Solar Bear to see police presence from SIU, local cops

Locals and visitors gather for Polar Bear festivities Jan. 30, 2016, on South Poplar Street. ( file photo)

Locals and visitors gather for Polar Bear festivities Jan. 30, 2016, on South Poplar Street. ( file photo)

By Bill Lukitsch

SIU police are teaming up with local law enforcement and other campus departments as the first mass gathering of college students — known as Solar Bear — is expected to kick off Saturday.

The end of the first week of classes has over the last few years marked the beginning of Solar Bear, an unsanctioned city-wide party celebrated by college students with heavy drinking. While the event takes place off campus, SIU police combine efforts each year with local law enforcement to keep students safe through the weekend, said Benjamin Newman, SIU’s director of public safety.

“It is our responsibility to maintain the safety and security of our campus community and we see that as our mission,” Newman said of the measures taken by SIU police during the annual event.


What began five years ago as a back-to-school party organized by Pinch Penny Pub eventually spread to the Aspen Court Apartments and other sites around town. Last year, Carbondale police officers used pepper spray to disperse a crowd at the apartment complex after bottles and cans were reportedly thrown at officers.

More than two dozen citations were issued for various offenses including underage drinking, public urination and resisting arrest.

Notices have been posted around Aspen informing tenants the grassy area between apartment buildings P and Q will be fenced off. No large crowds, loud music or rooftop gatherings are to be tolerated, and violators of city ordinances could face citations from police, the fliers warn. Brian Marik, property manager at Aspen, declined to be interviewed for this story but said via phone Thursday that management would not allow the event to continue there.

A Polar Bear participant tosses a football from a balcony to partiers below Jan. 30 on South Poplar Street. ( file photo)
A Polar Bear participant tosses a football from a balcony Jan. 30 on South Poplar Street. ( file photo)

Still, police expect large crowds to amass at house parties across town as well as bars around Carbondale. Increased patrolling is generally part of the strategy in preparing for annual events that attract large numbers of college students and widespread parties, said Community Resource Officer Randy Mathis of Carbondale police.

Mathis said residents hosting parties this weekend should be cautious and consider consulting the department beforehand for information on how to do so safely, adding that residents often lose control of parties during events of this magnitude. He advised those experiencing problems should call the police before things get out of hand.

“You’re responsible for what happens on your property,” he said.  “So the best thing to do is to work with us and give us a call.”

As the weekend progresses, Newman said he wants students to be mindful of their actions and possibly explore alcohol-free activities the campus is offering. But those who choose to go out and drink, he said, need to be aware of the potential dangers of heightened criminal activity as well as hazards to personal health.


Brianna Sinche, a coordinator from Wellness and Health Promotion Services, said while the university does not condone high-risk drinking events such as Solar Bear, there are measures taken to prepare for them each year.

In partnership with University Housing, Sinche said volunteers plan to hand out bottled water fitted with safe drinking tips Saturday near Trueblood Hall, Lentz Hall, University Hall and Wall & Grand Apartments.

She advised students partaking in alcohol during Saturday’s festivities stay well-hydrated, pace drinks, stick with friends and plan ahead to reduce the risk of experiencing negative consequences.

“We recognize that students make the decision whether or not to drink on their own,” Sinche said. “But if they do decide to drink, we try and provide them with information and resources so that they can make better decisions to keep themselves safer when drinking.”

Campus editor Bill Lukitsch can be reached at [email protected] or on Twitter @lukitsbill.

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