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UMass Amherst official blasts students for violating COVID-19 safety protocols with large weekend party

The Isle of View over the Campus Pond at the University of Massachusetts Amherst.
The Isle of View over the Campus Pond at the University of Massachusetts Amherst.Blake Nissen for the Boston Globe/File 2020

Some 200 students at the University of Massachusetts Amherst on Saturday gathered for a raucous party in a clear violation of COVID-19 safety protocols, a campus official Monday said in a note to students.

The strongly worded missive came from Brandi Hephner LaBanc, vice chancellor for student affairs and campus life.

“Sadly, it has happened again — a group of students flagrantly flouted the rules over the weekend,” LaBanc wrote. “It has become clear that a relatively small but highly visible subsection of the student population in the Amherst area feels entitled to break the agreed-upon policies and rules so they can party, with no regard for the health and safety of their peers.”

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The party in question, she wrote, happened Saturday. The day coincided with the traditional “Blarney Blowout” festivities normally held the first weekend in March. The blowout was supposed to be a far more muted affair with no large crowds this year, owing to the pandemic.

Evidently not every student got the message.

“On Saturday afternoon, the Amherst Police Department was called by local residents to disperse a crowd of about 200 students who had gathered in violation of university policy, town expectations, and state public health mandates,” LaBanc wrote. “The crowd of mostly unmasked individuals was dispersed and citations were issued to the hosts.”

She said the scofflaws will face stiff consequences.

“Those students identified as being involved — hosting or attending — will be issued an interim suspension,” LaBanc wrote. “If a student also lives on campus, they will face the additional consequence of an interim housing restriction (which requires moving out of the halls) as they pose an immediate health risk to other residents.”

She said the UMass Student Conduct & Community Standards staff has received nearly 1,000 referrals since the beginning of the year, the vast majority of which have been for pandemic-related infractions.

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LaBanc also praised the majority of students who have followed the rules during the once-in-a-generation health crisis.

“Thank you to those that have diligently followed the rules — I want you to feel seen and appreciated,” she wrote. “I hope the good actors of the student body understand this approach as a supportive effort for a successful semester ahead.”

Prior to last weekend, concerns had been raised about the impending Blarney Blowout.

“People are absolutely going to party. If people were going to party while UMass was locked down — which they did — then imagine their actions on a day which has historically been designated for partying,” Nathan Strauss, a junior at UMass, said in an interview last week.

About 5,400 students are living on campus, with more than 7,000 students living off campus in town.

Spread of the virus has been attributed to student socialization on and off campus, according to Ed Blaguszewski, a university spokesman. Three fraternities were placed on interim suspension pending conduct investigations after they allegedly threw parties that violated COVID-19 guidelines, the Massachusetts Daily Collegian reported last month.

“Just given the fact that COVID hasn’t prevented any large parties thus far, I don’t see it being much different for Blarney,” said junior Jess Furjanic. “Parties are still going to happen, and people may just try to be a bit more discreet about it. I’m really hoping it doesn’t lead to a surge in cases.”

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Material from prior Globe stories was used in this report.


Travis Andersen can be reached at travis.andersen@globe.com. Follow him on Twitter @TAGlobe.