election, everybody’s hyped up,” she said. “There’s really no reason for police to be out here unless a fight really starts to break out, and like we said, it’s not a riot, it’s more of a celebration.”
Patrick Hoff contributed to this report.