BY ALLYSON HUNTOON '19
On Saint Patrick’s Day, the evening of the Super Bowl or even just a sunny Saturday afternoon in the spring semester, University of Massachusetts, Amherst students can often be found celebrating outdoors.
However, UMass students’ tendency to gather in large numbers occasionally presents problems, according to Amherst Police and UMass officials. With an undergraduate student body of approximately 22,000, the crowds can get large in a short period of time.
Bill Laramee, Amherst Police neighborhood liaison officer, told MassLive, “There’s a historic problem with mass gatherings,” among UMass students, citing “Blarney Blowout,” an annual student celebration of St. Patrick’s Day. Blarney Blowout celebrations are known for being particularly disorderly, often resulting in police intervention. The site of the 2014 celebration, for example, was the courtyard of an off-campus apartment complex where many day drinks and outdoor parties are held. In an effort to reduce the size and frequency of these mass gatherings, Laramee is looking for ways to make it more difficult for students to assemble in their typical party locations.
One solution, Laramee believes, may be shrubs. By adding more shrubbery and ample lighting to the open area outside the Townhouse of Amherst condominiums, Laramee, along with Eric Beal, neighborhood liaison in the UMass Office of External Relations, hopes to reduce accessibility and the incentive to gather in this area, according to MassLive.
Harper Fetler, a sophomore at UMass Amherst, agrees that adding increased shrubbery to the area would make it more difficult for students to gather, but says, “The lights probably would not do much because of the quantity of people that gather together. Within large crowds people for the most part feel safe and as though they can get away with much more.”
Fetler, who lives in the Southwest residential area at UMass, is no stranger to large student gatherings. After the New England Patriots’ victory in the Super Bowl on Feb. 5, approximately 3,000 students rushed out of their dorms to gather in the spacious concrete area outside of her residence hall. When she joined this gathering, she found everyone to be “for the most part under control,” but recounts being hit in the head and injured by what she believes was either a rock or a glass bottle which was thrown into the air by another student. She thinks that these riots and big parties can get out of control “when things such as ice, rocks and glass start being thrown into crowds, because more people start following their lead... and they feel as though they can easily get away with it.”
UMass students have shown their desire to gather in large numbers not only to celebrate, but to protest politically as well. More than 100 students chose to participate in the Student Strike for Sanctuary on Feb. 17, according to WWLP, a local news station. Many skipped class to gather in the student union building and show their support for the sanctuary campus movement.
Some are afraid that efforts to reduce students’ ability to gather in groups would also hinder their political voice. “I think students should have the right to assemble in large numbers for political protests or something of that nature as it does raise awareness,” said Fetler, adding that such gatherings “gives us students a voice.”