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The "Save Our Beer" rally held outside the Student Union October 20, under the sponsorship of the campus Republican Club, seemed to us to have its unusual qualities. Not that it lacked the usual ones: bullhorns, banners, a certain amount of good-natured bellowing about the stupidity of the authorities: in this case the state Board of Higher Education, which had just called for a ban on alcohol on public campuses across the commonwealth.
("How about a dry STATEHOUSE?" one speaker cried. "How about a dry Kennedy compound?" And another in at least a tacit acknowledgment that the campus administration has its own reservations about a total ban "What this administration has to admit is that we're in the middle of a cornfield out here! A cornfield! What else are we supposed to do on the weekends?")
When we say that aspects of the crowd reaction seemed unusual, we're thinking less of the bemused young woman we heard rhetorically answering the cornfield question, as she headed back up toward the library, with "Uhhhh How about studying?" We're aren't even thinking of a passionate counter-speaker like sophomore Stacy Cohen, who got into a couple of sidelines shouting matches before taking to the podium and contending, bellow for bellow, that people concerning themselves with partying rights at this point were "Losers! All of you Losers!"
We're thinking of an undercurrent in the crowd confirmed in the pages of the Collegian and in a low-key, anguished sort of buzz on campus in the weeks following the alcohol-related death of junior Adam Prentice, who fell through the roof of a botany department greenhouse in the early hours of Homecoming weekend which seemed to acknowledge that a "this point" had actually been reached. Intense exchanges like the one between students Dan Tavares and Christine Lello, above, seem to suggest that students as well as administrators at UMass are ready to wrestle with the challenges and dangers of alcohol use and abuse on campus.
The faculty, too, has been heard from more publicly than usual. In the days following Homecoming, biology professor W. Brian O'Connor was widely quoted on the responsibility of faculty to raise the issue with students. (In his case, Connors said, a natural opportunity exists in the consciousness of his
numerous pre-med students of the need to protect their career prospects.) Professor of Afro-American studies John Bracey, who serves as secretary of the faculty senate, said alcohol-related disturbances in town and on campus look worse to him than at any point since he arrived in 1972. And on October 23, the faculty senate unanimously supported a recommendation stating in part "... We cannot ignore extra curricular behavior that has a devastating effect on the health and well being of our students. ... We cannot remain silent."
The ultimate test of this concern and resolve, of course, will come only with time, effort, and genuine progress on the basis of whatever wisdom can be gathered by the task force on alcohol use appointed by Chancellor David Scott. Among those most aware of just how hard-won that progress will be is UMass police chief Jack Luippold. A twenty-year veteran of the force, Luippold says he can't really agree with Bracey that we've reached an all-time low. There were some grim days in the late seventies and early eighties, says the chief. That grimness led, in fact, to ban on alcohol at outdoor events that was tentatively lifted for Homecoming tailgates several years ago, only to be reinstated this fall after the death of Prentice and a stadium-side celebration more conspicuous for U-Hauls with students drinking on the roofs than station wagons with families decorously tippling.
(When we ventured to suggest that this celebration seemed, if Bacchanalian, fairly innocent even somewhat touching, in the desire of the students who partied through the game to replicate a traditional festivity Luippold shook his head. "From my point of view, we're just creating another venue," he said sadly. From a man who's answered enough medical emergency calls to imagine what a student toppling from the roof of a truck onto concrete would look like, this is a perspective to take seriously. So is the fact that, when the stadium lot was finally cleared after the game, police had no alternative but to direct the revelers, now behind the wheels of their U-Hauls and other vehicles, out onto the public streets.)
As October wore on, the issue of alcohol on campus continued to brew. As expected, students voting in an October 22 referendum came out overwhelmingly 92 per cent against a total ban, a position in accord with Chancellor Scott's concern that such a fiat could backfire by increasing off-campus alcohol abuse. Problem drinking downtown, in private parties in North Amherst, and at least one fraternity were documented in a massively reported group of stories in the Valley's principal newspaper, the Daily Hampshire Gazette. Reminders of the fact that alcohol is a legal substance in our society and for a good number of our students were legion. Those heroic front-line student-staffers, the residence-hall assistants, were heard from. We were all reminded that the problem is 1) not universal among UMass students and 2) virtually universal among large American campuses. (At the editor's alma mater, the University of Oregon, drunken parties spilling onto the streets near campus triggered police use of tear gas tear gas! on two occasions during the month of October.
The latter, of course, is not reassuring. What is reassuring is that the campus-wide discussion desired by Chancellor Scott seems to be occurring. On the editorial page of the Collegian October 20, in well-written, side-by-side essays, sophomore Eric Peterson argued that "Another law isn't the answer," and junior Elsa Allen argued that "It's time to take responsibility." Elsa's lead was striking: "Okay kids, this is how it is: people are dying."