Last April, LSA senior Mike Swiryn decided
that it would be in his best interest to strip down and go for a
run across campus, carrying nothing but a couple servings of
alcohol in his stomach and 17 years of University tradition on his
back. Swiryn was one of the handful of students to participate in
the Naked Mile, the rebellious yet harmless annual streak held on
the last day of classes. Unfortunately, after failing to escape a
bike-mounted police officer, Swiryn was barely able to throw his
boxers back on before being dragged across the pavement to a
waiting police car.
Ever since it began attracting both nationwide media coverage
and thousands of spectators, the University and the Ann Arbor
Police Department have cracked down on the Naked Mile in the name
of the runners’ security. But, this overreaction on the part
of the police is punishment, not protection. If the University and
the AAPD were truly concerned with the safety of students, they
would crack down on the rowdy spectators who flock to the event,
while letting the runners keep the proud tradition alive.
The Naked Mile became a media sensation in 2000, when hundreds
of onlookers, some in blimps hovering overhead, clamored for a good
view while news crews televised everything. The attention attracted
numerous voyeurs with no intention of streaking, but every
intention of taking pictures. As alcohol consumption increased, the
spectators became increasingly unruly, groping runners and
assaulting one another. As a consequence of the 2000 debacle, the
Department of Public Safety and the AAPD have discouraged students
from participating in every Naked Mile since, in the hopes of
protecting them from questionable characters who flock to the
scene. This pressure to end the Naked Mile is unnecessary —
the event could be safely executed if the police were to target the
shady spectators instead of the participants.
In a greater sense, the withering of the Naked Mile parallels
the death of many Ann Arbor traditions. Hash Bash, another year-end
rebellion, no longer attracts the same crowds it once used to.
Indeed, crackdowns by DPS, the AAPD and the University
administration have shrunk many of these student and community
traditions into nonexistence. Students must work to see these
traditions revived, especially because they have never posed a
serious threat to public or individual safety.
The Naked Mile deserves to be protected from both unruly
spectators and police brutality because it is a longstanding
student tradition and a community event. Instead of discouraging
people from running, the administration and police should do their
best to curtail the voyeurs and others who put the runners in
danger. This shift in enforcement will make runners safer,
encourage greater participation and ultimately guarantee that a
University tradition continues to thrive.