Over a month later, Keene State College cannot seem to escape the shocking events that took place at this year’s Pumpkin Fest.
A forum took place on Tuesday, Dec. 2 at 6:30 p.m. in the Mabel Brown Room to discuss the “tragedy” of this year’s festival. Open to the community of Keene as well as students and faculty of KSC, the gathering was held before Keene City Council, KSC President Anne Huot and Keene Mayor Kendall Lane. Residents were able to voice their opinions one final time in regards to Pumpkin Fest 2015.
Mayor Lane began by explaining to the audience that the goal of the forum was to allow residents to share their thoughts and discuss how KSC and the City of Keene can move forward together after Pumpkin Fest 2014. After recognizing the city council members and acknowledging KSC for its “tremendous work” of hosting the event, Lane handed it over to President Huot. She welcomed residents to the college and reminded them that KSC has done everything in its power to identify students and hold them accountable for their actions. Huot mentioned that people with no affiliation to KSC are drawn to Pumpkin Fest to participate in riotous activity.
“Those facts do not obviate our responsibility to address what happened. Rather, it provides a context to a growing societal concern as we wrestle here in Keene, with the aftermath of October eighteenth,” Huot said. Moderator of the forum was Steve Jones, President of Antioch University of New England. After reminding participants to be respectful of one another, opinions were articulated.
Members of the audience who wished to speak were asked to fill out a comment card before taking a seat at the event. Jones randomly selected the order of the speakers and each was allowed three minutes to talk. The viewpoints of speakers varied between topics of cancelling the festival, moving the festival outside of Keene, controlling the consumption of alcohol at KSC and continuing the festival to support local businesses.
KSC took a huge hit when participants spoke up about the excessive use of alcohol by students during Pumpkin Fest. State Representative representing Keene, Larry Phillips, spoke about binge drinking at KSC.
“To me this is about binge drinking and how it gets carried away, now we’ve gotten to the point where something has to be done,” Phillips said. He said he hopes KSC takes responsibility to control drinking on and off campus. A Keene resident voiced his opinion about accountability at KSC.
“In my perspective, it’s been a steady escalation of insanity,” the resident said, explaining how his property has been polluted by students many times. The resident said he holds KSC accountable and joked that he would rather have students bring pumpkins instead of riots to next year’s Pumpkin Fest.
An alumnus of Keene also added her opinion of excessive drinking at Keene. “If there’s any predominant issue on this KSC campus, it’s alcohol consumption, how it’s consumed and the binge drinking epidemic across the country,” she stated. She said her hope is for KSC to resolve the problem before it occurs again.
City Council member Robert J. O’Connor said he felt that what happened off campus was not a part of the Pumpkin Fest itself and believes they are two separate issues. “I think the bigger issue is how we handle this binge drinking as a community and as a nation,” O’Connor said.
When asked about what KSC can do to resolve these issues, Mayor Lane said the concern lies within a cultural change. “How the college interacts with the students who live off campus is going to have an impact. It’s the little things that are going to change the way [KSC] deals with behavior,” he said. When asked whether or not KSC or the Keene community should be held accountable for the actions at Pumpkin Fest, Lane said it works both ways and the two must work together to solve this ongoing issue.
Of the thirty-nine speakers, only a select few spoke about cancelling the festival. Beth Truman, a lifelong resident of Keene, insisted that the riotous events that took place outside of the festival were enough reason to shut down Pumpkin Fest.
“The events were nothing short of terrifying — destructive and chaotic and moving the location of the festival would not deter these events from happening,” Truman said. She mentioned the hefty price tag of law enforcement needed to control the riots. “The second that even one life is in danger, we have a responsibility to do everything in our power to prevent that from happening,” Truman stated. She promptly suggested that cancelling Pumpkin Fest permanently was the right thing to do to keep police force and residents out of harm’s way.
Cindy Chase, another State Representative of Keene recommended “taking a break” from Pumpkin Fest for the next couple of years.
“Pumpkin Fest is a good thing, but some of the events outside of it are problematic. We need time to reflect,” she said. Chase mentioned the idea of using 2015 as a year to think, rather than plan for another festival.
“A break would cease the behavior patterns that we cannot control,” she said. Chase advocated for a break in festivals so the community has time to process these events without the worry of another festival in ten months. Although some residents offered the idea of moving the festival elsewhere, Mayor Lane said that action, “really would destroy Pumpkin Fest.”
He said he believes it would not be the same festival if it were moved somewhere else.
Despite some negativity during the forum, many residents opted away from pointing fingers of accountability and focused on the importance of Pumpkin Fest.
According to a few speakers, continuing Pumpkin Fest is crucial to local businesses, as the event draws in a large income.
A participant at the forum spoke on the behalf of non-profit organizations in Keene. He stated that without Pumpkin Fest, much management would suffer.
“Organizations may cease to exist or find their purpose limited for lack of funds as the Pumpkin Fest is their main source of income,” he said.
He stated his opinion that without the festival, “The community would lose opportunities of leadership, charity, community services, socialization, education and health and recreation.”
The speaker said he hopes City Council will decide to keep Pumpkin Fest, as it is an important event for small organizations.
Resident Kathleen Doyle is a youth group advisor and organizer of the Haunted Church event during Pumpkin Fest.
“Through this event we raise over ten thousand dollars to send kids on mission trips around the world, and to support Hundred Nights and the Let It Shine organization,” she stated.
Doyle said it was important for Pumpkin Fest to be held as the money raised during the event benefits many people and children’s education.
City Council member O’Connor confirmed that no decision has been made yet, but all comments will be taken into consideration.
Mayor Lane ensured that a decision should be made by April 2015.
MacKenzie Clark can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org