Iowa State VEISHEA task force to recommend dropping festival's name

'There is a lot of emotion wrapped up in it'

Members of an Iowa State task force charged with studying the university’s historically troubled annual VEISHEA celebration and recommending a way forward said they believe, at the very least, administrators should drop the event’s name.

But the 20-member group could recommend ISU President Steven Leath discontinue the 92-year-old weeklong event altogether. If they decide it should stay, the task force remains open on how exactly to revamp it going forward, said Tom Hill, vice president of ISU student affairs and chairman of the task force.

The name, however — chosen in 1922 to represent ISU’s original colleges — will be retired both because it no longer accurately reflects the ISU campus and programs and because it carries a loaded history.

“VEISHEA means a lot of things to a lot of people,” Hill said. “There is a lot of emotion wrapped up in it.”

If they group recommends keeping some form of the celebration, Hill said, it will consider an abbreviated version or one that offers different activities.

“There is a wide range of options,” he said. “It would be premature to determine what will or will not be taken off the table.”

The group, which began meeting weekly after VEISHEA exploded in riots on April 8, has only two more scheduled meetings before recommendations are due to Leath on June 30. But if the group needs to meet more often between now and then, Hill said, it will.

“Whatever it takes to get it done, we’ll do that,” he said.

The task force, which includes university, community, student and event leaders, was charged with assessing the appropriateness of VEISHEA for the future, understanding the causes of this year’s disturbance, comparing it to past disturbances and developing recommendations.

The group is considering historical information, input from community groups, feedback from public forums, and hard data — like budgets, participant breakdowns, and changes at the university. It also is reviewing results from similar task forces formed in 1992 and 2004 following ugly VEISHEA incidents.

“Right now, we are at a point where we are really getting down to the difficult decision making,” Hill said.

VEISHEA began in 1922 as a way of showcasing the community. Its purpose always has been family friendly, but its legacy has been marred by riots in 1988, 1992, 1999, 2004, and 2014, a fatal stabbing in 1997, and cancellations in 2005 and now this year.

On the second day of this year’s event, which began April 7, thousands of rowdy revelers took to the streets in Ames’ Campustown area, shouting at police, overturning cars, toppling light poles and causing thousands of dollars in damage. Police were able to bring the masses under control after one of the falling light poles hit a student, sending him to the hospital with life-threatening injuries.

On April 9, Leath called a news conference to condemn the riots and cancel the remainder of this year’s VEISHEA — despite months of planning and preparation. Leath called the incident unacceptable and said it cannot continue.

Ames police have made several arrests and issued several citations in connection with the riots. Those arrested include David Irving, 20, on suspicion of second-degree criminal mischief. He was on the ISU football squad but was promptly kicked off for his suspected involvement.

Irving was among those suspected of toppling a light pole — although he was not accused in the incident that hospitalized the student.

The next task force meeting is scheduled for Thursday.

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