Iowa State officials discontinue VEISHEA, retire name

Repeated violence at the Ames college's celebration blamed

A pair of broken light poles in downtown Ames after a riot early Wednesday, April 9, 2014 during Iowa State University's annual VEISHEA celebration. (photo by Gavin Aronsen via Twitter/@garonsen)
A pair of broken light poles in downtown Ames after a riot early Wednesday, April 9, 2014 during Iowa State University's annual VEISHEA celebration. (photo by Gavin Aronsen via Twitter/@garonsen)

AMES — VEISHEA, the annual Iowa State University celebration that has perhaps become best known for outbreaks of violence, has been permanently canceled, school President Steven Leath announced Thursday.

“I'm not going to continue to put students at risk so that we can preserve what to many has become a weeklong party,” he said at a news conference in the ISU Memorial Union.

The decision, which also included “retiring” the VEISHEA name, came almost exactly four months after thousands of people took to the streets on a Tuesday night at this year's event, threatened police and tore down light poles, one of which struck and seriously injured a student.

Leath suspended the weeklong event after that. It was the 12th time since 1985 some sort of violence or disruptive behavior broke out at VEISHEA.

The annual springtime celebration began in 1922 and, according to the VEISHEA website, was supposed to showcase ISU through educational and entertainment events. That same website proclaimed VEISHEA “a timeless tradition” even after Leath's announcement

But Leath said that tradition has been overshadowed, and he shared a story to illustrate his point.

He said he was walking with a student in the spring when they came across a tree decorated with liquor bottles and beer cans. The student, according to Leath, remarked, “Oh, look, a VEISHEA tree.”

“For me, that was shocking,” Leath said Thursday.

His decision closely follows the recommendations of a university task force to cancel the celebration, stop using the VEISHEA name and replace it with a series of smaller events held another time of year.

Leath said ISU will explore how existing events and new ones may work, but he had no details on that Thursday.

Some ISU students said the decision left them feeling like they were being penalized for the bad actions of others.

Sequan Gatlin, a 19-year-old sophomore from Davenport, said he missed out on what would have been his one chance to celebrate VEISHEA because it was stopped last April before he could attend any events.

“I think there should have been different restrictions instead of canceling it for good because that's something the whole community is involved in,” he said.

Kim Martinez, a 20-year-old junior from Texas, said she believes it was non-students who caused most of the problems.

“It's a little bit unfair to punish the students, but if it's an issue of safety” she understands, she said.

Leath said in the past ISU officials had always “hoped and thought” the problems were from people from outside of campus. But this year's disturbance, on April 8, was a Tuesday and many of the people arrested were students, he said.

About 200 people were arrested, more than 250 were cited by police and nine students were suspended from school, he said.

Leath said the student injured by the falling light pole has recovered, but school officials said privacy laws prevented them from saying whether the student will be enrolled at ISU this fall.

There's no guarantee nothing bad will happen if other activities are held to showcase the university, Leath acknowledged. But he said student safety will be paramount while deciding how to move forward, and he and campus leaders will evaluate the student code of conduct for disciplinary regulations.

Leath said his email inbox filled up in April and again after the task force report in July. Alumni from the 1950s and 1960s in particular were in favor of continuing VEISHEA, but he said it's no longer the event they experienced.

There have been several task forces and revisions made to VEISHEA over the years, and Leath said they cannot continue to do the same thing and expect a different result.

“I'm convinced it's the right thing to do for Iowa State,” he said.

Give us feedback

We value your trust and work hard to provide fair, accurate coverage. If you have found an error or omission in our reporting, tell us here.

Or if you have a story idea we should look into? Tell us here.