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Editorial: UMass in a negative light

Behaviorists, especially those dealing with children, often talk about what happens when a young person discovers that negative attention is better than no attention at all. For the UMass-Amherst community that can’t possibly be the case following this year’s Blarney Blowout.

This year’s pre-St. Patrick’s Day celebration — brought to a sharp focus with the clash between participants and the police — did nothing to enhance the university’s reputation, and in fact does exactly the opposite.

Begin with who is showing up for the Blarney Blowout. We’re not talking necessarily about current students. This event is also attracting alumni or people with family or friends going to school at the university, even just people from the region who are looking for that kind of event where drinking to excess is the norm and plenty of pent-up energy can be released.

Sadly the behavior that follows is what one might expect — from people vomiting from drinking too much to fights breaking out to vandalism of property — and the event is serving as a magnet, pulling more participants in and creating a mind-set where the crowd behavior goes from fun to destructive in a flash.

It also draws the attention of police.

This year, calls for dispersal fell either on too many deaf ears or were met with defiance. That escalated into police in riot gear using pepper spray and the crowd throwing bottles, cans and other objects at police, which resulted in injured officers.

The photographs of the resultant clashes could easily been from Syria, Crimea or some other strife-inflected region of the globe. But instead they were from North Amherst.

As quickly as events spiraled out of control, they will not come as close to fading from memory.

Nor should they. Vandalism has to be repaired. Injuries have to heal and plenty of people are facing charges ranging from underage drinking to inciting a riot to assault and battery. The university, too, must spend time sorting out how many of its students were involved and dispense the appropriate punishment, be it fines, suspensions or expulsion from the university.

All of that won’t do much to remove the way this year’s Blarney Blowout has tarnished the university. As Chancellor Kumble R. Subbaswamy said, “... the outrageous behavior of those students who acted out without any regard for public safety and the community in which they live ... 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.”

It’s too bad now that the university has to spend time, energy and money in coming up with strategies to make sure there’s no repeating this year’s events.

But UMass — a school funded by taxpayers’ money — can’t afford negative attention like this.

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