Students frustrated by UMass Amherst banning guests from dorms during Super Bowl in attempt to control behavior



Last modified: Saturday, January 31, 2015

AMHERST — At the University of Massachusetts Amherst on Wednesday evening, freshman Ben Reider didn’t know who will win Sunday’s Super Bowl, but he expects one thing for sure: chaos on campus.

“If we lose I guess they’ll riot, and if we win, they’ll still riot,” Reider of Columbia, Maryland, said matter-of-factly in reference to students living in the Southwest residential area, where he lives.

To minimize rioting, UMass officials have taken steps they hope will prevent large crowds from easily gathering during and after the Super Bowl between the New England Patriots and Seattle Seahawks. Kickoff is at 6:30 p.m.

Those measures include banning guests from all dorms, whether UMass students or otherwise, between noon Sunday and noon Monday, according to campus spokesman Edward Blaguszewski.

“We want fewer people in Southwest, which is historically the focal point of these disturbances,” Blaguszewski said Thursday. Southwest is the high density area where about 6,000 of the campus’s 13,500 students live.

To curtail riotous behavior, UMass officials are following a number of recommendations laid out in a September report by former Boston Police Commissioner Edward Davis, Blaguszewski said. UMass asked Davis to complete the report in the wake of the Blarney Blowout last March which resulted in nearly 60 arrests, more than a third of which were of UMass students.

The weekend of the Blarney Blowout, there were 7,000 registered guests on campus, according to the Davis Report.

In addition to the guest policy, administrators are setting up viewing parties in each of the 52 dorms on campus to encourage students to remain in their own dorms rather than wander over to the Southwest Residential Area, Blaguszewski said.

They also sent home postcards to parents, encouraging them to tell their children to avoid the Southwest area and otherwise follow the rules.

On Thursday, Vice Chancellor of Student Affairs and Campus Life Enku Gelaye sent an email to students asking they ignore social media calls to “riot” on campus and communicating that the guest policy is meant for campus safety.

“I realize the policy feels restrictive and has caused inconvenience, but our priority is to take all necessary precautions to protect the safety of our students and ensure a campus climate of civility toward all members of our community,” Gelaye wrote.

By preventing excessively large gatherings of students, Blaguszewski said administrators hope to stop students from getting swept up in riots which they may have actually only meant to watch from a distance.

“As troubling as this activity has been, it is a small group of students who get involved; the vast majority don’t engage in this behavior,” he said.

The last time the Patriots played in a Super Bowl — a 21-17 loss to the New York Giants in 2012 — there were 14 arrests as 1,500 people gathered afterward in the Southwest plaza. It took police in riot gear about 90 minutes to clear that crowd.

Students react

Reider, who lives in Cance Hall in the Southwest Residential Area, said his plan for Sunday is to watch any crowds that gather from a safe distance, but he did not rule out getting involved in a post-game celebration.

While students understand the need for some crowd management strategies, it is the guest policy that drew most of their ire.

“A lot of people are very furious about this,” said Jacob Stein, a sophomore who lives at MacKimmie dormitory in the Southwest area.

Stein, a New York resident who is not a Patriots fan, said this means boyfriends and girlfriends may not be able to see each other in their own dorm rooms and that students who want to host a Super Bowl-viewing party cannot invite friends who do not live in their dorms. Some students already have devised ways around the guest ban policy — for example, by inviting friends over more than seven hours before kickoff.

Stein said he has read the housing contract he signed with UMass and he is not sure that it permits this drastic action. “It’s very worrying because they’re taking advantage of us as students,” Stein said.

Innocent students are being disciplined for something they did not do, Stein maintained. “The kids who go to this school are being punished very severely,” he said.

Stein added that he believed this policy was a practice run for the main event: the annual St. Patrick’s Day celebration known as Blarney Blowout, which this year would be expected on March 7.

“Everyone knows this is a test for March 7 and that if this doesn’t work, they’re going to put in even more restrictions,” said Stein.

Zac Bears, a senior from Medford, said he believes the guest policy will actually make any misbehavior worse. Because they believe the policy is so unfair, students will be tempted to break it out of contempt, he said Thursday.

“No private landlord would get away with saying you can’t have guests over,” Bears added.

Bears believes the strategy will not work, in part because students were not consulted and as such have no investment in the policy.

“I think maybe if Blarney last year had been approached in a more collaborative manner, it wouldn’t have been so rowdy,” Bears said.

He added that riotous behavior following sports events is a problem not just on college campuses. He believes that most students have no interest in outright destruction of their own community.

“Students don’t want to wreck the campus; they just want to jump up and down and scream a bit,” he said.

Freshmen Elvis Antigua and Peter Pham, both of Dorchester, expressed mixed opinions about the policy when interviewed near the Southwest Residential Area on Wednesday evening. Both said they understand it is designed to keep students safe, but still, they believe it is overly strict.

“It sucks that the 1 percent that actually do riot and stuff are ruining it for everyone else,” Antigua said.

“I feel like it is necessary for Southwest, which I think is the most prone to riot ... but I feel like they are punishing all the other locations, too, like Northeast and Orchard Hill,” Pham said.

Freshman Shannon Jones of Wrentham, wearing a Patriots winter hat outside the Southwest dorms Wednesday, called the policy “absurd.”

“Not allowing someone from a different dorm to come in after 12 in the afternoon is a little ridiculous,” she said.

History of problems

There is a history of riotous behavior on campus when major sporting events such as the Super Bowl and World Series involve the Patriots or Boston Red Sox, despite previous efforts at advance planning by UMass.

In October 2013, when the Red Sox won the World Series, the area outside Southwest dormitories was transformed into a place with inflatable bounce amusements, free food and a large screen broadcasting the final game. These efforts were organized collaboratively by the Student Government Association and the office of Student Affairs and Campus Life.

While 3,000 or so people had peacefully gathered in Southwest, when the game ended students came out of the towers. They damaged trees by climbing on them, knocked over trash cans, lit fires and damaged one of the inflatables.

UMass and state police officers wearing riot gear launched a smoke bomb and pepper pellets, and dispersal orders were read. Mounted patrol units and K9 units were on the scene. In the end,14 UMass students were arrested.

Losses have created problems, as well.

In addition to the 2012 Patriots loss, the UMass football team’s 2006 loss in a championship game caused around 2,000 students to surge into the Southwest plaza. Police spent three hours bringing them under control while being hit with beer cans, water bottles and flattened trash cans. Building windows were broken, some looting took place and fires were set. More than a dozen students were arrested.

Amherst Police Chief Scott Livingstone said issues surrounding such sporting events have typically been confined to the UMass campus.

“We expect that it will almost entirely be a UMass event,” Livingstone said.

Livingstone said Amherst officers may be called to break up smaller house parties throughout town, and some will be assigned to assist UMass and state police officers.

“There’s nothing specific we’re doing as an agency other than making sure shifts are filled,” Livingstone said.

Amherst Select Board Chairman Aaron Hayden said he is pleased to see both the town and UMass working to incorporate aspects of the Davis Report into planning for the Super Bowl.

“It’s really timely that the university is more actively stepping up and modifying its visitation policies,” Hayden said.

Livingstone acknowledges that whatever happens Sunday could be a prelude to the pre-St. Patrick’s Day events in March. He said he believes it will demonstrate how well law enforcement and public safety officials are responding to the Davis Report recommendations.

“We’re keeping an eye on this for March 7,” Livingstone said.

Dave Eisenstadter can be reached at deisen@gazettenet.com. Scott Merzbach can be reached at smerzbach@gazettenet.com.


 


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