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UMass Amherst Sets New Plan For "Blarney Blowout" Party

Robert Rizzuto
The Repulblican/Masslive.com

Following dozens of arrests last year, the University of Massachusetts Amherst plans to limit the number of campus guests and increase police presence during an annual weekend party known as Blarney Blowout.Robert Rizzuto of the Republican newspaper captured video of police in riot gear arresting a partier and firing pepper pellets at a crowd during last year’s Blarney Blowout in Amherst. There were reports of partiers throwing bottles, cans and snowballs at officers. During the weekend of March 8th, police arrested more than 50 people, though just about 20 were UMass Amherst students. With this year’s celebration planned for March 7th, the university is banning non-UMass students from staying in campus housing from that Thursday through Sunday. There were about 7,000 registered guests leading up to last year’s party. University spokesman Daniel Fitzgibbons says a similar policy was in place during February’s Super Bowl, which saw the hometown New England Patriots win.

“It worked out really well,” Fitzgibbons said. “It kept the numbers down in the southwest area in particular where we’ve had problems in the past during celebrations after sporting events. There was a little pushback from students because they were concerned that it was applied all over campus and that it applied to UMass students from off-campus. This policy is a little more flexible.”

Blarney Blowout, a non-university event, is typically held near St. Patrick’s Day, which this year falls when students are on spring break. The university hired former Boston police commissioner-turned-security consultant Ed Davis to review what happened last year and make recommendations. Since then the university and the town of Amherst have met with neighbor and student groups.

Most of the unruliness happened at off-campus apartments. Through pre-planning with the university, Amherst Town Manager John Musante says it will be “an all-hands on deck” situation with more police in the downtown and near student apartments.

“We expect to draw upon working together with the university police, Massachusetts state police and a number of other local regional police personnel using our mutual aid partnerships that we’ve established,” said Musante.

Together town and campus police had 30 officers assigned to last year’s event with state police called in at 2 p.m. Fitzgibbons says UMass Amherst will also monitor and utilize social media before and during any partying.

“If we find out that a UMass student is posting something encouraging irresponsible behavior we actually have been contacting the students, their parents and their dean to let them know that this has happened and to discourage them from promoting this kind of behavior,” Fitzgibbons said. “We’re not trying to say they can’t say certain things but we want them to understand there are implications if they engage in behavior or encourage other to engage in behavior that’s endangering or illegal.”

In the past Blarney Blowout was promoted by area drinking holes. This time around Musante says town bars will not advertise special events.

“Over this academic year, police calls for service related to noise or nuisance types of complaints are down from the previous year,” Musante said. “We’re hoping that positive trend continues.”

Fitzgibbons says the university is getting through to students about unacceptable behavior, stressing that they have the responsibility to be good neighbors.

“The other thing we’re really hoping is that students will get the word out to their friends from off-campus who may be planning to visit the area that weekend and discourage them either coming to area or at least if they do that they act responsibly as well,” said Fitzgibbons.

UMass Amherst is also putting together a concert series at the Mullins Center Saturday to offer an alternative. 

Jim is WAMC’s Associate News Director and hosts WAMC's flagship news programs: Midday Magazine, Northeast Report and Northeast Report Late Edition. Email: jlevulis@wamc.org
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