UMass is not alone in its party school image
The longer I study over here at University College Cork, the more I end up seeing it as Ireland’s version of the University of Massachusetts.
Both have large student populations. UMass has upwards of 20,000 students while UCC has just over 18,000. Both are widely known public universities. Both are cheap schools when compared to those around them. UMass costs just under $20,000 in-state, while UCC will run Irish students roughly €1,650 ($2,244) in fees (yeah, we’re getting screwed). Most importantly, though, both are trying to shake off the image of being a party school.
UMass’ struggle with the “ZooMass” image are well known. With the highly publicized riots and reputation for large amounts of parties, most people consider UMass the predominant party school of the area since being ranked as one of the top 10 party schools in the country on Princeton Review a few years back. The University of New Hampshire has been ranked more recently, yet the reputation lingers.
UCC now faces the same problem as it tries to shrug off its identity of the crazy party school in the middle of the city that keeps the neighbors up all night. That challenge became even greater last week with the passing of RAG Week.
What’s RAG Week? Depending on who you ask, it’s one of two things. If you are a student, it’s still called RAG Week, the highlight of the social calendar where the campus turns into a party during the day (and drink), and the students go out at night to clubs and house parties (and drink).
If you ask a faculty member of high-ranking member of the Student Union, it’s Raise & Give Week, the highlight of the social calendar where the campus turns into a charity fundraising party during the day (still with class, kind of), and the students go out at night to drink privately and responsibly.
UCC Student Union Irish Officer Séan O’Sé described it pretty well, calling it a “carnival atmosphere” on campus and made sure to mention the fact that most events on campus raised money for Haiti relief, hospices and a local children’s hospital.
Most UMass students over here had heard stories about RAG Week. We’d heard about how students would get pulled aside and told to chug a beer for charity. We’d been told specifically by advisors from the UMass International Programs Office to not try and keep up with the Irish students during RAG Week – they’d drink us under the table.
It’s similar to what incoming freshmen hear before coming to UMass, particularly if they’re in-state. But on arrival, there’s a different scene: All the higher ups are threatening to crack down on drinking, riot police show up for every championship game, you are in fact not automatically invited to parties every weekend.
Such was the case at UCC. Just like the “please don’t riot” e-mails the chancellor sent out during the MLB playoffs, UCC students were getting the “please don’t drink too much” e-mails. Even the Cork police department was involved, taking out a half-page in the university’s student paper reminding students that drinking alcohol in public would result in a €63 ($85.68 for you Yanks) on-the-spot fine.
It’s the same sort of crackdown message that campus police send out every weekend: “We know what you’re doing, your neighbors all hate you, it’s illegal, please stop.”
While UMass simply stops there and expects college students to abide by laws that they’re socially motivated to break, UCC actually gives students something else to do. This is where RAG Week comes in.
There is a stark difference in the atmosphere created when the administration wants to improve its image. Being compliant at UMass means staying in and playing video games or going to the movies, being compliant as UCC means participating in pizza eating competitions, head shavings and body waxings for charity, throwing sponges at people, watching lube wrestling, dunk tanks, a silent disco, a nearly naked mile and then drinking legally at one of the two campus pubs.
The two different approaches produce two different results. One campus has a bad reputation, an overbearing police presence, students forced to chug a handle of vodka in their rooms with no supervision. The other leads to the whole campus community being able to hang out in pubs, drink socially and raise money for charity.
Am I advocating lowering the drinking age? Not really, the actual implementation of a change would be impractical and the initial consequences would be negative. That, and RAG Week’s been around since UCC first opened.
What I am complaining about is that there is nothing legal to do in the Amherst area, if you’re under 21, that is. The first week I was at UCC, I had the chance to go bowling for free, have the cover charge waived at a club and was offered a free pint on the school’s dime. UMass students will occasionally get free t-shirts sponsored by Big Y.
Let’s look at it this way. This past week, I heard that Amherst got blanketed by snow and blasted with arctic colds while students stayed in, made Pop Tarts and played video games. In Cork? We had vendors set up in the middle of campus selling venison burgers, donuts and chili and I was in (and won) a pizza eating competition for free.
Tough break, UMass.
Nick O’Malley is a Collegian columnist. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.