UMass more than just the ‘Zoo’

By Austin Snyder

Elaine Zhang/Daily Collegian
Elaine Zhang/Daily Collegian

Reputation: How important that word seems to be in the aftermath of an event like the “Blarney Blowout” celebration that occurred last weekend. As a University of Massachusetts freshman who attended and enjoyed the festivities, I think reputation is an interesting talking point.

Let’s start by looking at the news headlines. Time Magazine’s Sam Frizell described the event as “drunken chaos.” I know how those words look to parents of prospective and current students, University faculty and employers. Here, we are a group of kids not ready for the real world, a student body with aspirations of partying our four years away. You would be lying if you did not hear the words “party” and “UMass” combined in some form nearly every time this school is discussed.

I worked hard in high school and when it came down to it, the University of Massachusetts was the best fit for me. I was proud to tell people that I was planning on going here, but my friends’ parents would say, “You’re going to have a lot of fun there” with a sarcastic grin on their face. That angered me, and not because I oppose fun, but because these parents, who either went here or had friends that did, chose those words and instantly assumed that fun was all I cared about. As if graduating high school near the top of my class was instantly going to become meaningless as I faded away into a drunken haze for the next four years.

I, like everyone else, came to this school for the numerous opportunities it offers. It is a renowned research university with one of the top business schools in the country, cutting-edge science and engineering programs and the best dining in the country, all centrally located in one of the top college towns in the country. There are many “tops” and “bests” associated with UMass, and yet these adults focus on parties.

There’s the reputation these “adults” uphold, and here’s the reality.

In the short time that I have been here, I have met the dedicated, energized, passionate and brilliant people who make up the student body of this University. We all have goals and big plans for the future. We all want to graduate and sit down at our interviews with employers or graduate school admissions councils and impress them with our resumes complete with a degree from the University of Massachusetts. That name conveys the challenges we faced, the long nights we spent studying and the impressive work we completed that transformed us into the promising individuals sitting before them. It conveys that message because the students here want it to and because we strive for that reputation.

However, within each visionary, innovator and leader that composes this university’s study body lies a college student. And that college student realizes that they have these four years to make mistakes, memories and friendships that will last a lifetime, as our parents did before us.

There is no denying that this school provides us with opportunities to do so. Yes, this campus is big. Yes, this campus is social. Yes, the students here know how to have a good time. And yes, it is awesome. On one day, we pour out into the streets to celebrate “Blarney Blowout,” signifying a near end to the brutal Amherst winter season, and that is how our own Chancellor chooses to dictate our reputation? I would like to think he would know the reality.

In Chancellor Subbaswamy’s email to the student body following the celebration, he stated that the students “have brought shame on our fine university and run the risk of devaluing the college degree that all of our students work so hard to achieve.” When I read those words, I instantly questioned why I work so hard to earn good grades if the chancellor of my university tells me that one day of partying renders the countless hours I spend studying over the course of a school year worthless.

I find it concerning that in order to rid this University of its worn out and inaccurate reputation as strictly a “party school,” our chancellor condones the actions of the Amherst Police Department who, in full riot gear, chose not to contain the celebration but rather to oppose it with extralegal force. The use of tear gas, rubber bullets, pepper spray and overpowering physical force is in no way an appropriate or legal response to a crowd of drunken college students enjoying the first warm day of the season, especially when the majority began to vacate the premises as soon as police moved in.

I am fully aware that the behavior of the minority last weekend required response from police in order to ensure the safety of students and Amherst residents. When fights broke out in the crowd, why couldn’t policemen have moved in and appropriately dissolved of the conflict to ensure the safety of the rest of us instead of setting off tear gas? The same goes for property damage. In both of these rare instances, routine police intervention would have been all that was necessary.

Here’s a thought, instead of the administration threatening the student body and the police infringing on our rights and abusing their power in order to prevent celebrations like “Blarney Blowout,” we turn them into something beneficial for everyone.

Since no one wants to be arrested, we could have our fun and know to leave before police take action. As for the absurd amount of littered cans and bottles, we could arrange a cleanup in the days following the celebration in which all of the cans and bottles could be picked up and redeemed for cash to benefit a local charity.

The truth is, no matter how hard the University seeks to change this inaccurate reputation, students are going to continue to socialize and party and have fun. Consider this: The same adults who tag us as irresponsible and immature attended college decades ago in a time where they were almost guaranteed a job upon graduation due to much different economic times.

Today, we find ourselves in an extremely competitive job market that puts pressure on us college students that past generations could not begin to understand. So yes, we will continue the celebrations and good times all the while maintaining the high percentage of job placement upon graduation from this fine University. There’s the reputation we see.

Austin Snyder is a Collegian contributor and can be reached at [email protected]