What would someone see if they googled Keene State College? The school itself, some students walking on campus, but if one were to keep scrolling there will be pictures from the 2014 Pumpkin Festival riots. Years later, those pictures, our school’s reputation and the community’s fear is still here. Students are treated like history will repeat itself, even though no students currently enrolled were a KSC student when the rioting took place.
Cars were flipped, there were fires in the streets, there were bottles being thrown; people and students were in actual danger. It was appalling. The fact that young adults could do that to their own school’s reputation is frightening. So who takes the blame? Many of the people involved in the riots did include some KSC students however the Union Leader reported that Former President Ann Huot said, “Keene State students bore some of the responsibility for the unruly behavior, but also… some outside the community had billed the event ‘as a destination for destructive and raucous behavior.’”
People from all over New Hampshire and sometimes even throughout the U.S. would come to see this small city filled with pumpkins. People of all ages participated in events throughout the day. It was and is so much more than the partying which everyone now remembers it by. It was a day for the elementary children, for bringing the local businesses and surrounding schools together, it was a small community-built tradition that got out of hand. It was fun to bring friends up from other schools or invite parents and siblings, but no one would even think to do that anymore. The Keene Pumpkin Festival helped the community by bringing people from outside the city in. Which is a blessing and a curse in itself, because some of those people sunk the festival to where it is now.
The Pumpkin Festival before the riot was crazy. Not talking about the partying, but the actual event. It was something to see. According to pumpkinfestival.org, in October 2013, a Guinness World Record was replaced by Keene Pumpkin Festival with 30,581 lit jack-o’-lanterns. That was then, and now someone can count the number of pumpkins at the festival on their hands (figuratively).
The Pumpkin Festival creeps up as the end of the October starts to get closer. What should students expect? Looking at the past few years will give a better look into the future. In the most recent Keene Pumpkin Festivals there had been more Keene Police officers than pumpkins. There had been more state troopers than community members. And there had been more complaints than students getting involved and enjoying Halloweekend. It’s a sad time for KSC students because they will never get the chance to experience what previous students were able to. The school puts students on lock during the weekend. The new policy is essentiall spelled out as: No friends, no visitors, no anything — or else.
Or else what? How can the community and schools make the festival great again if everyone’s constantly living in fear and treating students like prisoners?
Hopefully, this year students can do their laundry without getting approached by four RAs. Maybe this year the weather will be nicer and more community members will be able to forget the past and look forward to the future. We hope that the nightmare that the school has about history repeating itself goes away. And lastly, we hope that students feel like they can go out to the festival and enjoy their weekend — no matter how hard the authorities try to prevent the Halloweekend celebration.