Maine Day Task Force Report
December 14, 2022
Maine Day is a University of Maine tradition dating back to 1935 when President Arthur Hauck set aside a day for “spring clean-up” of the campus (The tradition may date back even further. One Task Force member noted that the university held an annual “Ivy Day” devoted to campus service dating back to sometime in the 19th century.) The tradition of Maine Day includes the cancellation of classes on the Wednesday of the last week of the spring semester and an open invitation to students, faculty, staff, and alumni to join in and spruce-up the campus after the long Maine winter and in preparation for May graduation. Over the decades, the tradition has evolved to include a wide variety of service and fund-raising activities as well as events intended to bring the campus together to celebrate the end of the academic year. Maine Day appears to serve at least four functions: spruce up campus; build a sense of community; serve the public; celebrate the end of term.
While there are no valid records of the level of student participation in Maine Day over the decades, it is fair to assume that there was never a point in time when all students participated in Maine Day activities. The data available to the Task Force suggests that over the past decade about 15 percent of students register for service activities. In the past two years (following the 2020 cancellation of Maine Day due to the pandemic), official participation dropped to below 10 percent.
Many students do not participate in the Maine Day clean-up or festivities. Some use the day to catch up on class work or as a relaxing mental health day. However, many spend the day off from classes celebrating at unofficial off campus gatherings. These celebrations often include binge drinking and likely illicit drug use. While this unauthorized “tradition” has been part of Maine Day for decades, the creation of off-campus student housing developments in the past 20 or so years has resulted in the off-campus celebrations concentrating in a single location, The Ave.
The size and scope of The Ave block party has grown as have the rate of calls for emergency medical and law enforcement assistance. For example, in 2022 there were 22 Maine Day related medical transports to area hospitals over a five-hour span. The number who needed hospital-based care was likely larger as two area hospitals were overwhelmed and consequently EMS providers were instructed to transport individuals only if they could not protect their airways, were unconscious, or were heavily inebriated and had no responsible person to monitor them. The 2022 data are not anomalous. In 2018 and 2019, for example, there were 31 and 20 Maine Day related calls to the Orono Police Department (see Appendix B, Maine Day Problems and Strategies). The off-campus Maine Day party has also become a destination gathering for many non-students.
The university and the town of Orono have responded to the challenges associated with the Maine Day off campus celebration in a variety of ways. Seven years ago, a committee with representatives from UMaine Student Life, university and town emergency services and law enforcement as well as town officials met to develop crowd control and risk mitigation strategies. This committee has met annually to reflect on the most recent Maine Day and strategize for the next one. The financial costs associated with risk mitigation are significant for the university, the town and The Ave. A summary of the crowd management and risk mitigation strategies implemented can be found in Maine Day Problems and Strategies and TOWN OF ORONO – Maine Day Response Concerns in Appendix B.
Maine Day Task Force
President Ferrini-Mundy formed the Maine Day Task Force to review the data on Maine Day, solicit and review public opinion, and develop recommendations regarding Maine Day in 2023 and beyond. Task Force membership can be found in Appendix A. Documents reviewed by the Task Force in preparation of this report can be found in Appendix B.
The Maine Day Task Force met on November 30 and December 8, 2022. The members collected and aggregated information on a shared Google drive so that Task Force members could continue the dialogue and respond to reports and draft documents between meetings. The Task Force devoted its second in-person meeting to a semi-structured discussion of four alternatives for Maine Day (see ALTERNATIVES below). At the conclusion of this discussion, Task Force members were asked to rank order their preferences for the four alternatives, offer additional alternatives and comments to elucidate their rankings.
1. Eliminate Maine Day
End of the Maine Day tradition. Distribute public service, fundraising, and recognized celebratory activities throughout the academic year.
Arguments in favor
- Return an instructional day to academic calendar
- Number of days of instruction in spring term is fewer than fall term
- MWF classes are particularly strained by holidays already
- UMaine’s spring academic calendar is not in line with federal guidelines
- May reduce the large off campus gathering at The Ave.
- “tradition” of off-campus party may diminish over time and thus decrease the chance of students injuring themselves
- Eliminate university’s “tacit approval” of off-campus gathering
- Students who choose to skip classes or other responsibilities will experience the usual consequences of unexcused absences
- Lost opportunity for community building
- Breaks a tradition that dates back almost 100 years
- Off campus gathering likely to continue
- May grow because students will be angry/defiant
- Dangers of off-campus gathering will be exacerbated because community will be less well prepared (e.g., fewer emergency services activated)
- Negative impact on student morale and UMaine pride
- Negative impact on student mental health
There was very little support among Task Force members for complete elimination of Maine Day. No member ranked this a top preference and few as a second-ranked choice.
2. Move Maine Day to a date earlier in the academic year
Move Maine Day to a day earlier in the academic year, perhaps during winter months.
Arguments in favor
- Weather is not as conducive to large outdoor gatherings.
- Could develop a service fair earlier in the year to generate interest in and register volunteers for service activities
- Preserves the tradition
- January is short month, already a holiday in February, spring break is in March
- Would not serve the spring clean up function
- Many traditional Maine Day activities could not be offered (e.g., oozeball)
- Off campus gathering will move to new day which may exacerbate risks
- Risk of winter-related injuries (e.g., falls, frostbite)
- Risk associated with keeping warm (e.g., fires; crowded indoor gatherings)
- Fewer risk mitigation strategies available
There was very little support for moving Maine Day to an earlier date in the academic year. No member ranked this a top preference and few as a second-ranked choice. Consensus was that risks associated with a winter Maine Day outweigh the potential benefits.
3. Revamp and rebrand Maine Day to “Maine Day Week”
Spread Maine Day activities across the week before spring semester finals week. No full day of canceled classes.
Arguments in favor
- Tradition of Maine Day evolves to reflect growing diversity of UMaine (e.g., diversity of student population, mission, pedagogies)
- Preserves goals of Maine Day (i.e., campus clean-up, service, community building, and celebration)
- Provides a longer period to build a sense of community
- Rebranding signals movement away from what Maine Day has become for many (i.e., a day to party)
- Provides space and time for additional campus-based activities
- for example, adding self-care activities
- Not having a focal day may decrease attraction of non-students to a single off-campus gathering
- Could be integrated, or aligned, with academic activities (e.g., Student Research and Creative Activities Symposium)
- Dispersing celebration across several days will help to disperse large single gathering. Crowd dispersion is key to public safety.
- Increased involvement with Alumni and Community resources (i.e. Mental Health providers, Local businesses/organizations who can collaborate w/ opportunities for interns/volunteers)
- Allow for the inclusion of additional off campus community service activities
- Labeling the last week of classes as a “transition week” or “closing week” or “dead week” in which faculty recognize the purpose of the week is to celebrate the end of the academic year, support students’ mental health, engage in service, build community spirit, and prepare for final exams.
- Last week of classes is a stressful time for students so many may not have time to participate
- With no cancellation of classes students will be less motivated to participate
- Will be more challenging to participate as activities are decentralized and course schedules and other responsibilities will likely conflict
- May negatively impact faculty participation
- Could spread off-campus gathering to multiple days
- May negatively impact the “spirit of Maine Day”
There was a clear consensus among Task Force members for a version of this alternative (see RECOMMENDATIONS). Most members rated this as their preferred alternative and all members rated this as their first or second alternative.
4. Maintain traditional Maine Day with enhancements
Continue Maine Day as it has been over the past several years. However, greatly enhance the on-campus options for students, expand the goals to include selfcare, and implement harm-reduction as well as risk mitigation strategies.
Arguments in favor
- Preserves the tradition
- With enhancements, Maine Day will more successfully achieve goals
- Enhancements may more effectively reduce risks and engage more students
- Gathering faculty, staff, students, and community members together promotes spirit of service and UMaine pride.
- Will not reduce off-campus gathering
- Students will choose block party at The Ave over on campus activities
- Unregulated alcohol consumption (e.g., binge drinking, underage drinking) is key attraction of off-campus gathering. On campus activities cannot compete.
- Requires additional resources
- Orono does not have additional resources to devote to management of Maine Day and, in fact, likely has less resources to devote in 2023 compared to recent years.
- Additional funding needed for enhanced single day of events would be better spent expanding positive programming or incentivizing participation.
There is support among a subset of the Task Force members for this option. A small number rated this as their top preference, and more than half rated it among their two most preferred.
Task Force members generated many strategies that might be implemented to increase involvement in campus-based and/or prosocial activities and decrease and/or better manage the risks associated with the large off campus gathering. Additional suggestions were gathered through conversations between Task Force members and the groups they represent as well as online responses to the president’s call for input on the future of Maine Day.
All recommendations were made available to members to consider, and most were discussed during the Task Force meetings. Additional recommendation can be found in Appendix B (see Maine Day Review.
Strategies are organized into five categories:
Student and Community Engagement
Three issues were identified that impede student involvement: 1) lack of understanding of the purpose of Maine Day; 2) limited number and variety of Maine Day activities available; 3) difficulties in processes for engaging in Maine Day activities. A widely held view is that better marketing of the intent of Maine Day, increasing the number and type of activities available to students, and lowering barriers to student involvement will increase student engagement.
Many specific tactics for increasing the number and variety of Maine Day activities were discussed. Types of activities include:
- Self-care. For many students Maine Day is a day to relax and a break from the stress of classes and assignments. And many students are not interested in, and some resent the expectation that they participate in, service activities. Offer a wide variety of stress-relieving and self-care activities.
- Community Engagement. Expand the reach of Maine Day activities to include service to the community by connecting with the K-12 schools, surrounding communities, the Alumni Association, mental health organizations and community service organizations (i.e., Rotary clubs) and others.
- Entertainment. Increase the entertainment offerings on Maine Day to include more activities that are attractive to many students. Two examples that garnered considerable discussion included: 1) offering activities where alcohol is available to those who are of drinking age (i.e., modeled after Homecoming tailgate); 2) Move Maine Event concert to Maine Day.
- Incentives. Offer students incentives for participating in Maine Day activities. Examples offered included extra credit in courses and instituting a service graduation requirement that can be met through Maine Day activities.
Participants in Maine Day, particularly service activities, have been predominantly from students engaged with formal organized groups (e.g., clubs, sororities, etc.). Improved communication employing multiple media formats and coming from different sources may lead to greater student engagement. Along the same lines, lowering the barriers to engagement may facilitate participation, particularly for students not affiliated with recognized organizations.
The university, The Ave, and the town of Orono have implemented a variety of risk management strategies to manage the size of the off campus gathering, to monitor activities, and to ease access to emergency services (see Appendix B, Maine Day Problems and Strategies).
Task Force members with law enforcement, risk management, and crowd management experience emphasized the importance of disbursement for risk management. Put simply, the risk for negative events increases as the size and density of the crowd increases. Any initiatives that would disburse participants across space and time will decrease risk for harm.
The Task Force came to distinguish risk management from harm reduction strategies. Harm reduction strategies involve the provision of non-judgmental, non-coercive services and resources to people who partake in risky behaviors. Several recommendations were received that would involve a larger university presence at The Ave event (e.g., establishing water, food, and emergency medical stations on site). It should be noted that some of these ideas have been considered previously but have not been implemented due to concerns about liability and expense. The Ave is not supportive of a larger university presence at their property.
Maine Day harm reduction strategies might include:
- Safety and prevention messaging via email and social media with educational information such as how to recognize an overdose, how to access and use fentanyl test strips, not using substances alone, drink lots of water if drinking, or information on pacing consumption.
- Community messaging about safety and encouraging students to consider their neighbors.
- Engaging opinion leaders in messaging about safety and harm reduction strategies and resources.
- Promoting off campus events held by legal, third party vendors such as the Orono pub crawl and OBC block party.
- Providing water, first aid, and sun protection on sites (and/or if the university is not able to do this, empowering students to set up informal operations to do this by establishing a broader culture of harm reduction on campus).
Many students are unaware of the university’s reasons for having Maine Day, what Maine Day activities the university is offering, or how to get involved. Most Maine Day communication emanates from the Office of Student Affairs. The Task Force heard many recommendations for improving communication about Maine Day. These recommendations include:
- Employ multiple media platforms utilizing a wide array of social media platforms and university platforms.
- Message from multiple sources including every level of administration (e.g., department chairs, deans, the president), influencers (e.g., student athletes), student organizations (e.g., student government, Greek organizations), and faculty.
An increase in faculty support for and engagement in Maine Day activities was recommended. Engagement might take a variety of forms including:
- Faculty building service-learning activities into courses that might include specific Maine Day activities
- Scheduling student research, capstone projects, and service-learning presentation on Maine Day
- Building service or self-care activities into courses.
- Faculty participating with students in service or self-care activities
The following recommendations represent an integration of the many ideas considered by the Task Force and reflect the consensus, if not the unanimous view, of its members.
1. Revamp and Rebrand Maine Day
While the Task Force recognizes the importance of the Maine Day tradition to current and former students, the dangers associated with the off campus gathering “tradition” calls for a significant change to Maine Day. While some members of the Task Force believe that change can be accomplished by enhancing Maine Day through implementation of some or all the strategies described above, the majority of the Task Force believe that a more substantive change is needed.
The Task Force recommends the following changes to Maine Day.
- Distribute Maine Day activities over multiple days. There was strong support for distribution of Maine Day across days in the final week of the spring semester. The distribution will provide the opportunity for additional, wider ranging, activities and events. Distribution of activities will support the goal of dispersing the large gathering at The Ave. While the committee discussed a week-long distribution of Maine Day activities, some members suggested that the goals might be achieved by dispersing activities over only two or three days.
- Rebrand Maine Day. “Maine Day Week” was offered as an example that connects the new approach to the honored tradition while at the same time reflecting change. Other suggestions included “Maine Spirit Week” and “Service & Spirit Week.”
- Reinstate classes. One driver of the large concentrated off-campus gathering is the cancellation of classes. Eliminating the class-free day will support the goal of dispersing the large off-campus gathering. Some Task Force members suggested as a modification of this recommendation to shift to two partial days of no classes (e.g., Monday morning and Friday afternoon). Others would like to see no final presentations or papers due this week to promote student engagement and self-care.
- Enhance Maine Day. The Task Force recommends that most, if not all, of the strategies described above be considered for implementation. Expansion of engagement (including bolstering service activities), risk management, harm reduction, communication, and academic connections will be essential components of a revamped Maine Day.
2. Expand Maine Day Oversight
Responsibility for planning and oversight of Maine Day should be expanded beyond Student Life. The Task Force recommends that a standing committee be formed with wide ranging membership to include representation from Student Life, the Bodwell Center, emergency services, UMaine and Orono law enforcement, faculty, student government, local businesses, Alumni Association, Facilities Management, the Office of Diversity & Inclusion, the Division of Marketing & Communication, Greek life, Athletics, and student organizations. The Task Force recommends that this committee be charged by and report to the president.
The Task Force recommends that the committee’s charge include
- Establish and clearly articulate the goals of Maine Day and use these goals to develop and prioritize Maine Day activities.
- Create a timeline to guide planning and implementation of activities.
- Develop and implement a campus-wide Maine Day communication plan.
- Identify data that provide means of tracking the degree to which the goals are being achieved (e.g., engagement by students, faculty, community; service hours; student satisfaction) as well as unintended negative outcomes (e.g., emergency calls; hospitalizations).
- Use date to inform continuous improvement and continued evolution of Maine Day.
The committee’s decision making should be informed by data and best practices. As a scholarly community, the committee should draw upon relevant areas of faculty expertise (e.g., communication, policy, mental health, public health).
Appendix A. Task Force Membership
Appendix B. Documents Reviewed by the Task Force
- Maine Day Review
- Maine Day Concerns
- Maine Day Problems and Strategies
- Harm Reduction Recommendations
- TOWN OF ORONO Maine Day Response Concerns
- Maine Day – May 1, 2019 Facilities Management Items
- Student Wellness 1 page