UMass, the Press, and the constant need to PARTY.

We have spent much time imagining a more controversial, or at least more critical, publication for the University community.

I came across this article by a UMass Journalism lecturer, through the UMass Journalism Program Facebook page, about the University’s suppression of the name of the girl who fell and later died. I remember when I was reading about it thinking that it was strange that we had heard nothing about it. Furthermore, she suffered her fall on the 16th, died on the 19th, and the Collegian, it seems, couldn’t gather enough information to report on it until the December 3rd. The Daily Hampshire Gazette did not report on it until the 29th, and did not include a name at the time, as I remember (I would go back and review that article, but the Gazette needs money, as evidenced by their paywall, and I have none to give them).

The University’s reasoning was that they were balancing concern for the public versus the privacy concerns of the family, that is: their desire to keep it quiet. Furthermore, the Poynter article quotes Mr. Edward Blaguszewski, our dear media relations director, as saying, “It’s not uncommon to not send out an email with a student death. It’s happened many times when students have died.” That left me a little cold, not to mention echoing the sentiment expressed by the article’s author, “What else don’t we know?”

The article continues in the saga of how the story came out, saying that the Gazette would not publish the name they had confirmed through social networking sites, because it wasn’t a legitimate source. The debate will doubtlessly rage indefinitely as to whether she fell because she was drinking or not, and, in parallel, if the school jumped at the chance to keep the incident quiet for the same reason.

Katie Landeck, who came to speak to us and who reported on Sydne Jacoby’s death said,

But the most important thing, and [the] thing that drove this story for me, is that I don’t think the fact that she was drinking when she fell should rob her of her identity. She should be remembered by the UMass community as Sydne Jacoby, not just the drunk girl who tripped. She deserved a name, a face and for her story to be told, and I didn’t want to further punish her by denying her that.

The thing is Larry Kelley, a popular voice in the Amherst community, known for his disgust with UMass partying and drinking behavior, did a pretty good job of doing just that, in his usual vitriolic and venomous tone, when he said:

Obviously alcohol played a role in this terrible tragedy. Obviously UMass doesn’t want people to know that. Question is who — or what — are they trying to protect?

Which leads me to Mr. Kelley’s blog, Only in the Republic of Amherst and the label for the war on rowdyism. I come from Providence. I live at the top of the hill, next to Brown. I’ve lived on the same block (and most importantly: within hearing distance) of nasty unpleasant college students. They were, by no means, on the impressive level of many of the students at ZooMass. But I’ve had experience from the other side of the issue that is currently plaguing relations between UMass and the town of Amherst. Nonetheless, his language and his style feels inflammatory, and excessively provocative. I find it odious that he would post people’s names and home addresses online, in some kind of vigilante justice/retribution kind of way. Because, when I thought about it (and I did, I sent the link to a non-UMass friend, nevertheless, still a college student, but more removed, to tell me how she felt about his style), it’s the idea that he’s stepping in where the administration and the police can’t or won’t. I’d always thought that no matter how cool he was…. You weren’t supposed to actually emulate Batman.

I had a hard time with Mr. Kelley. I believe that public shaming is a necessary evil. It is the reason the media exists: we air the dirty laundry of those who have it, so people become aware and can respond to it. But the most important thing about the airing of the laundry (dirty and otherwise) is how it’s done. The New York Times chose to work with Wikileaks because they felt the releases needed mitigation and contextualization. What Mr. Kelley achieves by posting names and addresses (addresses at which the students no longer reside much of the year, if at all) is at best murky and at worst irresponsible and even immoral. Public shaming works only if it’s institutionalized and fortified in some way.

Without being told to our faces, the students of UMass are aware of the negative opinion held by the town of our behavior, but more importantly, us, as students, as a population, as a whole. There was an illuminating quote in an article in the Collegian, “UMass is the enemy. […] Students are called things like vermin there…” from Terry Franklin an Amherst community member who came to speak to the SGA about student involvement in Town Meetings (of which there is minimal, and of which there should be more of). Mr. Kelley does nothing but confirm that notion: the town of Amherst detests UMass students, who seem to take that in stride; behaving like the monsters we’re accused of being. There has been much written about people both rising to and sinking to the standards set for them. Perhaps it’s time we adjust our expectations of UMass students, instead.

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