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UMass implements new drinking regulations to clean up rowdy ‘Zoo Mass’ image

Wednesday, February 15, 2006

The University of Massachusetts at Amherst is trying to shed its “Zoo Mass” reputation.

Students at the university returned to campus after winter break to discover campus police vigorously enforcing new rules that, among other things, prohibit kegs, beer bongs and all forms of drinking games on campus.

“These changes represent our continued efforts to reduce underage and binge drinking,” said JoAnne Vanin, dean of students at UMass Amherst.

Gatherings of more than 10 people in a room with alcohol present are also prohibited, and students over 21 may not possess more than 24 cans of beer, two bottles of wine or one bottle of hard liquor. No alcohol or alcohol containers are allowed at any time in “dry rooms,” or rooms occupied by underage students. Additional campus police will patrol residence halls, but the university’s new policies have no jurisdiction over students living off campus.

UMass Amherst’s Director of News and Information Ed Blaguszewski said it was not “one precipitating issue” that led to the reforms, but the overall build-up of drinking-related problems.

“We’re recognizing there’s an issue,” Blageszewski said. The new policies aim at reducing “the real dangerous part of this, when people get into binge drinking,” he added.

One event that highlighted drinking problems at the university occurred in May 2003 during a pre-graduation party that attracted around 1,500 Amherst students. The party developed into a full-fledged riot against police forces, which led to 15 injuries among the Amherst police and 45 arrests, as well as several upturned cars and fires.

Similar dramatic incidents across the country have prompted reviews of drinking policies within universities. In 2004, University of Colorado freshman Lynn Bailey died from an alcohol overdose, and two weeks ago, two fraternity students were suspended at Coastal Carolina University after a weekend party that led to two alcohol-poisoning comas.

Though the new regulations are mainly designed to curb drinking, Blaguszewski said they have educational benefits as well.

“We are working with town officials and with all students to educate them about alcohol issues,” he said. “You can legislate punishment, but you can’t legislate good behavior.”

While strengthening drinking preventive measures and restrictions, the university also reinforced student incentives to resort to medical assistance by adopting the “Good Samaritan Protocol.”

“Students run no risk of penalty when reporting a situation in which emergency medical help may be required when someone is severely intoxicated or is seriously injured as a result of drinking,” Vanin said.

“All these rules are in place to protect public safety and health of students,” Blaguszewski said. “Our first message: get medical attention if needed.”

A similar policy was recently instituted as a state law in Colorado after Bailey’s death in 2004.

Blaguszewski said there has been some student opposition to the new regulations, but there has been no widespread protest.

The new drinking rules at UMass Amherst are particularly relevant to Brown, as University officials are currently reviewing alcohol policies in wake of the Queer Alliance’s Sex Power God party last semester, in which several students were hospitalized for alcohol poisoning.

But while Brown students may worry about increased drinking regulations in the future, Blaguszewski thinks Brown students have nothing to worry about.

“We know all those Brown students just drink sarsaparilla, right?” he joked.

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