Students, administrators discuss ‘Blarney’

By Julia McLaughlin

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Accountability Forum

Cade Belisle/Daily Collegian

The students of the University of Massachusetts met with administration on Thursday in Herter Hall to discuss the aftermath of Blarney Blowout and review concerns that students and administrators alike had about the event in order to prevent similar situations in the future.

After students rallied the Tuesday before spring break in reaction to what they felt was police brutality at this year’s pre-St. Patrick’s Day event, an open forum was organized to open communication with the administration.

Chancellor Kumble Subbaswamy, Vice Chancellor for Student Affairs and Campus Life Enku Gelaye and Vice Chancellor for University Relations John Kennedy participated by providing reviews of the event, answering students’ questions, and listening to personal stories of students’ experiences with Blarney Blowout and other large UMass gatherings.

Mediating the forum were juniors Katie Connell and Jishava Patel who also helped organize the event by reaching out to administration. Other organizers included freshman Allison Rigney; sophomores Jenna Grady, Lucas Gutterman, Charlotte Kelly and Mason Weiser; juniors Emily Devenney, Grace Gustafson, and Varshini Prakash; and seniors Preston Davis and Zachary Smith.

Forum organizers suggested students to speak to the extent they were comfortable with in order to have “respectable, productive conversation about the issues at hand,” and create a safe space for everyone involved.

From the start, Connell and Patel emphasized, “this is not just about Blarney.” Instead, the student organizers hoped to recognize past events similar to Blarney which perpetuate the one-sided reputation of “Zoomass.”

Chancellor Subbaswamy introduced the forum by admitting that, “there will be difficult conversation at hand.” He also made clear that, “if you say something about having committed a crime, that is not something that is protected in these quarters” as it was “a public space, a public forum.”

Vice Chancellor Gelaye wanted to highlight how important, “the different voices on campus,” are in situations like Blarney.

“Nothing sells better to me than that students want an active voice,” she said. And instead of focusing on the past, she feels it is important to focus on solutions and moving forward from the event.

Vice Chancellor Kennedy stressed how the present situation “touches everyone.” “The ripples of this event go much farther than we might think right away,” he reasoned.

During the testimonials, several students shared their Blarney Blowout stories. Senior Preston Davis spoke of police who were shoving students in the “small space” between Puffton Village Apartments and Brandywine Apartments.

“The police showed up in full riot gear at this point and it was a very intimidating presence,” Davis said. He noticed that the cops “didn’t seem really happy” with the progress of the students and were “throwing them to the ground” and “shoving their faces into the ground.”

He described the police as, “fully armed to attack what they thought was a riot” using “intimidation tactics and fear tactics.”

“It was very scary to me as a person,” Davis revealed, noting that the people who go to UMass should be able to feel safe in the community.

UMass student Madison Goldstein spoke of her frustration about the negative reputation the University holds.

“Blarney culture needs to change. This involves the media perception of UMass,” she said. “There is an issue at hand … but it’s not the entire student body.”

Another unidentified student felt upset about the small student attendance at the forum. As a victim of police brutality in 2009, he did not understand why there was not a larger participation.

“We can have a rally, we can have a march, we can have meetings, but we’re here … Where are all the people who saw what happened?” he asked.

Sophomore Charlotte Kelly spoke about the responses that she received from a Google survey she sent out to students, hoping it “could be an outlet for positive progress.”

She revealed situations including a female who was grabbed by her hair and tossed to the side, police officers shoving students in one area, people arrested who were not read their Miranda rights, and students who were pepper-sprayed or shot at with rubber bullets.

“It was horrifying,” she said, also noting that the shutdown of the PVTA did not make the situation better since students were forced to drive themselves when intoxicated due to the lack of transportation available. Many of these students were then pulled over.

Mason Weiser began his story simply by stating, “I am afraid of the police department here.” He felt that the students were made to be a problem to be dealt with instead of part of the community.

Public Accountability Forum 2

Justin Surgent/Daily Collegian

After listening to the students’ stories, Chancellor Subbaswamy explored all angles of Blarney, responding to the many questions that students posed. Sophomore Lucas Gutterman questioned the chancellor about the “vilifying and condemning” e-mails sent out to the student body regarding the event.

In response, the chancellor adamantly noted that the university condemns the outrageous behavior of “those students” involved in Blarney, not the whole student population. He felt that the answer to the problem is the administration and the student body working together.

The chancellor then said that Edward Davis, former Boston Police Commissioner, and his team would be investigating how UMass and the town responded to Blarney Blowout.

There will be a “review of all aspects of the event,” Vice Chancellor Kennedy continued. “We are looking at a 60-day process.” Until then, administration can only minimally comment on the police brutality situation at hand.

Vice Chancellor said that they will be looking at the Super Bowl riot from 2011 and the Red Sox riot this year as well. In this way, they hope to use these events as “an opportunity to find solutions” and to prevent repeats of past situations like Blarney.

They hope to review all aspects from these events in order to move forward and hope for better practices next time.

“We are not trying to blame students,” Gelaye told the students. “We are acknowledging that this has not gone well. We are putting all of that on the table so that we can move forward as an organization.”

Gelaye said that administration is looking to recreate experiences in which people can gather peacefully.

Chancellor Subbaswamy also commented on electronic dance music concerts which were canceled due to concerns over drug usage.

Due to public health and safety consideration, “we made the decision to cancel the events,” Chancellor Subbaswamy said.

“We are not anti-EDM,” he added. “We are back in the EDM business.”

To conclude the forum, Subbaswamy announced that of all the students he has worked with throughout his life, those at UMass, “are some of the smartest, hardworking, socially engaged students anywhere and I am very proud of you and I am very proud to represent you … Go UMass.”

Catherine Ferris contributed to this report and can be reached at [email protected]

Julia McLaughlin can be reached at [email protected]