A sunny Saturday in early March of 2014. Clouds separated creating a picturesque sky as birds soared like jet planes; down below, a massive crowd of intoxicated college students had formed. Six-hundred rounds of pepper spray and sting balls were being fired by local police, and seventy-three students were arrested. Amherst, Massachusetts: home to the University of Massachusetts Amherst made national news on March 8th, 2014. A preemptive St. Patrick’s Day celebration known as “Blarney Blowout” had, well, it had blown up.
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Former Boston Police Commissioner Edward F. Davis was hired to review the event and called it, “a collective failure by the town, the university and the students.” So, what had happened to cause such a “collective failure”? The answer varies drastically depending on whom you ask.
When I spoke with The Chief Deputy of University Police, Pat Archbald just days before Blarney Blowout 2016 he recounted that “the administration, the police department, and the campus in general was faced with an extremely large crowd of students that were heavily drinking… We were put in a position to try to confront that, without a lot of planning and a lot of communication to the students at all in how we were going to respond which was met with a lot of resistance”.
Quentin Paginer is currently a senior engineering student at UMass and witnessed the 2014 blowout. Paginer said “tactics taken to stop the alleged problems were much more aggressive than needed. It was an overreaction that made the problem worse.” Seemingly, an invisible line between students and administration had been drawn, deterring the opportunity for open communication and discussion.
In the early morning of March 8, 2014, students had gathered in The Townhouses, an off-campus residential community. After police arrived and halted the celebration, students regathered at a nearby club athletic house. Students were heavily intoxicated, and had grown frustrated by actions taken by the police to keep festivities contained. 73 students were arrested (only a quarter of them actual UMass students), 4 police officers were injured, and countless bottles and bits of broken glass were left abandoned on the ground still cloaked in a sheet of white ice. Some students look back on ‘Blarney 2014’ as the last real blowout.
Seemingly, an invisible line between students and administration had been drawn, deterring the opportunity for open communication and discussion.
Blarney has been an annual tradition for over a decade at the University. Paginer notes it as “a chance for all the kids at UMass to come together and celebrate the start of spring together. A good chance for kids to celebrate a UMass tradition.” Students over 21 years old clad every article of green clothing they own, and attempt to push maximum capacity in Amherst bars, while underage students gather off campus. With the growing participation of every year, Blarney has become an easily identifiable aspect of the UMass experience.
Honor student, Caitlyn Wilson began studying at Umass last Fall and has only heard stories of Blarney 2014. “It sounded to me like a crazy day of drinking, avoiding the cops, and getting into the St. Patrick’s Day spirit.”
The hype of this massive celebration became so large that it could no longer keep itself alive. It seems students involved in Blarney 2014 had become blinded by their ambition and lost sight of their intentions all together.
In a statement released in 2014, former UMass President Robert L. Caret acknowledged Commissioner Davis’ report stating, “UMass Amherst is on the rise — and dealing with the issues this report addresses will allow it to climb even higher in the future.” Police and administration saw this pivotal moment as an opportunity for change and they took it. Representatives from the Student Government Association, Residential Life, University Police, and administration gathered to create the best possible remedy.
Realizing that so few of the students arrested in 2014 were actually from the University, UMass instilled restrictions on parking, residential living, and dining commons usage by outside students. A concert called “Mullins Live!” was created, “to offer a pretty big programming effort so that it would give people an excuse not to go to the festivities, and just stay on campus and do something that not only was probably a safer environment but also had EMTs on hand just in case anything happened,” says Student Government Association President Sionan Barrett.
Police and administration saw this pivotal moment as an opportunity for change and they took it.
Dozens of emails were sent prior to Blarney 2015 to University students in an effort to remind them of the potential danger that rash actions may end in if they did not abide by University’s code of conduct. Chief Archbald noted that opening this line of communication was the key to a smooth resolution.
“Blarney 2015 went as well as we could expect,” said Archbald. Efforts to provide an alternative form of entertainment and to contain the celebration to just it’s own students for one weekend were highly successful. Thousands retreated to see Ke$ha stroll the stage at Mullins Live!, bars were restricted from opening until the early evening, and off campus festivities were more controlled.
One year later, there was much anticipation centered around the outcome of Blarney 2016. Would the addition of Jason Derulo as headliner to the Mullins Live concert attract the crowd the University wanted? Would Police continue to feel satisfied? Would beer cans be thrown into the trash instead of on the ground?
After following up with Chief Archbald 3 days after Blarney 2016, these questions had been answered. Although students have held onto their distaste for proper waste disposal, Chief Archbald noted, “I don’t think we could have asked for a better event.” University police made a grand total of zero arrests, and although fewer students attended the concert than last year, all off campus parties were controlled and respectful of local police.
When asked what he envisions the relationship between students and police will become in the years to follow Archbald said “we will continue to do what we are doing, and then some. We are always willing to learn, and listen, and improve…Every police department strives for a good relationship with your population and there is always more we can do, but we have worked hard for that and I think we have a good relationship with the students.”
It seems that the raucous Blarney of the past may have reached it’s conclusion in 2014. Caitlyn Wilson hopes the spirit of the celebration will not be lost in years to come. “I think the UMass Blarney tradition will carry on for many years but I don’t think it will ever get as crazy or out of hand as it was a few years ago…but I assume future Blarneys will carry out in a similar fashion where everyone wakes up at 7:00am to drink and have a good time with friends."