Soon after the 1999 release of Fight Club, a film about underground sparring matches, the University of California at Riverside responded to several cases of student boxing. Those involved were asked to stop, and they did, according to Bettye Miller, a university spokeswoman.
Riverside officials didn't hear of any other incidents until this fall, when students -- shown in this YouTube video -- held what appear to be several informal matches in a common area. The dorm director warned the students about their actions and haven't reported any problems since.
Officials at the State University of New York at Binghamton are wishing they had the chance to issue such a warning. Anders Uwadinobi, an 18-year-old male student there, died this month after apparently taking part in an unsupervised dorm boxing match. The case is still under investigation, said Gail Glover, a Binghamton spokeswoman. Witnesses say that Uwadinobi was wearing gloves and headgear, and was sparring with a friend.
University police hadn't heard reports of dorm boxing prior to the incident, Glover said, but in contacting several universities since then, "we're hearing that other campuses are experiencing similar situations."
Lloyd Howe, Binghamton's interim vice president for student affairs, sent a letter to students days after Uwadinobi's death that carried a similar message.
“We also understand that these unsanctioned boxing matches are taking place on other campuses around the country," the letter says. "While it may not occur to someone that such an activity could result in a tragic consequence like this, it has.”
It's hard to know whether dorm sparring rises to the level of a mini-trend, as the letter would indicate. Judging from the responses of college and higher ed association officials, it certainly falls short of being an epidemic. Gwendolyn Dungy, executive director of the National Association of Student Personnel Administrators, said the activity hasn't been on her radar. So too says Charles Cadwallader, a senior at the University of Washington and director of the Services and Recognition Office of the National Association of College and University Residence Halls, a student-run housing organization.
Still, search for dorm boxing on YouTube and you'll come across more than a few examples of people identifying themselves as students taking jabs at each other in their rooms or in public places, in some cases surrounded by an audience.
A student at Emerson College (who did not wish to be identified), said he and his friends held weekly boxing matches in their dorm suite last year. The boxers would don gloves and mouth guards. They'd set aside a small space in the center of a room. A crowd would often gather. And they'd swing at each other for several two-minute rounds.
The match would end either with a knockout or with one boxer calling it quits. Injuries weren't uncommon -- a black eye here, a sore back there. But nothing ever escalated or resulted in serious bodily harm, according to the student. The matches weren't supervised, and those involved didn't have specific boxing training.
"It's just guys being guys," he said. "That's what happens when you get a bunch of people together in a room."
Plenty of campus officials would be mortified by that thought. And many colleges have policies that prohibit impromptu or planned dorm sparring. UC Riverside has a no boxing policy that applies to all university housing, including apartments, and students are told each fall that such activities are not permitted. SUNY has guidelines that prohibit roughhousing in residence halls.
Campus employees at Binghamton and other State University of New York campuses received an e-mail from the system's main office last week asking them to be on the lookout for similar cases of student boxing or roughhousing. A SUNY official said most campuses have responded that boxing hasn't been seen as an issue in the past.
Another YouTube video shows boxers identified on the site as being University at Albany students sparring. A university spokesman said administrators are aware of the video and that it was filmed on campus. Albany is planning to address the dangers of unsupervised boxing in a message to students.
If resident advisers witness the activity, SUNY is calling upon them to issue a warning or file judicial charges. Boxing, of course, is legal, and SUNY officials say they would ask the boxers to work with student government to form a club that meets away from the dorms.
The same rings true at Clemson University, where officials encountered two instances of dorm sparring last spring. Kathy B. Hobgood, director of residence life, said the students were given the option of contacting the recreation sports department to form a club sport and thus have what Hobgood called "more appropriate arenas for boxing." The students, she said, declined that offer.