A Two-Sided Mirror

By Jason Priestas on November 28, 2013 at 7:54a

The Mirror Lake jump is stupid. Let’s get that out of the way right away.

It is a tradition that is not at all important when compared to the countless actual trials this world, and even this college, faces. But while it may lack gravity, the jump does hold a role at Ohio State. It is special. It is ridiculous. It is fun.

At the surface level, amid all the high stakes academics over eight semesters for a standard OSU student, jumping into a pond once (well, maybe twice) per year is a welcome relief —  a way to blow off a bit of steam in a way that costs the school approximately two students’ yearly tuition and housing fees per year in repairs and seriously harms no one.

And while there is certainly very little steam coming off the surface of the lake those late-November nights, the jump has an intangible warmth in its unification of students toward a common goal: leaping into a cold pond. Again, that’s it. It’s stupid. To staunchly and seriously argue the jump’s value is pointless. But to revoke it is blasphemy, and that’s what Ohio State encroached towards this year.

While the administration didn’t ban the jump entirely, it did squeeze it into submission in the from of restrictive hospital wrist bands, required for admittance to the jump at a single entry point. In a sense, the new measures killed the traditional version of the Mirror Lake Jump. The student body’s spirit was split over two jumps (one official, one not), and the atmosphere and magnitude of each were complete inverses of each other.


The Mirror Lake Monday movement was born on Twitter some time between Sunday and Monday. Despite gaining traction throughout the day Monday, it had no certainty of success until it actually happened. By nightfall, university police had surrounded the already fenced-in lake as a deterrent. For most students, the threat of police involvement was enough of a reason to stay away if the fence wasn’t already.

But at approximately 11:30 PM, small cells of students began to form around the fence at various points before clumping into two main factions. A larger group gathered on the southeast edge, and another, smaller force established itself on the west side of the boundary. I was among the latter group and was unaware of the southeast front.

Among the general excitement and commotion around me, a female voice rang out. “We just want to feed the ducks!” At this point, a “Feed the ducks!" chant broke out. A bystander next to me, not there for the jump, expressed his opinion that nothing was going to happen. The police did less than nothing to stop what did.

Mere seconds after that single doubter, just one among what must have been many, expressed his negative sentiments, a cheer broke out on the western front as a steady stream of southeastern invaders, led by one bold student, rushed down to the water’s edge. A short period of uncertainty as to how we should proceed was broken when several western students simply knocked down a portion of the fence.

That was it. Mirror Lake wall had fallen to an army of approximately 1500, along with any of the university’s hopes at 100% containing the event this year.

What made Monday’s jump special was the unification it possessed. Every student there arrived with the goal of defying the new regulations of the event. Every student there wanted that fence gone and knew there was no way inside without that happening. Perhaps because of this, there was a strange sobriety about the Monday jump.

A very low proportion of jumpers actually showed signs of intoxication when compared to a normal Mirror Lake affair. For the first time, hope and belief in others were unexpectedly required to jump in a cold pond, and the spirit and focus of those at the Monday jump reflected that. It wasn’t about chaos this time. It was about chaotic rebellion. But what the Monday jump possessed in its determination, it lacked in numbers. This flaw is what allowed the administration to win on Tuesday.


The official Mirror Lake jump saw essentially a normal turnout in numbers, though perhaps slightly less. The majority of students arrived between 11 and 12 with wristbands and measurable blood alcohol levels. While it lacked the degree of crowded chaos from previous years -- with a maximum of only a few dozen students in the water at any one time -- it seemed that almost everyone who jumped enjoyed themselves and personally deemed the event a success.

The only real disappointment of the Tuesday event was its general “school event” feel. To say this year’s jump was not sanctioned by the school, as Ohio State claims, is simply false. There were signs, gates, controlled entry rates, and event staff monitoring everything that occurred both inside and outside the gates, not to mention the wristband restriction to enter. While wristbands ceased to be an actual requirement by about 11:30 due to the influx in the amount of students that began arriving at that time, entry was kept exclusive to the single opening on the southeast side of the lake for the duration.

Throughout the evening, I witnessed several instances of small groups of students attempting to enter through the exits or climb the fences, only to be forcefully shoved away by officers or volunteer event staff. At one point, a male student with long hair and painted face shouted “Rush the fence! Rush the fence!” only to look around and see that no one was paying him any attention whatsoever.

It was a lack of necessity for the gates to fall that kept them standing on Tuesday night. Unlike Monday, entry was possible without them falling, and enough people were content to follow the new regulations that the jump went according to plan for the school. Though the restrictions of this year’s jump were not ideal, they were also not catastrophic. The jumped lived on, even if it lacked the exact excitement levels it once had.

While no one has ever died during the Mirror Lake Jump, it certainly was a possibility each and every year. So if the university was able to decrease that risk by stepping up control, then it would be difficult to fault them for it. What is disconcerting is that the administration’s clear desire to eliminate the jump entirely could result in much more dangerous situations when that happens.

The spirit of Mirror Lake Monday and the numbers of Mirror Lake Tuesday seemed to indicate that the student body’s demand for the jump will survive. When push comes to shove next year, or whenever Ohio State tries to cancel the jump for good, the first truly dangerous Mirror Lake scenario may result. And that might be about as stupid as the Mirror Lake Jump, itself.

Cameron Duffner is a sophomore in Ohio State's College of Engineering. He does not, in fact, give a damn about the whole state of Michigan.


Comments Show All Comments

buck-I.8's picture

I don't agree with the administration's choices to try to regulate the event without accepting any legal responsibility, because that seems relatively impossible, but I must admit that this year lacked the huge crowd that clustered right near the south oval side of the lake, and got admittedly dangerous at times in previous years. 

sandytowne's picture

Simply by attempting to regulate it the University is accepting legal responsibility, regardless of whether they care to admit this or not.  

buck-I.8's picture

That's my thought, and it's even more telling when the police don't even know how to react 

FitzBuck's picture

Cameron Duffner is a sophomore in Ohio State's College of Engineering. He does not, in fact, give a damn about the whole state of Michigan.

if engineering doesn't work out, reporter for the Dispatch seems like a possibility.  Well done.   

Fitzbuck | Toledo - Ohio's right armpit | "A troll by any other name is still a troll".

FROMTHE18's picture

Why the hell did the University decide to step in the path of Mirror Lake Jump? This thing is such a big part of Hate Week and up until this year had been entirely controlled by the students, which made it one of those moments where you felt a part of the entire student body. Hopefully the University bails on this idea and returns this holy event to the hands of those it belongs to: students.

buckeyefanatic's picture

Because someone died in mirror lake recently?  (not disagreeing with you, just mentioning the death that seemingly forced their hand)

How many batteries does it take to beat Michigan football?   1AA
Want to beat Michigan? There's an App for that.

CarolinaBuck's picture

Why don't they drain the lake this summer and fill in the low spots to about 3 feet. No one goes to the lake to swim anyway so this would be a way for the drunkards to save themselves if they did happen to stumble in.

Scott's picture

While no one has ever died during the Mirror Lake Jump, it certainly was a possibility each and every year.

This is the reason. I worked for University Housing at Ohio State for two years during undergrad and participated in the jump the other two. The years where I was responsible for the sixty students living on my floor were frightening. People rushed to the hospital with broken bones, students a breath away from alcohol poisoning, others showing signs of hypothermia. Each year there seemed to be a collective sigh of relief that no one had gotten seriously hurt or killed. Traditions are important, even if they have only been around sporadically since the 1990's. But we can't just ignore the university's obligation to the safety of students.

Class of 2008

BuckChi's picture

Scott as a student affairs professional, I completely agree with you and think what is getting lost here is what administration is worried about primarily is student safety, not lawsuits. Echoing what you said, watching students engage in something like this know that it is your job/moral duty to make sure they are safe can be nerve racking, no matter how much the students (and you) enjoy the event. I don't see this as administrations attempt to eliminate the event. I see this precautionary, nothing more.

sharks's picture

If he was a real engineering student he would have went to Alabama

A man got to have a code...

73buckeye's picture

This whole episode may seem trivial to most people, but to me, it represents another important example of the sad direction this society is heading. Someone else always believes they know better and takes responsibility for our personal safety. Everywhere we look someone is infringing on our freedom by justifying that it's "for our own good". What happened to the idea of personal responsibility and the freedom that goes with it? I gotta believe the kids that jumped Monday night came away with a completely different feeling about their university and their freedom compared to the ones that followed the "safe" path laid out for them on Tuesday. I think the Monday jumpers stand a much better chance of being successful leaders, as opposed to obedient followers,  when they get out in the real world. Of  course that's only if our society changes its current direction and allows them the same degree of freedom to decide for ourselves that us old timers once enjoyed.
"Those that trade security for freedom deserve neither". Thomas Jefferson 


Scott's picture

Getting drunk and jumping in a state-owned lake is a privilege, not a right.

Class of 2008

MVJ's picture


"You win with people "

Aesculus.'s picture

Getting drunk and jumping in a state-owned lake is a privilege, not a right.

When did we start thinking that we serve the state?  I thought the state was there to serve us?  When I'm going 80 in a 55 I pay someone to slow my ass down because I could really mess somebody else up. But who more privileged than the students, the physical embodiment of the university itself.  The state should educate about the possible dangers, not regulate.  Without the people, the state is nothing.

Scott's picture

The state serving us is different from the state having to let us do whatever we want. The state regulating when we are allowed to jump in a state-owned pond--which they don't have to let us do--is not the state taking our freedom. And you're right: without the people, the state is nothing. But without the state's permission, the people need to find a new pond.

Class of 2008

Idaho Helga's picture

@73  Were it within my power, +1000 up votes for you.   The leaders showed up Monday.  Sheep on Tuesday.  
All these people who worry about deaths from people who jump for like, 30 seconds, at age 18 - 21 into cold water need to remove bathtubs from their houses and start walking to work.
I did the polar bear plunge on 1/1/13 here in North Idaho into a lake where it was a good year, it wasn't frozen over and water temp was 38 degrees.  It was an absolute blast, as another 1000 folks did the same.   I was next to a lady who did it with MS and 2 canes, she was in her 60's.
Live, people.  Live life.

DeuceOSU78's picture

My daughter was one of the jumpers on Monday night.  She and several of her friends had planned to jump on Tuesday but decided to "be rebels" and shun the restrictions.  As a senior she will have something to remember the rest of her life.


Idaho Helga's picture

Good for her!  This is just clean fun (well, she probably has some duck poop on her) and shouldn't be messed with.

bucknasty13's picture

It may be a stupid tradition, but it is one all students can take part of.

Poison nuts's picture

I am very proud to say I was at the very first ju_p. It was totally rando_. My friends & I were at OSU to hang out there the night before The Ga_e & see all the people getting nuts & to skateboard around the ca_pus. Next thing you know, people were ju_ping in & we just watched, thinking wtf...it's certainly grown since then...

"Do not pass me, just slow down - I can move right through you" Superchunk - Precision Auto.

Knarcisi's picture

The University has no choice but to get involved. One kid dies of hypothermia, alcohol poisoning, or other, the university would be crippled by lawsuits and media and public outcry. By many of the same people who now say they shouldn't be involved. 

Idaho Helga's picture

I'm sorry but I'm sure if this were the case, tailgating would have been banned by 1910. 
The university could eat a lawsuit or two.  They're not going to get crippled from lawsuits. They have lost lawsuits for far stupider reasons.  Post a sign "at your own risk" etc like anyone else with a "no life guard" beach would.
This is a tradition and I haven't seen where there are deaths from the jump in it's many years.  It's not like they are jumping into the OldNDingy river or from the stadium at 60 ft.  They are jumping into a pond (Mirror Lake?  What Lake is ever that small?) and I suppose at the drain it might be 8' but do please show me a photo of someone in over their heads...its a shallow pond for christsakes. 
The biggest threat there is getting a bacterial infection from excessive duck poop.

Knarcisi's picture

Its not the same thing as a tailgate, or a beach. 

jme's picture

You should take into account the fact that many of the participants are overwhelmingly drunk. Many students will jump to show just how much they hate the school up North, but many others will jump just to have an opportunity to get incredibly drunk on a weeknight.
I'm not concerned about the former group. Even if you have only one or two drinks to numb the burning cold, you should be able to take care of yourself. But the latter group? It's only a matter of time before somebody is too drunk to realize how long they've been in the freezing cold and has to have a few toes amputated due to frostbite.
Should the university sanction the event? I don't know. I lean towards "no", myself. But we also shouldn't pretend that it's a perfectly safe, fun day for the whole family. These are drunken college kids in a freezing cold lake, and sober college kids can be incapable of making mature, rational decisions.