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Western Washington University President Bruce Shepard acknowledged Monday that the school is facing challenges when it comes to student drug and alcohol use, but he says an off-campus melee that erupted Saturday is counter to the university’s culture.

Three nonstudents have been arrested by Bellingham police, but the investigation continues into an off-campus party that turned into a riot.

About a half-mile from campus, police squad cars were damaged and street signs knocked down, and college-age revelers threw beer cans and other items at police. Police responded with pepper spray to disperse them, Bellingham Sgt. Mike Scanlon said.

The university is working with the police to help find any young people who threw things during officers’ efforts to break up the riot, Shepard said. If any students were involved in criminal disruptive behavior, they will face university discipline up to expulsion.

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Shepard is worried Western may gain an unwarranted reputation for being a party school.

“We are simply stunned that this would happen in Bellingham,” Shepard said.

Bellingham police said Monday that they have several detectives working on the case but had no updates to share.

Shepard said the school works hard to avoid a party atmosphere, making sure prospective students know the campus has no fraternities and is focused more on community service than partying.

“I really believe the vast majority of our students are actually disgusted by this,” he said.

The president of WWU student government said her board planned to vote Monday on an official response to the incident, condemning it.

Associated Students President Carly Roberts, who lives a few blocks from the scene of the Saturday party, said she was dumbfounded by the riot.

“Prior to Saturday night, it was not something I ever considered in the realm for Bellingham,” Roberts said Monday.

Roberts, a senior studying political science, said Western students want to make things right with their Bellingham community.

“Parents should rest assured that the whole Western community is coming together in condemnation of the things that happened,” said Roberts, whose hometown is Olympia.

She said students voluntarily spent Sunday morning cleaning up the mess from the party that drew a few hundred people.

“I’m proud of how the student body is responding,” Roberts said. “My inbox is full of people who want to do something.”

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