Bring back ZooMass

Embracing its party past can bring UMass the future it’s been yearning for

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Collegian File Photo / Daily Collegian

By Max Schwartz, Assistant Op/Ed Editor

“100 Days until the first tailgate since 2019. TAG the squad you’ll be there with,” reads a post on the ZooMass Instagram account from June 3.

Filled to the brim with maroon waters, the overflowing sea of students shown in the post could convince any user that tailgaters actually attend the football games. When the first whistle blows, the sound echoes through the stadium as the music outside has stopped and students are nowhere to be seen.

The infamous ‘Zoo’ culture at the University of Massachusetts takes on a palpable feeling at tailgates like these. If you’re not from Massachusetts (like myself, I should add), then hearing a school described as “the Zoo” may sound a tad strange. The notion of “party schools” has existed long before UMass was known as the Zoo, yet the last few years have shown that students don’t want to let go of this legacy.

It’s hard to pinpoint the etymological origin of this moniker, but it can be traced back to events like ‘Blarney Blowout’ and the subsequent riots following the Patriots’ playoffs loss in 2018. While there are certainly years when students don’t make national news for reckless behavior, townies and faculty only seem to notice when they do.

The reputation of UMass has been on the up and up as the administration cracks down on off-campus parties and both men’s hockey and campus dining claim No. 1 spots in national rankings. As the University rises in rankings, it falls in the eyes of students who want nothing more than to experience college.

Over the pandemic, students across the country have grown accustomed to an altered way of living that will undoubtedly affect how they react when normalcy returns. Being cooped up in childhood rooms and surrounded by family is nice, in theory, but exhausting in practice. As students begin their weekly exodus from dorm to party, we can’t be strangers to how it will affect the culture the administration has been carefully cultivating. Instead of opposing this shift in attitude, we need to embrace it.

Let’s take a look at schools such as Tulane University in New Orleans, which ranked 41st in academics and first in partying. Tulane has risen more than 13 places in the US News rankings since 2015. This seemingly self-destructive party culture is not kept in the shadows the way that UMass’ administration attempts to, and based on Tulane’s track record, why would they?

Tulane’s success is not reliant on its national party reputation, but it certainly helps. Other colleges such as the University of Alabama and Gonzaga University prove how partying institutions can positively contribute to campus life as a whole. Alabama has a nationally ranked football team that gives its Greek life a reason to throw down, while Gonzaga’s incredible basketball team adds an unrivaled sense of school spirit to an otherwise unknown college.

What these three schools have in common is what I call an “alternative foundation.” An alternative foundation is an attribute of a college or university that isn’t always seen as an addition to the institution, but provides opportunities for exponential growth. For instance, a school that isn’t known for its academics but sits an hour from the beach can promote its alternative foundation — its location — to increase revenue through applications, which is then cycled back into academics.

By promoting its highly successful football team and vast Greek life, and building upon its party culture, the University of Alabama can increase the number of applications it receives and in turn, lower its admission rate. With more revenue in application fees, annual increases in testing difficulty (which raise admission requirements) and a campus culture every student can experience, it’s no wonder the university can draw so many students in.

UMass has an alternative foundation that it needs to stop hiding and start embracing: our party culture. Having a successful hockey team adds a sense of school pride but not enough that it matters. Generally speaking, college athletics are great networks to recruit students, but very few Division I sports offer the same viewing experience as college football and basketball. The other draw is our campus food, which certainly is delicious, but not enough of a selling point. Prospective students want something they can not only experience but brag to their friends and engage in conversations online about.

So, bring back the Zoo, I say. I’d be remiss not to mention the ongoing pandemic, but there are ways to be COVID-safe while indulging in the festivities of college. The same way we’re able to have in-person classes and eat inside next to one another, students will find a way to follow the necessary precautions while also living life a little.

If UMass wants to “BE REVOLUTIONARY” it needs to recognize its strengths as an institution and not only build upon them, but embrace them too. If Tulane, Alabama and Gonzaga can thrive with this mentality, what’s stopping UMass? Nobody wants to buy tickets to a silent zoo.

Max Schwartz can be reached at [email protected]. Follow him on Twitter @maxwschwartz.