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An Open Letter to the UMass Amherst Community Regarding Blarney Blowout: A Student’s Perspective

The views and opinions expressed in this article are solely those of the author. These views and opinions do not necessarily represent those of Her Campus Media, Her Campus UMass Amherst staff, and/or any/all contributors to this site.***

As many have seen broadcasted across a number of social networking platforms and news programming, the events and actions that took place dubbed as ‘Blarney Blowout‘ this past Saturday can undoubtedly be recognized as those that will go down in history. What was expected to be a fun and celebratory day for all turned into a massive showcasing of police brutality, abuse of power, and tarnished records. Students looking to have an enjoyable weekend of nice weather and post midterm fun turned aggressive when over 70 students were arrested and hundreds of others suffered from wounds as a result of rubber bullets, tear-gas, pepper spray, and physical force.

The media everywhere is depicting the event as wild and unruly, but in fact it wasn’t until the squads showed up that things got out of hand. I personally watched from above as several of my close friends who were trying to diffuse the situation and defend themselves and their property, were verbally and physically assaulted by men in SWAT suits. Looking at the videos published on news sources all over the web, the media seems to focus too much on the student body and their disrespect for the University, and less on the fear and discomfort of the students.

In an email sent out by the University post “Blarney,” Chancellor Subbaswamy cited the event as a “sad and difficult day for campus and the town.” This suggests that the town feels betrayed by its inhabitants, but in fact, it is the students who feel betrayed by the very people who are expected to keep them safe and in a comfortable environment. Students were tear-gassed, pepper sprayed, shot with rubber bullets, beaten, and kicked, and I highly doubt that any individual would feel these measures made them feel safe.

I can understand as a local resident the apprehension about having thousands of intoxicated students running the streets, but only to a certain extent are these measures appropriate. I will admit to having seen a few instances in which the cops did as they were supposed to by helping hurt students, like one girl who seemed to be bleeding from the head due to something thrown at her. More examples of this should be demonstrated, instead of the publicly vigorous actions of the police.

Several websites have harmlessly and jokingly poked fun at the brutality of the event and compared it to political controversies such as the recent chaos in the Ukraine. Ironically, looking at the videos of the two astronomically different events side by side, there are few differences in tactics. They began to forcefully and unreservedly attack and detain numerous students instead of taking a reasonable and holistic approach to the situation.

In an attempt to diffuse masses of people, the teams assumed the most effective way to move in was by harming those in the way. In Subbaswamy’s email to the people of the university, he notes that “[those students who acted out without any regard for public safety] have brought shame on our fine university and run the risk of devaluing the college degree that all of our students work so hard to achieve.” What actually brings shame is the disgusting behaviors of the policemen who so viciously beat anyone who may have tried to get in their way.

Subbaswamy also addresses in his email that “no doubt there are difficult conversations that lie ahead concerning student behavior, alcohol and civility.” He continues with the proposition, “I have no doubt that, working together, we can build the kind of community in which we all want to live.” Few people will find this is a community in which we all want to live if the police continue to act in such a manner that makes its students feel more uncomfortable than protected.

Other schools across the country have similar sized events involving alcohol, but unlike this past Saturday at UMass, the police that are on call for these scenes are present for the safety of the students and not to brutally attack the participants. College aged day drinks occur nearly every weekend, and the only reason the recent events were broadcasted nationally were due to the actions of the police officers–not the students. National news seem to commend the police for breaking up such “destructive” and “unruly” behavior, in an attempt to convince the general public to be appalled at the behavior of college students today.

There are obviously two sides to every story but what hasn’t been voiced to the national public is the students’ perspective. As someone who witnessed the brutality first hand, the news seems to portray the situation as something that required masses of armed men because of how uncontrollable these gatherings were. After the fact, it seems to be that the only blatant demonstration of destruction and harm came from the policemen themselves. While the students who participated in the event make up a small fraction of the entire student body, I have yet to hear of one UMass student pleased and supportive of the actions performed by the police department.

Chancellor Subbaswamy’s email also mentions that, “[the university] will also take swift action to address any violations of the Code of Student Conduct.” If we’re going to talk about violating rules, why don’t we also address the violation of rights like having our Miranda rights read before being arrested or a portion of the first amendment: the freedom of assembly.

The media is promoting the numbers of how many students were arrested like a heroic feat, but in actuality it appears the arrests were arbitrary and uncalled for. Some sources are drawing attention to the “four officers who were injured” in the events—who happened to be wearing full on protective uniforms and fully armed. In retrospect, how about the hundreds of unprotected students trampled, shot at, and arrested? It seems to be that the media is inherently glorifying the policemen who ‘heroically’ attacked innocent students.

I think I can speak for many of the participants when I say the police took advantage of the power they have and need to reevaluate measures for the future. Supposedly these were “preventative” measures, but they approached the situation in full force instead of, perhaps, a nonviolent and authoritative approach. Had a team of 30 officers walked around and maturely asked students to drop their alcohol and exit the premises, maybe 73 of UMass’ own students wouldn’t have been taken to jail this weekend. In addition, many of the police acted in a completely unprofessional manner yelling out swears and profanities at students.

Had the University not sent out a number of emails leading up to the event this past Saturday almost advertising Blarney Blowout and what they hoped wouldn’t happen, in addition to granting permission to the Boston Globe to write an article about it, perhaps the anticipation of the event may have not been so drastic. I think as a student body we’d all like to see a little less physical police intervention and a little more protection.

Lastly the University—rather than attempting to displace thousands of intoxicated students around the campus—let them all congregate in one area and let the party run its course until people got tired and went home, UMass would not be dealing with the repercussions of national attention regarding the rowdiness of their students. I would imagine that the last thing UMass Amherst wants as a highly regarded university is a bad reputation for unruly students and irresponsible alcohol abuse. As the school’s rankings and statistics increase as the years go on, I can’t fathom why they’d want prospective students, parents, and families alike to fear enrolling in the University for events such as Blarney Blowout that could have been handled a lot differently.

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