UMass decision to cancel concerts is ignorant

By Daniel Franc

Jeff Bernstein/Daily Collegian

On Sept. 11, the University of Massachusetts administration announced the cancellation of the highly anticipated Return to Fantazia electronic dance music (EDM) concert, citing recent deadly overdoses of MDMA at such events. This was followed on Sept. 26 by the cancelation of two more on-campus EDM events, Above & Beyond and Pretty Lights, for the same reason.


Though I respect the noble intention behind them, these decisions are uninformed and illogical. The potential harms of MDMA are incontrovertible, but also grossly exaggerated. Moreover, cancellation of events that are merely popularly associated with the drug is a ham-handed method for educating and protecting students.

MDMA is a dangerous substance, and irresponsible use can cause severe injury and death. However, due to media bias and skewed drug laws, these risks have long been profoundly overinflated in the public consciousness. A 2011 study found that in the entire UK there were only five deaths caused solely by MDMA but 98 by paracetamol, a popular pain reliever. In the U.S., the approximately 60 Americans who died while using the drug in 2000, for example, made up roughly 0.00002 percent of users. By comparison, 50 in 100,000 users of alcohol died that year.

There are other mitigating factors to the statistics about MDMA, such as its tendency to be mixed with more dangerous drugs, but clearly MDMA has a history of being sensationalized. I suspect this is a factor in the current panic. The timing of those recent deaths may have exerted disproportionate influence on public opinion despite the relatively low risk.

I’ll assume for the sake of argument, however, that the administration’s fears are even justified to the extent that they ought to take some sort of action, that the new danger posed by MDMA is so exceptional that it warrants extreme measures. But those deaths could be due to a “bad batch” of Molly, as has been conjectured, or the unsafe combination of MDMA with other drugs. Two apparently unrelated incidents in Boston and New York do not justify the cancellation of any event where MDMA merely might be used.

This gets to the crux of my contention with the administration’s decision, which is rooted in speculation and fear-mongering. It is based on the association of MDMA with EDM events, and unless the threat posed by such events is explicit, cancelling them altogether due to likely exaggerated fears of Molly overdoses is patently absurd and condemns our students as untrustworthy. Horseback riding leads to severe harm in roughly one in 350 instances – a much higher rate than that of ecstasy use – yet I see no call to prohibit equestrian clubs on campus. Drinking is associated with college weekends and causes far more harm than the use of MDMA – more than 1,825 American college students die in alcohol-related tragedies annually. Shall the university declare UMass a dry campus, shut down the UPub, and prohibit any congregation of students on weekends?

Following this logic, why, UMass may as well shut down for good. This would eliminate the risk of students winding up in the emergency room or morgue as the result of alcohol poisoning, drunk driving or the hazards of equine experimentation.

Perhaps more to the point, it would ensure such events did not occur under the university administration’s watch.

If college students are so desperate to indulge in illicit drugs and attend EDM concerts as this decision seems to imply, it is foolish to believe that the shutdown of Fantazia and other such events will end the practice.

Are the cancelations wholly about protecting our students, as claimed, or is it also aimed at protecting this institution? Though perhaps unintentionally, through these decisions the university has covered itself, ensuring that if any of our students do suffer harm from the use of Molly, it will occur elsewhere, though likely in a more dangerous situation, and without our extensive resources for safety and support.

To its credit, the administration acknowledges the importance of information and education in combating the risk posed by illegal drugs. The most damning aspect of the decision to cancel Fantazia and the other upcoming EDM events, ultimately, is that it is counterproductive to those aims, as this action torpedoes the possibility for balanced, rational debate on the use and hazards of drugs.

Having shut down EDM concerts once, and now twice and three times, the administration has clearly signaled that they will not endorse such events until they see proof that the (vastly overhyped) danger posed by MDMA is significantly reduced. But unless the overall, media-driven panic is publicly reversed, I anticipate it will be a long time, if ever, before the university allows any of these events to occur again, regardless of their true threat.

Thus, it is extremely important that we scrutinize and challenge this course of action now, before it becomes the norm. Affected by the controversy surrounding the drug, and without anticipating the negative effects of the choice, the university has chosen a hasty and uninformed course of action in deciding to cancel all on-campus EDM events. It is unfair to our students, contributes to panic and blind fear of MDMA, and is counterproductive in the quest to safeguard our community. They may call it necessary prudence, but I call it unnecessary folly.

Daniel Franc is a Collegian contributor. He can be reached at [email protected]