UMass faces public scrutiny over three girls suspended for attending a party on ‘Blarney Blowout’ weekend

Sebastien Joseph, a student suspended for attending a party the same weekend, speaks on his experience

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Ana Pietrewicz / Daily Collegian

By Sophia Gardner and Talia Heisey

The University of Massachusetts has received national attention for its suspension of three freshmen who attended a party during “Blarney Blowout” weekend, an unofficial tradition among UMass students of throwing St. Patrick’s day themed parties in early March.

The freshmen girls were suspended after they posted a photo on Instagram of themselves outside, mask-less at an off-campus party, reported the Washington Post. The photo was screenshotted and sent to UMass administration. When the girls were notified that they were under investigation, they were given several hours to vacate their dorms. After UMass had reviewed the evidence, the girls were notified of their suspension for the rest of the semester and told that they would not receive refunds for tuition or housing.

These students had broken an agreement with the University. Students living on-campus or in the Amherst area for the 2020-21 school year electronically signed an agreement that they would follow the interim pandemic policy, giving UMass the right to discipline students who failed to do so. This agreement stated that “all students shall comply with restrictions to visitors on campus,” and that “all students shall follow federal, state, and local government guidelines and shall follow University directives relating to the COVID-19 pandemic.”

The agreement also stated that UMass has the “authority to address all issues of non-compliance via established procedure in the Code of Student Conduct.” The students who participated in Blarney celebrations violated this agreement.

NBC10 reported Saturday that, according to one of the student’s parents, UMass has decided to allow the students to finish their semester and suspend them next semester instead, though nothing has been signed.

This offer has not been made to another student facing similar consequences, Sebastien Joseph.

Joseph is a Biology major in the class of 2023. Like the girls, he was also suspended for posting a mask-less photo of himself at a “Blarney Blowout” party on Instagram. The photo was sent to UMass administration. “They called me about a week and a half later saying that I was under investigation and that I had to move out of my dorm by 9 p.m. that same day.”

Joseph was not allowed to live on-campus, but he had not been officially suspended yet, so he was still expected to attend his in-person classes. “So luckily for me my friend who lived off campus let me sleep on their couch,” said Joseph. “And trust, living on a couch for two weeks wasn’t a good time.”

He met with the dean on March 25. “They showed me the evidence but during the meeting made no inclination of what punishment I would get,” he said. Five days later, Joseph received an email telling him he was suspended. “I never got an explanation of how they came to that conclusion and that’s something I would have liked to have gotten because I have never gotten in trouble in neither college or high school and I’m a Dean’s List student.” He said that he still had to pay tuition and board, “I’m out $15,000.”

Joseph agrees that he was wrong to attend the party. “I’m not mad at UMass for disciplining me, ‘cause I clearly broke the rules,” he said.

His suspension will likely alter his career path. “I also don’t have money lying around for another semester at UMass so I’m likely gonna join the Army or National Guard to get the money for school and try to revive my resume.”

Jack Jahn, an economics major, was removed from housing for being mask-less in a dorm room with around 10 other students. He received a call from the housing office at noon on February17 and was told he had to leave his dorm by 7 p.m. the same day. “My family wasn’t around to pick me up so I had to quickly pack up all the supplies and toiletries that I could fit in my backpack and take a Peter Pan bus back to Boston,” said Jahn. In February, UMass experienced a spike in COVID-19 cases and was considered “high risk.”

When the three girls attended a party in March, UMass was at an “elevated risk” operational posture.

The girls were not suspended exclusively for being mask-less. “Of the more than 1,000 cases adjudicated in the spring, no student was suspended for merely not wearing a mask,” said Ed Blaguszewski, a UMass spokesperson.

UMass declined to speak about individual suspensions due to federal privacy law restrictions but did explain the context behind their disciplinary actions. “More than 10 UMass Amherst students were suspended for participation at large and small gatherings on the weekend of March 6-7,” said Blaguszewski.

Blaguszewski also quoted from a February 7 community wide email regarding restrictions which remained in place on the weekend of March 6-7: “All students, whether residing in campus residences halls or in off-campus housing in the surrounding area, are directed to self-sequester. Self-sequestration means that students must stay in their residences, both on and off campus, except to get meals, undergo twice-weekly COVID testing, or to attend medical appointments.”

The girls’ parents have done numerous interviews with media outlets, from the local Western Mass News to Fox News and Friends, in many cases to contest the suspension. The three girls already appealed the suspension, which was upheld by the University, the parents told the Boston Herald.

In some of these interviews,the parents have mentioned their interest in starting a class action lawsuit against the University. It is unclear if they currently have enough people to pursue a class action lawsuit.

In interviews, the parents have frequently criticized the University for reprimanding their daughters and not the students who attended the post national hockey championship parade in mid-April. Blaguszewski commented, “It is regrettable that UMass hockey players appeared unmasked as they returned on their bus from the NCAA championship tournament to campus. The university’s operating posture had been lowered to Guarded and the previous severe campus restrictions had been lifted.”

Sophia Gardner can be reached at [email protected] Follow her on Twitter @sophieegardnerr. Talia Heisey can be reached at [email protected] Follow them on Twitter @HeiseyTalia.