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UMass coalition to control student drinking creates plan for spring

Members of the Campus and Community Coalition to Reduce High-Risk Drinking, a partnership between UMass and surrounding communities, this week divided into four subcommittees that will seek ways of reducing the impact of off-campus student parties, controlling high-risk drinking associated with celebrations, clamping down on the throngs of students walking through neighborhoods and discouraging “pre-gaming,” the consumption of alcohol in residence halls before students head to off-campus sites.

Sally Linowski, co-chairwoman of the coalition, said the hope is that by zeroing in on these four areas, the university can achieve a noticeable difference in how students behave when they are away from the campus.

“This creates a plan of doable action,” Linowski said.

The subcommittees will present their plans at the coalition’s meeting Jan. 23. Each one is expected to include a means of communicating with students and precise ways of easing the problems, as well as demonstrating a commitment to the Amherst community that the issues are being addressed.

“We need to have some key messages that drive the work of the CCC,” Linowski said.

The intention is to implement the plans after spring break, the time when problems worsen, she said. Though off-campus parties take place throughout the year, they are more noticeable when the weather warms due to open doors and windows and outdoor partying.

The high-risk drinking tends to coincide with “celebrations, traditions and rituals,” Linowski said, which can include the so-called Hobart Hoedown, named after the street where it occurs, St. Patrick’s Day and the days leading up to graduation weekend.

Lisa Queenin, director of Community and Regional Legislative Relations for UMass, said disturbances by large numbers of students walking through neighborhoods at night also resume in the spring.

She said a combination of members of the coalition, those involved with the working groups, and both UMass and municipal departments will be responsible for implementing the subcommittees’ recommendations.

Select Board Chairwoman Stephanie O’Keeffe, who will be working on one of the subcommittees, said she is optimistic about the results.

“This really covers the big outstanding issues right now,” she said.

The effort comes at a time when the Safe and Healthy Neighborhoods initiative launched by Town Manager John Musante is beginning to develop a residential rental permit system. He recently appointed a working group that involves landlords, property managers, residents and town officials, that will have a draft for review by March 1 and a warrant article to come before Town Meeting next spring. While fall Town Meeting took steps to better control rental properties, giving more oversight to the town, Musante said more can still be done.

“We want to and need to do better,” he said.

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