UMass Administration: You’re Doing It Wrong
So yesterday was the annual “Blarney Blowout” at Umass. I didn’t make it down to the townhouses, (before it got broken up at 10:30 AM), but I wish I did. Blarney is Umass’s biggest party of the year, so this past week the administration, in a long line of what I think are poor responses to issues affecting the student body, sent out an aggressive email condemning Blarney, and reminding everyone it would be crawling with police, and basically pumping up everyone who was already going and generating ill-will towards themselves and the police.
(SKIP DOWN IF YOU ONLY CARE ABOUT BLARNEY)
I’ll get back to my issues with how UMass handled Blarney, but I think this response is part of a larger pattern, and one I see as a problem. UMass is visibly trying to become more prestigious, and shed its reputation as a party school. Objectively, from the administrations perspective, and even from my own perspective as a future UMass degree holder, I see why they’re doing this. They’re trying to improve UMass, and in doing so they are trying to increase the value my degree will hold. Don’t get me wrong—I appreciate it; I just think their doing it the wrong way.
It seems as though every college in America* is trying to market itself to prospective students the same way. (Or maybe they aren’t marketing to students, but to alumni and prospective parents and the media in general). Either way, there seems to be a consensus that everyone wants their school to be shiny and fancy and new and prestigious and “worth the investment” (however large that investment happens to be). Don’t get me wrong—those things all sound great, but I think the struggles that are college admissions and the student debt would be alleviated by colleges instead trying to market their schools in a more individualized way—to target a type of student other than the generic “good” or “well-rounded” labels.
*save the really hipster liberal arts ones
I think UMass should target students in three areas: financial, academic and cultural.
Our school already inherently targets students financially. Many in-state kids see UMass as a sound financial option or a “financial safety” school. I came here because I hated the idea of me/my parents paying $20,000 more for an equivalent education elsewhere. One of the most prominent books about student debt was written by Zac Bissonnette, who is wearing his UMass t-shirt on the cover of the book. Of course, UMass could reduce costs in a lot of ways, but that’s a whole other post.
Academically, real people only judge universities by the research they produce, not by their undergraduates. So its a bit outside the scope of this post to discuss how to attract better researchers.* But as far as attracting previously talented students, one of the fields most qualified on lists like US News and World Report’s, the process is sort of cyclical— ie I, an aforementioned generically previously talented student, see that US News ranked UMass highly, therefore I am more likely to choose it. This cycle could be interrupted by the idea of marketing UMass to successful students who want a school that is pragmatically priced, “good enough”** to make them however successful they want to be, and *ahem* a fun place to go to college. This will attract a driven, social student who knows what they want and wants to get it for cheap; a type of student whose later success via these traits would bring more good PR for the school.
*Or even if attracting better researchers is actually better for undergrads.
**A la outliers
(MORE BLARNEY HERE)
So what does this have to do with the aggressive and shaming email I received earlier today from the administration? A lot. I think how UMass handles situations like this will affect the schools image overall and future relations between the administration and the student body.
Let me preface all of this by saying that people who throw beer bottles at cops—or anyone—are pretty shitty. I will also say that I’m not going to paint this as an ideological struggle between the people and the man, as much as I love those—it’s really not one. Most of the students who participated in Blarney did nothing worse than (possibly underage/publicly) drink and jaywalk. These are not major crimes in my book. I understand there are liability issues for the school, but I care more about safety than liability, and I want my administration to convince me they do too.
But the fact remains that the administration shot themselves in the foot by vilifying Blarney in the days leading up to it. Most rational people will not be incited into antagonizing cops just because the school told them they couldn’t party, but drunk and in a crowd and amped up by the paintballs and tear gas and the adrenaline, people can get irrational. THIS 100% DOES NOT EXCUSE VIOLENCE, but the fact remains drunken idiots are much easier to control than angry and aggressive drunken idiots. The administration tried to come out ahead of this with strongly worded emails and ended up making everything worse. That’s right, Chancellor Subbaswamy—I’m calling you out; you are afraid to be labeled “soft on partying” and will therefore settle for the appearance of a solution rather than a real solution. I think if you really want to “build the kind of community in which we all want to live,” as I do, you will stop framing this issue (and others like banning EDM concerts and celebrating local sports teams) as an administration vs. the students issue, and start a dialogue into how everyone can enjoy the event as a respectful community.
Because right now every student who read that email read “brought shame on our fine university,” and saw a challenge to make the next Blarney 10x more crazy. We can’t help it, sir—most of us have Boston blood and the rest of us are contagiously Irish.
Instead, why can’t we aim to be first on the list of top party schools and bottom on the list of alcohol-related hospitalizations? Why can’t the school be marketed as work hard, play hard? Why can’t we come together and celebrate St. Patty’s day a week early all together?
I don’t have all the answers to make this happen, but I have read and thought about some suggestions for a more productive solution:
Find a way to contain the festivities; maybe close Phillips St and tell kids coming from the bars to take buses right there instead of walking? Maybe allow the townhouses to host the party, and tell everyone in advance when it will end? (One blogger suggested 3 or 4 PM.) Then close North Pleasant for 15 min before (and tell all the local residents when in advance), and have everyone come back. People are generally more likely to be belligerent when almost everyone else has left.
Instead of talking about the consequences of being at Blarney, send emails reminding everyone to eat breakfast and stay hydrated throughout the day. Prioritizing legality above safety is impractical and irresponsible.
Get everyone to agree not to bring bottles of beer, but bring cans instead. (I know you technically have to say no beer, but maybe student government could have a campaign or something). That way nobody, cops or otherwise, gets hit by any.
Maybe there could be St Patrick’s day activities spread over different areas of campus. (No, you wouldn’t be explicitly denouncing the festivities, but you’ve already seen how poorly that works). This would spread out the crowds and maybe reduce some of the hanging out in the street by putting people on the inner part of campus. People seem to like going from the townhouses to Phillips, so maybe move them in a herd through the day? I don’t know, these are just ideas.
TL/DR; I guess what I’m trying to say is that UMass is a community of spirited individuals who take pride in their school; let’s try to celebrate that and turn it into something positive, rather than trying to squelch it and turn UMass into something it’s not.
Fighting for your right to party is kind of a silly thing to fight for, but fighting for any of your rights indicates you have potential. Maybe as a community we can just add a little civility to our disobedience.