By Seth Tamarkin, Staff Writer
On the first weekend of every semester, when new faces are joining the campus and old friends are reunited, the excitement comes to a head when many celebrate at the Dells.
The only one not celebrating was the new Vice Chancellor Shannon Finning, who, after touring the Dells on the same weekend, was so appalled at students enjoying themselves that she moved to make the location a quasi-police state on the weekends.
Within a day, she sent an email outlining the new rules of the Dells, including measures such as constant police presence and a newly setup guard shack that requires anyone on foot or driving to identify themselves with their ID and parking decal, respectively.
The first odd aspect here is her reasoning for visiting the Dells in the first place. “As a newcomer to the Umass Dartmouth community,” Finning wrote in the email, “I wanted to meet students and begin to understand the social cultures of our university.” Why would one assume the proper time to meet students is in the middle of the night on a Friday?
While the Chancellor chose to meet students with an informal conversation over coffee, the Vice Chancellor decided that ambushing students of mostly-legal drinking age on the night they are most likely to party was the best way to “understand the social culture”.
The core issue though was how quickly things escalated. Last year, there were reports of vandalism, thefts, and even assaults at the Dells. The University understood that the Dells were an “autonomous” area where students “maintain a personal responsibility” though, so they gave out warnings. When warnings weren’t enough, they decided to have temporary measures including an increased police presence, but not to the same degree as now.
This year, despite having no evidence of vandalism, theft, or assaults, the school went all-out in putting the Dells on lockdown and curbing the freedoms previous upperclassmen enjoyed. Instead, the actions that resulted in the University’s pearl-clutching were “drinking games” and some “underage drinking”.
Everyone living in the Dells are either 21 and older or about to be 21 too, so severely punishing Dell residents for underage drinking seems inappropriate.
Earlier this week, the faculty attempted to ease tensions with a meeting in the auditorium where Dell residents could express their grievances with Chancellor Johnson and Vice Chancellor Finning. It did not go well.
One example saw the Vice Chancellor making a dubious claim that she received an outpouring of support from Dell residents following the new measures. In response, the residents rightfully (and loudly) corrected her, but making statements like that tells the students that the faculty had a preconceived mindset going into the meeting.
After that, a resident questioned the school’s priorities. He brought up how many dells have been afflicted with black mold as well as broken shades, yet it has been weeks since those issues have been fixed. Meanwhile, it took one night to set up a guard shack and barely a few days to institute these new rules.Another resident noted that the rule that all vehicles without Dell parking decals cannot enter the Dells is a safety hazard. If an intoxicated student orders an Uber home, for example, forcing the student to get out at the entrance to the Dells instead of their residence is clearly dangerous.
Even if the University allows Ubers to drop residents off at their Dell and fixes the black mold, the overarching issue is that they are not respecting the Cedar Dells premise of being an autonomous living area. Even some RAs discussed at the meeting that the new rules were improperly implemented, citing that the RAs weren’t consulted on handling the situation.
The genuine action for the school to take now is to listen to the problems brought up at the meeting and work to fix them. If that happens, hopefully the Dells will be liberated soon.
PHOTO COURTESY: BACON CONSTRUCTION