Downer ‘attack’ sparks anger, debate

No official punishment has been planned for nine theater students who staged a mock terrorist attack in Downer Commons during the Monday dinner hours, said Lawrence officials. The students, members of a group known as the Theater Collective, burst into the dining room wearing combat fatigues and waving plastic guns. Three glasses were reportedly broken and a sundae table was tipped over.

But the performance, intended to be an anti-war statement, has instead sparked criticism and bewilderment among the student body. Some students from foreign nations-who apparently thought the attack was real-reportedly chased after the terrorists with butter knives.

“I didn’t think they needed to knock over food,” said junior Sarah Thomas, who witnessed the incident. “I thought it was a little too violent.”

Freshman Karin Moe said she objected to the way the statement was made: “I thought it was really scary and sort of sick the way they handled it,” she said.

But Theater Collective members defended their action and proclaimed the incident a success.

“We thought this was something that would shake people up,” said junior Jennifer Baumgardner, a member of the Theater Collective. “We wanted it to be propagandistic and basically visceral.”

The administration did not give permission for the incident, but knew about it beforehand, said Dean of Student Activities Paul Shrode. Theater professors Fred Gaines and Tim Troy and art professor Helen Klebesadel were in on the performance, said Baumgardner.

Possible Judicial Board action has been discussed, but a case would have to be initiated by a student complaint and not the administration. No case has been filed yet, said Baumgardner.

Despite the widespread criticism, Shrode said he approved of the performance-a style of expression popular in the 1960s known as “guerilla theater.”

“I think we need to protect freedom of expression in these things,” he said. “If it’s not impromptu, it’s not guerilla theater. But I would hope they would think through the ‘what ifs’ more carefully.”

Shrode said he faulted the Monday incident for the damaged property and the shock to foreign students.

Downer officials said the damage amounted to less than $10. “Nothing permanent-just a mess,” said Director of Food Services Bill Fortune.

Baumgardner said the Theater Collective has planned more war-related protests.

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