Frederic Pierce, director of public relations at SUNY Cortland, discussed how Cortland dealt with the fallout from a wild and crazy 2014 Cortaca (annual Cortland / Ithaca football game) riot that ended in dozens of arrests and widespread complaints from community members and parents.

Highlights from Cortland’s efforts:

Right after the event, the president of Cortland immediately:

  1. Acknowledged what happened.
  2. Apologized for it.
  3. Accepted responsibility for it.

Now, a plan had to be formulated to make sure Cortland could change future events for the better.

Cortland carefully selected 10 committee members picked by the college president and mayor.
This group was charged with finding cause of riot and coming up with recommended solutions.

The approach they took was termed ‘RIOT’ and was made up of the following components:

  1. Research – the committee talked to the following groups:
    – other SUNY institutions
    – police consultants
    – outreach meetings with different segments
    – bar owners
    – parents
    – students
    – community members
  2. Interview – the committee investigated the following areas to better understand the dynamic of Cortaca and how this could have happened:
    – Tale of two Cortacas – one was focused on the game, the other was just a party.
    – Visitors – most of the incidents were centered around non-students who showed up to stir things up.
    – Unofficial marketing – many bars promoted the party aggressively.
    – House parties – many of the incidents were at homes rather than bars.
    – lack of penalties – no consequences meant partiers were unafraid to act out.
    – social media – much of the promotion was on social media.
  3. Outreach – The school reached out to parents, community members, faculty, staff, and student organizations to keep them apprised of the progress being made and act as a resource for questions and concerns.
  4. Translate – A 72 page report outlined the findings and key recommendations for the future:
    – Increase penalty for bad behavior
    – Create alternative events
    – Educate students on academic and career consequences
    – Partner with local businesses
    – Minimize negative influence of social media

The results have been positive, and the next year was much quieter while still drawing a great number of students.


Article Author

Fran Zablocki

Fran Zablocki

Strategist, mStoner Inc.

Fran Zablocki brings ten years of marketing strategy, project management, and alumni relations experience to mStoner. As a strategist for mStoner, Fran is responsible for leading the overall vision and direction of client solutions.