Coming home in other places

As students and alumni gear up for this weekend's festivities, the Journal looks at Homecoming culture outside of Kingston

Partiers on Aberdeen Street during Homecoming last year.
Partiers on Aberdeen Street during Homecoming last year.
Credit: 
Journal File Photo
A program from homecoming at the University of Missouri (MU) in 1937. MU has one of the oldest homecoming celebrations in the United States.
A program from homecoming at the University of Missouri (MU) in 1937. MU has one of the oldest homecoming celebrations in the United States.
Credit: 
Courtesy of University Archives, University of Missouri at Columbia

Three years of Queen’s Homecomings may have led to numerous tickets and arrests, but all the students and alumni who attend Homecoming at the University of Missouri (MU) this year will be going to court.

But it’s not the kind with police officers and legal fees that some Aberdeen Street partiers might be in for. “Court” at MU—which is located in Columbia, Missouri—consists of a Homecoming king and queen, a grand marshal and 10 other royal candidates on a parade float the morning of the Homecoming football game.

The parade and court date back to the University’s first Homecoming in 1911—one of the oldest in the United States, MU Alumni Association Executive Director Todd McCubbin said.

He said the University’s athletics director at the time wanted to create a home crowd advantage for his team’s game against historic football rival, the University of Kansas, and invited alumni to “come home” to cheer the team on.

“It’s been added to, improved, worked on ever since,” McCubbin said. “You kind of care for it like a child, if you will.”

The weekend’s two biggest events—a parade and a campus decoration competition—bring in over 25,000 people from across the state. Student organizations around campus present displays and skits on the streets Friday night until early Saturday morning, when the 130-float parade begins to prepare the crowd for the afternoon football game.

McCubbin said most alumni and visitors bring their families to the events, which will take place on Oct. 25 this year.

“We promote it as a family event,” he said, adding that people on floats toss candy to children watching the parade and the decoration competition usually involves a cartoon theme.

McCubbin, a Columbia resident, remembers growing up with a very different homecoming.

“When I was a kid growing up here locally, my parents wouldn’t take me to that event because it was so focused on alcohol,” he said.

MU went dry 15 years ago when all of the campus’s fraternities and sororities banned alcohol in their houses. The change has helped curb the party atmosphere, McCubbin said.

“We call our homecoming the first and the finest in the country and said, ‘Look, if we want to be this way, some of the things that have happened in the past can’t happen in the future,’” he said. “We made it clear we didn’t want to present alcohol as our brand and now it’s about as kid-friendly as you can imagine.”

McCubbin said there are still parties in student houses, but none worse than on a regular weekend.

“We’re like any other college—when you’re going to have 30,000 people those things are going to happen.”

Even smaller universities often see revelry surrounding annual Homecoming celebrations.

Bishop’s University in Sherbrooke, Quebec, which has roughly 2,000 full-time students and whose homecoming is also this weekend, has had its share of wild, unsanctioned parties during Frosh Week and Homecoming weekend.

The University has worked hard to rebrand itself in the past few years, Alumni Relations Co-ordinator Matt McBrine said, adding that its small size likely contributed to the relatively quick turnaround.

“Frosh Week and Homecoming were a bit of an issue a number of years ago but I think we’ve cleaned that up,” he said. “The last two or three Homecomings, there hasn’t been too many issues.”

McBrine said there are golf tournaments and dinner receptions for the classes that have been invited to Homecoming, usually for their 20th, 40th and 50th reunions. There’s also a traditional tailgate party before the football game.

A few years ago, he said, students used to drive RVs into the parking lot and pull out couches, alcohol and sound systems to wait for the game.

“It would be a pretty party-ish atmosphere, and glass bottles were an issue,” McBrine said.

Bishop’s introduced a glass-bottle ban and began sending volunteer marshals around to hand out plastic cups. In addition, because Sherbrooke residents used to complain of too much noise and inappropriate music during Homecoming, the University began to feature a live band at the party so students couldn’t bring their own sound systems.

In the weeks leading up to Homecoming, the alumni association puts up tailgate rules on its website and launches a poster campaign asking students to be responsible and respectful over the weekend.

“We try to make sure people understand that they’re only hurting the University by breaking bottles and that sort of thing,” McBrine said.

At the University of Western Ontario, the entire weekend is set up to celebrate alumni, Associate Vice-President (Housing and Ancillary Services) Susan Grindrod said.

“Current students go to the events but really it’s about the alumni, the folks who are coming back to see how the University has changed,” she said.

The weekend begins with a banquet Friday night to honour alumni for their former achievements in athletics and community service.

Saturday’s pre-football game parade, which makes its way through downtown London, is organized entirely by student clubs and the University’s student council.

Students volunteer as parade marshals to ensure attendees and those on the floats behave responsibly.

Grindrod said safety’s a primary concern and the University hires London police officers to patrol student neighbourhoods on weekends from September to the end of October each year. The University doesn’t make special arrangements for Homecoming weekend.

“Any event that’s going to happen on campus has to be scrutinized … and we do all the due diligence anyone would normally do,” she said. “It’s a top concern for us all the time, whether it’s Orientation Week, Homecoming or any event.”

Kate Kurys, a graduate student at Western, has been to Homecoming both there and at Queen’s.

Kurys, who attended Queen’s Homecoming when she was an undergraduate student at Western, said she found the atmosphere very different from that in London.

“At Western, there’s less of a student Ghetto so you don’t see the same kind of house parties and ruckus you see at Queen’s,” she said. “I think that defines Queen’s Homecoming—everybody just kind of wandering the streets.”

She said she feels safer at Western, whose Homecoming is Oct. 2-5 this year, even though police presence is smaller there than at Queen’s.

“Western’s Homecoming is much safer and certainly more contained than Queen’s Homecoming,” she said.

Kurys said she knows many Western students who have driven to Kingston for Homecoming weekend.

“People find the experience at Queen’s a lot different and maybe a lot more fun,” she said. “Queen’s is notorious too, so I think people try to party more to live up to the reputation.”

As an alumnus who returned to Western for graduate studies, Kurys said she appreciates the alumni aspect of Homecoming more than the partying.

“The football game’s pretty neat because on one side you have all the students sitting and on the other side of the field you have the alumni, and they bring their families,” she said. “It’s kind of neat to see their support.”

But while many universities have been working to tone down student partying on Homecoming weekends, some students continue to envy Queen’s for its annual street party.

R.J. Kelford, ArtSci ‘09 at McGill University, wrote an opinion column for the McGill Tribune Sept. 23 berating his classmates for not having as much school spirit as Queen’s students do.

“Expect burning cars and three nights of debauchery and bad decisions,” Kelford wrote of Queen’s Homecoming. “My only question is: ‘Why do we have to go to goat-fucking Kingston for a decent homecoming party?’”

Kelford told the Journal he’s attending Queen’s Homecoming for the first time this year. He said he heard rumours that after last year’s street party, Aberdeen was ankle-deep in broken glass bottles.

“I figured my university career would be an utter failure if I didn’t make it at least once,” he said. “My expectations are really an insane three-day party, debauchery—the whole nine yards.”

But Kelford said he thinks Queen’s Homecoming has a greater value than the party atmosphere. He said McGill administration and student council don’t actively encourage current students to attend alumni events. He said he wants to see more interaction between alumni and students to create a stronger sense of community, something he sees as integral to the Queen’s experience.

“From what I understand, Queen’s looks out for their own; Queen’s grads will hire Queen’s grads, you know,” he said. “That’s not the sort of opportunity we have at McGill at all.”

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