UMass to follow last year’s Blarney Blowout ‘rubric’ this weekend

By Patricia Leboeuf

(Alec Zabrecky/Daily Collegian)
(Alec Zabrecky/Daily Collegian)

The University of Massachusetts’s plans for this year’s “Blarney Blowout” will remain much the same as last year, said University officials at a conference held Monday. Town of Amherst officials corroborated that strategy.

Blarney Blowout, traditionally held the first weekend of March, featured 55 arrests in 2014 in an event that made national news. However, last year saw a much quieter celebration.

This year, Blarney weekend is March 4 to March 6.

UMass will again host Mullins Live, a concert in the Mullins Center Saturday afternoon. This year’s artists include Migos and Capital Cities. The third headlining artist will be released Tuesday, said Sïonan Barrett, Student Government Association president.

University officials have also implemented parking, dining hall and guest restrictions for this weekend.

Only students, faculty, and staff will be able to access the dining commons between 5 p.m. on March 4 and 5 p.m. on March 6.

During the same time period, all parking lots on campus will be considered 24-hour restricted lots. Vehicles parked on campus without a valid UMass parking permit will be subject to ticketing and towing.

Guest restrictions in residence halls will begin Thursday, March 3 at 8 p.m. and continue to Sunday, March 6 at 5 p.m.  During this period, only UMass students will be allowed as guests in residence halls, with up to a maximum of four. Guests are defined as anyone who is not a resident of the hall.

The financial costs of the Blarney plans are similar to last year, said Enku Gelaye, vice chancellor for student affairs and campus life. UMass spent roughly $500,000 on Blarney weekend preparations last year, according to a statement from spokesperson Ed Blaguszewski provided to the Daily Hampshire Gazette.

“We’re pretty much using the rubric we used last year,” she said.

“We’re coming off what we believe is a very successful 2015 event,” said David Ziomek, assistant town manager for Amherst. “We learned from last year and previous years.”

UMass worked in collaboration with dining services, residential life, campus police and the town of Amherst to plan for Blarney, said Gelaye.

“(Students) are really our lead partners in this,” she said. “I think what was a success last year was the one-on-one engagement with students.”

Student input came from SGA, the Residence Hall Association and resident assistants in residence halls, said Gelaye. She said students also contacted her directly.

Staff from Student Affairs will be walking around campus the day of Blarney, talking to students about what to avoid and what to expect, said Gelaye.

SGA has been in consultation with Student Affairs about Blarney preparations concerning the various restrictions being implemented over the weekend, said Barrett.

After the success of last year’s efforts, Amherst Police Officers will focus on conversation and discussion with students, said Scott Livingstone, chief of the Amherst Police Department.

Livingstone said he is aware that guest restrictions may not be popular with students.

“We don’t want the Town of Amherst to become a no-fun zone,” he said.

Since September, arrest numbers are down for quality-of-life issues in the town, said Livingstone.

“The students understand that what happened in 2014 was a black eye on the university and the Town of Amherst,” said Livingstone. “It was something that we took to heart within our agency. We knew we had to change some things too,” he said.

Livingstone said that the fewer arrests have been intentional. Officers have been attempting to educate students instead of immediately arresting them, he said.

“I know that making a lot of alcohol arrests wasn’t really getting us anywhere,” he said, adding that arrests were causing animosity between students and police.

Complaints are down as well, which Livingstone attributes to outreach to students.

According to UMass Police Chief Tyrone Parham, UMPD plans to have officers stationed at the Mullins Center, residence halls and dining commons. Officers will have a lot of “fruitful discussions” with students, he said. They will be there for enforcement purposes if needed, but Parham said he is optimistic.

Livingstone said his officers will be present “mostly just to engage the students.” Parham said the “negative aspects” of Blarney seemed to come from non-students.

“What we don’t want is to have a large number of (outside) students coming into Amherst and thinking it’s game on,” said Livingstone.

The Amherst Police Department has a mutual aid agreement with most police departments in Western Massachusetts, and can call on the state police if needed, said Livingstone.

“(I) really don’t think it’s going to come to that,” he said.

The Amherst Fire Department will fully staff its ambulances, paramedics and fire trucks, said Amherst Fire Chief Tim Nelson.

Gelaye said that the measures are intended to help change the culture of Blarney.

“We’re trying to change the culture, so ultimately, do I think this is what we’ll do for the next 10, 15 years? No,” she said.

Patricia LeBoeuf can be reached at [email protected]