Since last spring, the University of Massachusetts Amherst has been working on an initiative in coalition with the town of Amherst as well as the Amherst Police Department to take more of a proactive approach in the taming of the out-of-control off-campus party scene.
This year’s Blarney Blowout, the all-day affair in which students celebrate St. Patrick’s Day a week early before spring break, seemed to expedite the process.
“The problem now is that (off-campus parties) are becoming larger in scope, becoming more violent,” said Amherst Police Captain Christopher Pronovost. “It’s begun to take a more serious toll on the students and on members of the community.”
According to Director of Media Relations at UMass, Ed Blaguszewski, two additional ambulance staff will be on duty until graduation, amounting to an estimated $40,000 in addition to the $300,000 the university already pays annually to the town in ambulance services.
Consequently, the university has since come to an agreement with the town to run patrol cars in-and-out of the major party areas on weekend nights that historically have caused problems. These areas include Phillips St., Pufton Village, as well as the Townehouses, according to Captain Pronovost. The new forces will cost the university an extra $6,000.
“It’s Collaborative,” said Town Manager, John Musante, when describing the town’s relationship with UMass. “I consider the university a partner with the community where we’re both heavily invested in each other’s success.”
Musante added, “There’s on-going efforts with our staff of 18 members including university leadership, landlords, community members, town staff, and the select board.”
While a more hands-on approach may appear to be a step in the right direction to university and town officials, many students believe otherwise.
“A better approach would be allowing things to happen, and then maybe mediating it, by having officers out so that the fear is there,” said junior Ian Hunter. “You’ve got to work with us, not directly against us”
Perhaps a good omen for students wishing their voices were heard, Musante believes strong interaction with the student body is vital to creating a harmonious relationship between the town of Amherst and the university.
“I am 110 percent in agreement with the students,” said Musante. “There is much more we can do, and I’m encouraged by some of the outreach we’ve had. I’ve had some good dialogue with town officials and student government leadership.”
Because the heightened services are set to be used only until the end of the semester, both the town of Amherst and university officials have plans to reach an agreement for the long haul.
“We’ve had discussions about trying to develop a walking path for students that really is clear, so that they do not walk through neighborhoods, and through downtown, but would traverse back through the main thorough fairs back to campus, creating less noise,” said Blaguszewski.
While any number of initiatives or coalitions can be put in place to help solve the issue at hand, first year Chancellor Kumble Subbaswamy contends a lot of the weight falls simply on the students, themselves.
“Ultimately it’s on the students,” said Chancellor Subbaswamy. “Student-to-student interaction is the best possible way to prevent these sort of things from happening.”
The Chancellor added, “Students need to spread the word that these types of activities are not okay, and realize that they have a great deal at stake ensuring the reputation of the university.”
Although Pronovost agrees with the Chancellor that rowdy behavior can always be restrained through student-to-student interaction, the Captain would like to see UMass offer some sort of alternative to students of age, giving them a place to drink safely on campus. The problem stems, according to Pronovost, from when students are forced to relocate off-campus due to regulations on campus.
“Students come off-campus, most of the time in residential neighborhoods where there are families living there,” said Pronovost. “These homes are not equipped to handle hundreds-of-thousands-of-people, and it becomes a safety issue.”
This past weekend marked the first in which the new restrictions by the town and university were put into play. After quickly being kicked out of a large gathering on Hobart Lane, as students attempted to resurrect the old, “Hobart Hoedown,” seven policemen seized control of yet another “quad party” at the Townehouses around 1pm, exiting some 400-500 UMass students out of the area that had made the trek over from Hobart.
Police cruisers continually drove in-and-out of the major party areas throughout the day, making sure everything was under control, and that large groups of students would not return to those areas.
“I don’t think they’re wrong for trying to prevent large scale parties, but trying to prevent any partying at all is kind of ridiculous,” said junior Mike Loughery. “It’s the first really nice day out in a while, kids are just trying to enjoy the spring day, and they aren’t letting us.”
While some students may not be particularly happy with the way the day turned out, it’s simply something they’re going to have to get used to, as the town of Amherst and UMass continually work together to crack down on off-campus partying.