MinuteMarshals program aims to make UMass gatherings safer

By Anthony Rentsch

(Conor Snell/Daily Collegian)
(Conor Snell/Daily Collegian)

When former Boston Police Commissioner Ed Davis released a report in September advising the University of Massachusetts on ways to deal with large, crowd-related disturbances, he specifically focused on incidents such last spring’s “Blarney Blowout.”

Among his proposals was a call for a system of community policing. The MinuteMarshals program, a student-led initiative from Student Government Association Secretary of University Policy Stefan Herlitz and Speaker of the Senate Sïonan Barrett, is a response to that call.

“We are never going to change students drinking,” Barrett said. “But we can change the way we interact and how safe we are.”

The program is an effort to incorporate peer-to-peer de-escalation techniques at large student gatherings.

“It is about helping students celebrate safely,” Herlitz said.

The MinuteMarshals will be composed of a core group of about 30 paid, undergraduate students who will attend large student gatherings and practice active bystandership. This includes, but is not limited to, warning students about the risks of having open containers, informing students when police issue a dispersion order and generally advising students to act responsibly.

The role of these students does not stop here. They will also be tasked with providing positive social messaging to peers and community members beforehand by knocking on doors and using social media to create a safe atmosphere around these gatherings.

“(This model) is effective because it is coming from students themselves,” Barrett said.

In addition, the MinuteMarshals program will make service grants available to Registered Student Organizations. Similar to the Mullins Center cleanup, in which groups can apply to pick up trash after an event in return for funding, RSOs can apply to send at least 10 members to receive training for and work at a gathering in return for about $350, making it one of the highest paid fundraisers on campus.

Sally Linowski, assistant dean of students and staff coordinator of the MinuteMarshals, is especially excited about the involvement of RSOs.

“It is a creative way to involve students,” Linowski said. “Having RSO leaders as engaged members of the community is a good thing.”

Linowski is also the head of the Walk this Way program, which places groups of undergraduate students around the Fearing Street area on weekend nights to remind students to be mindful of their impact on residents’ of those communities. Between Spring 2013 (when the program was created) and Spring 2014, noise complaints decreased by 50 percent and nuisance house complaints decreased by 55 percent in the Fearing Street neighborhood.

Linowski said the MinuteMarshals program is a combination of Walk this Way and the PrideMarshals, which acted as community police at the University of Massachusetts United Rally last spring.

While the idea for this program came from students, administration will fund the program. The MinuteMarshals will share the $27,000 UMatter at UMass grant with Walk this Way, according to Barrett – and, if all goes well, they will help to institutionalize it.

Although the MinuteMarshals are not affiliated with the University of Massachusetts Police Department, there has been collaboration between the two groups. According to Barrett, the UMPD will help facilitate a portion of the two, two-hour training sessions that MinuteMarshals must attend at the beginning of the spring 2015 semester.

Herlitz, Barrett and Linowski are anticipating the Super Bowl will be the first event that uses the services of the community policing force. After that, they expect the group to be present for professional playoff games, tailgating and off-campus student gatherings, including, but not limited to, “Blarney Blowout” and “Hobart Hoedown.”

Besides the obvious impact on the safety of students at large gatherings, Herlitz said community policing programs have proven to decrease the number of citations and arrests. Barrett and Linowski believe that the MinuteMarshals can go a long way toward ridding the University of the “ZooMass” reputation.

Linowski said that in the past, trying to justify the sometimes destructive student gatherings with the community service done by many RSOs is like comparing “apples to oranges” to the general public. By tying the community service component in directly to the student gatherings, MinuteMarshals has a better shot at changing UMass’ less attractive reputation.

“Students trying to shape these events is a more effective way to change the culture,” Linowski said.

Students interested in applying to be a MinuteMarshal can pick up applications at the Off Campus Student Center. All applicants are encouraged to attend an information session on Sunday, Dec. 7. from 12 to 1 p.m.

Anthony Rentsch can be reached at [email protected]

Correction: Stefan Herlitz was incorrectly titled as a senator in a previous version of this story. Herlitz is the Secretary of University Policy. The error has since been corrected above.