Due to a history of riots and destructive behavior after large sporting events, the University of Massachusetts Amherst was well prepared for the expected post Super Bowl activities. After a large-scale student disturbance last March, the University hired the former Boston Police Commissioner to conduct a comprehensive review of the causes of campus riots and incorporated his recommendations into a multi-strategy approach that successfully prevented a repetition of destructive post-game gatherings and multiple student arrests.
UMass identified several factors that result in campus violence after sporting events, including social media postings that encourage such activities and make it seem to be a normal part of the college experience; lack of judgment due to the use of alcohol or controlled substances; the role of an audience that encourages students to act in negative attention seeking ways; and the perception of being anonymous or simply part of a crowd. The University was open about its negative history and reached out to students and their parents to take action to change the perception of the UMass culture. The University actively monitored social media sites and pointed out that a number of individuals had been making posts encouraging students to participate in post-game riots. The University also used social media and its campus website to post its responses, which included temporarily suspending outside guests from University residence halls and adjusting the hours for certain dining facilities and other campus gathering places to limit large gatherings in those areas. In addition, the University offered free food in many of the residence halls as well as take out services. UMass also sponsored designated viewing areas with free food and prizes. The University widely publicized its expectations regarding student conduct, including a posting that described student’s constitutional right to peaceful assembly while emphasizing the limits on such rights and the penalties for illegal conduct. The University sent postcards to parents enlisting their support and also supported a student-led initiative on active by-stander intervention. The lack of any reported rioting or arrests after Sunday’s Super Bowl demonstrated the effectiveness of these interventions.
The actions taken by UMass and other universities to identify the causes of campus violence and take extensive preventive measures as permitted by University policy serve as a model for colleges and universities to address a negative campus culture.
In creating effective prevention measures and student safety policies surrounding large-scale sporting events, colleges and universities should review their policies regarding restrictions on campus guests and curfew rules, coordinate with local law enforcement authorities, use social media for quick and effective communication with the student body and provide attractive structured and smaller alternatives to spontaneous large-scale gatherings.