Student group combats unsafe football pregames

By Katie Syzmanski, Daily Staff Reporter
Published October 23, 2012

In an effort to promote campus safety, one group of students is opting to temporarily put down their solo cups and volunteer to assist students in need on Football Saturdays.

The Michigan Ambassadors Program, comprised of students dedicated to advocating for safety during football tailgates and other high-risk events, was pioneered last year through University Greek Life and is now working with the Student Athletic Advisory Council and LSA Student Government to monitor tailgates and provide safety tips to partygoers.

Engineering senior Nathan Hamet, the executive vice president of the Interfraternity Council, helped implement the program at last year’s night football game against Notre Dame. Hamet said the program kicked off this year during the Michigan State game on Oct. 20 and will continue for the upcoming home game tomorrow against Northwestern and Iowa on Nov. 17.

Hamet added that though the group currently has 19 ambassadors, reaching out to LSA-SG and the SAAC will help MAP foster the support it needs, since more volunteers will be available to help students make safer decisions.

“Now that we’ve branched out, we need to branch out even further … we really want to get 30 to 40 ambassadors (but) we don’t want to go too big because we want to keep everything organized and under control,” he said.

LSA senior Caroline Canning, the president of LSA-SG, wrote in an e-mail interview that all students are encouraged to participate in the program, not just members of Greek Life, since the program affects the entire student body.

“All LSA students (and non-LSA students) can volunteer to be ambassadors in the program, and we are working in our student life and health committees to increase visibility and aid the program,” Canning wrote.

On game days, the ambassadors’ stationed on the corner of South State Street and Hill Street offer suggestions on how to avoid violations of city ordinances and advise against risky decisions, such as carrying an open container or acting recklessly. There are also volunteers stationed at the Michigan Union to serve as organizers, and if a situation becomes an emergency, ambassadors are encouraged to call Ann Arbor Police, the University’s Department of Public Safety or 911, depending on the situation.

In order to become an ambassador, students attend an hour-long training session with the DPS, the University Health Service and the AAPD. After training, students may sign up for one to two hour shifts during game days or other specified events, according to Laura Raines, an LSA senior and vice president of public relations for the University’s Pan-Hellenic Association.

Raines said the program hopes to increase its visibility on campus by offering students help without handing out citations.

“It’s definitely about being visible right now and helping people become aware of the safety concerns … we are not trying to be law enforcement, but if we see something (dangerous) that is happening we will approach the situation,” she said.

While volunteering before a game may seem like a sacrifice, she said incentives are available for those who give their time to be an ambassador.

Volunteers are eligible to receive tickets to Michigan basketball and hockey games, gift cards to local restaurants, apparel and points towards the H.A.I.L program — which offers prizes to students that arrive early to football games or attend non-revenue sporting events. Ambassadors can also receive letters of recommendations for their work.

Hamet said since its implementation last year, the program has received a generous amount of support from the University, and the Athletic Department has donated prize incentives and other student groups have worked to round up volunteers.

“I’m really proud of what it has become, especially to get the support from the University itself … it is awesome to see the entire University, not just students, come together for this program.”

He added that the program is important for maintaining a positive image of the University among other rival schools.

“We represent the Big Ten,” Hamet said. “We have other Big Ten opponents coming to town … and we don’t want to give them the wrong impression of what Michigan is all about. We are not the only Big Ten School to do this (program), so we don’t want to fall behind.”

Engineering senior Jake Wood, the vice president of finance for IFC, said he volunteered as an ambassador during several events, including the most recent game against MSU.

“I find that it is a sense of responsibility,” Wood said. “We, as students, are the ones that are going about with these recreational activities. I feel that we, as students, should be the ones that make sure that our peers are being safe while still being able to enjoy themselves.”

During his shift, Wood said he dealt with a few disrespectful students, but the majority of people were willing to listen to advice from peers rather than face discipline from authorities.

“We’re out there to help so no one gets tickets or has to deal with any law enforcement, as much as we can help it,” Wood said. “When we tell people, ‘We’re just trying to help you from getting a ticket,’ I think people realize listening to what we suggested is better than having to deal with law enforcement.”

LSA sophomore Lexi Wyckoff said she thinks it is important for the University to take a leadership role in promoting safe drinking and tailgate practices.

“I think it has become more of a problem across campuses, and I think it is cool that Michigan is taking an initiative.”