A disappointing view of the Zoo

An outsider’s perspective of UMass and its inability to meet its own standards

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Ana Pietrewicz / Daily Collegian

By Zach Leach, Collegian Contributor

Growing up in the South, there was always a certain idea of what the “North” was supposed to be like. Those who migrated from New England brought tales of the superiority and unmatched tolerance exhibited in the mostly white, upper middle-class suburbs. I came to the University of Massachusetts knowing very little about the school or Massachusetts in general. I knew nobody who had gone to Amherst or even lived in this miniscule state that seemed so far away. I based my expectations solely off stereotypes and the gleaming portrayal of supremacy that UMass exudes. Needless to say, I was surprised to learn that neither UMass nor the state of Massachusetts lived up to the standards they had created of themselves.

Most people in the American South view New England as some type of parallel universe: a faraway land with unfettered impudence and leftist ideologues who run unchecked. In all fairness, one can’t blame Southerners for believing such outlandish claims as this is exactly how New England wants to be perceived.

The people here have constructed a complete façade of tolerance and supremacy to cover up what New England really is: average.

There is nothing here that would imply this area of the United States is better than any other. Since my arrival, I’ve seen plenty of farmland, a number of mediocre cities and some admittedly pleasant mountains. There are still anti-maskers. There are still people who refuse to get vaccinated. There is still the crazy preacher who runs around campus spouting homophobic rhetoric. It’s hard to miss home when, most of the time, I feel as if I’m still in Georgia.

UMass is not innocent of these claims. In a mixture of hyperbolic marketing and the classic self-portrayal of New England, UMass set standards for itself that it continuously fails to meet. Obviously, the school is not to blame for Covid, but after the poor handling of the pandemic in the previous school year, one would think they would be more prepared this year to either take care of its students or acknowledge its own inability to do so. UMass claimed that because of its high vaccination rate, students would have nothing to worry about in the upcoming year. This, of course, was a promise that could not be kept. It started with the reimplemented indoor mask mandate, and now the school has cancelled prepared events. These incidents make it clear that the school is not ready to handle the realities of the pandemic. It seems they would rather make up the rules as they go along instead of admitting that this school year will be very similar to last.

One can trace this pattern of inconsistency along a multitude of UMass policies. The best campus dining in the country cannot offer an adequate number of forks, plates or clean cups in its dining halls. A school that allegedly puts its students first offers an add-drop period that is not nearly as long as most universities. UMass attempts to create a community but undermines those efforts when it forces students to wear masks when walking from their dorm to the bathroom, but allows TA’s and professors to remain mask-less in both lectures and discussions.

UMass constantly attempts to portray itself as different from other universities. Whether this is the school’s fault, or if it is just part of the New England experience has yet to be understood. UMass has no obligation to portray itself in the manner it does. The school continues to set standards for itself that the administration must realize it cannot meet. When these expectations fail to be met, all that’s left is a campus full of disappointed students who were offered an experience unlike any other, only to realize that UMass is just one thing: average.

Zach Leach can be reached at [email protected].