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Peter Snedecor: Amherst and UMass - Breakdown of social order

— I’m from away. So maybe my perspective isn’t fair. But it seems to me that social order has broken down in Amherst, at least on weekends. If that isn’t the definition of a failed state, I’m not sure what is.

I moved from Ohio to Amherst in 1965 to go to college. I returned home afterward for six years, then moved back to New England, always close to the Valley. For a long time, I taught at a school about 25 miles north of this town, and then moved here five years ago in retirement.

So I’ve been in the area for almost 45 years. Nevertheless, I wasn’t born here. I wasn’t raised here. I’m from away, and shouldn’t judge.

When I first came, there were fields of tobacco and asparagus between Amherst and Hamp (never “Noho”). A huge greenhouse grew roses. Hadley was a crossroads and Route 9 was two lanes the whole way. Amherst was a beautiful, civilized, relatively quiet town, with a volunteer fire company and a small police department. The University of Massachusetts was an institution of about 7,000 students. McGuirk Stadium hadn’t been build, nor had the W.E.B. DuBois Library, the Southwest Towers, or many other fine facilities.

Life was good. Idyllic, even.

I know. I sound like an old grouch. Progress has meant growth and growth has brought opportunity. Change is good. The Valley is still a wonderful place to live. I treasure it. But not on weekend nights. Then, anarchy seems to rein, at least in parts of town.

Hyperbole? Maybe. But after this past faux St. Patrick’s Day celebration (the “Blarney Blowout”) I’m not so sure. Bar owners in town are so greedy (ignoring the common good) that they reschedule a drunken holiday for the convenience of about-to-vacation students. They open their doors at 11 a.m. to lines of revelers in the hopes of getting them to guzzle beer all day — rather than just in the afternoon and evening. I give them some credit — they called it what it is — a blowout.

And the students? They see it as their right to indulge and to disrespect the univeristy, the police and other public safety workers. We’re going to pour as much beer down our throats as we can, they seem to be saying. Just make sure that the hospital is ready. But when one of our own needs medical help, let’s stone the fire department rescue squad.

The inmates are running the asylum, it seems to me.

I know there are thousands of students who don’t party like this. They work hard and play responsibly. I recognize that many of those arrested were not students enrolled here. But throwing bottles and rocks at the cops? Trashing yards and houses? Filling to capacity the emergency room of the nearby hospital on Friday and Saturday nights? And then doing it again? And again. Despite the threat of arrest and fines?

The police chief is planning for more disorders in the weekends remaining in the semester.

When will the faculty object to the trashing of their town and their university’s reputation? When will the administration take meaningful steps to curb this behavior?

Town residents have repeatedly voiced objections, but few at the university seem to be listening.

What’s to be done? Will it take a death to bring this community to its senses? Some heart attack patient on the way to the emergency room who can’t get care because of all the inebriated students? Someone in an automobile accident killed or maimed because of a drunken student? A first-responder seriously hurt trying to help someone? Perhaps the fines should be increased. Perhaps several days in jail might help. I wish the university would suspend or expel these students for a while. I know. They can’t. Students have their rights. But I still wish it.

I admit that I drank more than my share of beer back in the ’60s. But we didn’t act like this. I wonder what has changed.

It seems that the beautiful town of Amherst is out of control on weekends.

But then, what would I know? I’m from away.

Peter Snedecor of Amherst is a retired teacher of mathematics and economics at the Northfield Mount Hermon School.

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