After legendary Duke win, Dean Sue sits atop bench to prevent burning without permit



After a win for the ages against the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, students were fired up to burn benches. There was only one problem—Duke didn't have a permit.

Students dragged the bench for Sherwood House onto the quad, but Dean of Students Sue Wasiolek planted herself atop the bench for around 45 minutes to prevent students from lighting it on fire. As students chanted at Wasiolek, others attempted to give her a handle of vodka and White Claws, which she declined to drink. Some students also approached the bench with lighters and a small blowtorch, but did not set it aflame.

Eventually, when they realized a bonfire wasn't in the cards, students began filing over to Cameron Indoor Stadium to welcome the team back.

"I have great appreciation for the school spirit, and I love to encourage that in any way I can," Wasiolek told The Chronicle after stepping down from the bench. "But I just felt it was very important not to burn that bench. I really want to preserve the opportunities in the future to be able to burn with a permit. If we do it illegally now, we're not going to get a permit in the future."

Bench-burning permits are granted for only four games out of the year, she explained. The University has permits for both the men's and women's home basketball games against UNC, in addition to the men's and women's National Championship game—but none for an away game in Chapel Hill.

"What I didn't want to have happen is any students get in trouble by burning the bench," she said. "It's not a matter of whether we could have controlled it and tried as best we could to make it safe, but it's illegal. It's against the law. I'm not sure students understand that. I don't mean that in a condescending way, but the law is very clear."

Wasiolek knew that she might have to intercede even before the Sherwood bench was dragged into the quad following the Blue Devil win. Students have reacted this way to close victories in the past, she said, noting that this was the third time in her career pacifying a group of students dead set on burning benches.

"I didn't think it was going to happen tonight because of the weather," Wasiolek explained. "And then I called Duke Police just to see if they knew of anything going on, and they called me back and said it might be helpful for me to find my way to the main quad."

In response to being handed several alcoholic beverages by students begging her to allow a fire, Wasiolek noted she wasn't tempted to crack one open.

"Someone handed me some vodka, some White Claw," she said. "This is not an appropriate time or place for me to be consuming alcohol, frankly. There's a time and a place, but this wasn't it."

Dean Sue seeking permission to burn the benches

As students continued to surround the bench and serenade Wasiolek, Mary Pat McMahon—vice president and vice provost for student affairs—was surveying the fray from the edge of the quad. She told The Chronicle that they were trying to get a bullhorn to Wasiolek. However, students filed away before she could receive it.

Despite several students approaching the bench with lighters and a blowtorch, Wasiolek said she wasn't afraid that the bench would burn.

"The good news is that the collective levelheadedness of the crowd, other students made sure that didn't happen," she said. "I was greatly appreciative of that."

As the crowd thinned out, students began climbing atop the bench and taking selfies and pictures with Wasiolek, which she described as "awesome."

Dean of Students Sue Wasiolek poses for photo with students atop the bench.
Dean of Students Sue Wasiolek poses for photo with students atop the bench.

There also wasn't a possibility of acquiring a permit on short notice. Associate Dean of Students Clay Adams and McMahon said that the permits had to be granted 90 days in advance, so there was no chance to apply for one on the spot.

In 2001, benches were burned without a permit in Duke's legendary comeback win against Maryland. After students set them aflame, the Durham fire marshal rescinded the permit for a future game, but was persuaded to return it days later after discussion with administrators.


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