Emily Collard / Lantern designer
Every year around midnight on the Thursday before the Michigan game, police and Ohio State officials ease up on the law when more than 12,000 OSU students jump into Mirror Lake, an act that officials say is technically criminal trespassing. The fourth-degree misdemeanor is tradition, but this year, tradition has changed.
The Michigan game is the Saturday after Thanksgiving this year, putting the Mirror Lake jump on the Thanksgiving holiday. Because the jump is not a university-sponsored event, students took things into their own hands, broke tradition and moved the jump to Tuesday.
“I just decided that it should be Tuesday and everyone else just join in,” said Brittany McDonald, a second-year in math who created the Facebook group “Mirror Lake Jump 2010,” an impromptu forum to organize the event.
McDonald said she chose Tuesday because she knew most people would be home for Thanksgiving on Thursday, herself included.
Thousands of other students apparently thought the same thing. According to the Facebook group, almost 13,500 people are attending the Mirror Lake jump on Tuesday.
“The date doesn’t really matter so much as the entire student body of OSU getting together and giving Michigan a giant middle finger,” said Andrew MacMillan, a 2010 graduate who made the jump three times while at OSU.
However, many students plan to jump both nights to keep tradition alive. The Facebook group, along with university officials and police, advise students not to jump Thursday.
“People who go in the water Thursday night are at greater risk of being charged for criminal trespassing,” said Capt. Eric Whiteside of OSU Police. “We don’t want people in the water at all on Thursday.”
Signs posted around Mirror Lake say no trespassing or swimming in the lake. Normally, violators could be arrested and charged with criminal trespassing.
The maximum penalty for a fourth-degree misdemeanor includes 200 hours of community service, a $250 fine and 30 days in jail.
For one night, however, students can jump into the lake without penalty.
“For some strange reason, we turn a blind eye to that activity,” Whiteside said.
Columbus Police officers on horses will line one side of Mirror Lake the night of the jump. The Columbus Fire Department will provide a medical unit, and Student Life representatives will attend to help students get back to their dorms. OSU Police will also be at the lake. Extra lights will be installed around the lake for safety.
But those resources will be available only on Tuesday.
“Trying to reduce the risk for students is a big undertaking, and we didn’t want to do it twice,” said Ruth Gerstner, Office of Student Life spokeswoman.
The Office of Student Life advises students not to jump into Mirror Lake.
Javaune Adams-Gaston, vice president for Student Life, sent a campus-wide e-mail last week offering safety tips but advising students not to make the chilly plunge.
“In other words, only one night will be overlooked,” Gerstner said.
In addition to safety hazards, university officials and police agreed they should not work Thanksgiving day.
Originally, the Facebook group told students they could jump whichever night they wanted. Now, with the threat of arrest, that declaration has changed.
OSU officials used Facebook to determine which night would draw more students so they could look after the crowd that night.
Although police will overlook the trespassing Tuesday, Whiteside said they will not hesitate to take action against drug and alcohol violations.
“We try to focus on the most risky behavior we see that night and take action,” Whiteside said. “All officers have discretion and we do it on a case-by-case basis.”
Whiteside and Gerstner said their main concern is student safety.
According to the Office of Student Life, about 25 students were treated last year for cuts, sprains and other injuries.
Some students say jumping into Mirror Lake the Thursday be
fore the Michigan game helps OSU win.
“I think I’d be more freaked out about it if we didn’t have it all together,” said Brett Jack, a fifth-year in molecular genetics who has jumped four times.
Jack said the football team will play well no matter what, and as long as the tradition stays alive, he isn’t concerned.
“If that’s what we have to do to keep the jump going, then it’s a good thing,” he said.
Nick Dismukes, a 2010 OSU graduate who has jumped three times, agreed with Jack. Dismukes said Mirror Lake jumps were the best nights he spent in Columbus. Those who haven’t experienced the jump, he said, cannot understand how much it means to students.
“They think it’s just some drunk kids jumping in a pond, but it’s a lot bigger than that,” Dismukes said. “What it is, is more important then when it is.”