The chaos at the University of Massachusetts over the weekend during a pre-St. Patrick’s Day celebration brought renewed attention to an old problem affecting colleges nationwide: how to deal with alcohol-fueled revelers during the March festivities.
Celebrations near the UMass campus in Amherst spiraled out of control Saturday as police dealt with thousands of drunken and unruly people during the annual “Blarney Blowout.” More than 70 students were charged and four officers suffered minor injuries amid behavior that the chancellor said “brought shame on our fine university.”
Like other colleges and towns, UMass and Amherst officials took pre-emptive action to try to prevent problems. The university warned students last week that there would be an increased police presence Saturday, and Amherst police prepared for large-scale disturbances based on past problems. Six people were arrested in Amherst last year.
About two dozen UMass students, many wearing jackets and ties or dresses, were arraigned Monday in Eastern Hampshire District Court in Belchertown on charges ranging from failing to disperse and assault and battery on a police officer to resisting arrest and being a minor in possession of alcohol. A spokeswoman for the district attorney’s office said the arraignments would likely be held over a couple of days.
At Penn State University, the school paid licensed liquor establishments for the second year in a row to stay closed this month during the unofficial drinking holiday known as State Patty’s Day. State College, Pa., police Chief Tom King said the strategy, along with a fraternity ban on parties, helped lead to a 75 percent decrease in arrests and citations this year compared with 2011 — the fake holiday’s heyday.
In western Pennsylvania, there were numerous arrests Saturday for public drunkenness, underage drinking and retail theft at a pre-St. Patrick’s Day celebration at the Indiana University of Pennsylvania. Police also were investigating a report of a sexual assault, Sgt. William Vojtek of the Indiana Borough Police Department told the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review. Police didn’t have an exact number of arrests or charges Monday.
In Champaign, Ill., University of Illinois and local officials have been grappling with the so-called Unofficial St. Patrick’s Day for years.
The News-Gazette newspaper reported there were dozens of arrests and nearly 260 tickets issued for city ordinance violations in Champaign on Saturday, but no major injuries. During pre-celebration educational campaigns, students were warned of the dangers of binge drinking and the consequences of getting arrested.
In Amherst, this year’s celebrations became unruly in several areas around town despite efforts by UMass officials and local police.
Amherst police Capt. Jennifer Gundersen told The Republican newspaper of Springfield that the daylong partying was “extremely disturbing and unsafe.”
“Perhaps one of the worst scenes we have ever had with drunkenness and unruliness,” Gundersen said. “It is extremely upsetting. It is very dangerous.”
UMass denounced the “unruly behavior,” and spokesman Ed Blaguszewski said students who were arrested will be reviewed under the school’s code of conduct, with possible sanctions including suspension or expulsion.
Chancellor Kumble Subbaswamy said in a statement Sunday it is “unequivocally clear that the University of Massachusetts Amherst condemns the outrageous behavior of those students who acted out without any regard for public safety and the community in which they live.”
Many UMass students and others posted their thoughts and experiences during Blarney Blowout on Twitter. Some said the police response was excessive, one person said their nose was broken by a beer bottle that someone threw and another said they were “teargassed.”
Longtime Amherst resident Larry Kelley has railed against drunken UMass student partying for the past several years. He reported on Saturday’s events on his blog, “Only in the Republic of Amherst.”
“Yesterday was the worst day in this town for public rowdy-ism,” Kelley told The Associated Press. “We still had a horrendous experience yesterday, horrendous.”
Police from the city and university and state troopers in riot gear converged on a crowd of about 4,000 people at an apartment complex. Authorities said people were destroying things, and as officers began to disperse the crowd, they were pelted with glass bottles, beer cans and snowballs.
After quieting the disturbance, several thousand people assembled near a fraternity house. That gathering became dangerous and out of control, officials said, and when officers tried to clear the crowd, they again were attacked with bottles, rocks, cans and snowballs.
Pepper spray was used to disperse the crowd because of the size and “assaultive behavior,” police said.
Three officers were injured when they were hit by bottles, and one was injured while attempting to make an arrest, Gundersen said. None of the injuries was serious.