Hashing out Homecoming

Two recent alumni argue the pros and cons of Homecoming’s newest incarnation

Partiers filled Aberdeen Street on Saturday night of the 2008 Homecoming weekend. Police made 105 arrests.
Partiers filled Aberdeen Street on Saturday night of the 2008 Homecoming weekend. Police made 105 arrests.
Credit: 
Journal File Photo
Chris Henderson
Chris Henderson
Christopher Lee
Christopher Lee

Chris Henderson
ArtSci ’02, MPA ’03

Queen’s has a national reputation for attracting some of the best and brightest students. Through my years at Queen’s, I had the pleasure of meeting people who, six short years since graduation, have gone on to accomplish great things. They have become doctors, entertainers, public servants, teachers, lawyers, academics and international aid workers, to name only a few. Their hard work as students, and their accomplishments since their graduation, continue to be a source of inspiration to me.

And it is because of them that I find the ongoing Aberdeen riots to be so embarrassing. Every drunken arrest and violent brawl detracts from their talent and years of hard work. They should be able to recall their time at Queen’s with pride, not have to sheepishly apologize to friends and family once a year as images of the riot squad arresting dozens are broadcast across the country.

The mayhem on Aberdeen also reinforces one of the most negative stereotypes held of Queen’s: the perception that Queen’s students and alumni feel their traditions and sense of greatness exempt them from the basic rules of society while in Kingston. No one should think the Queen’s community holds such a sense of entitlement that they treat the City of Kingston like their own personal frat house, trashing it accordingly.

Rather, the opposite should be true. To be truly great, the entire Queen’s community would find a way to make our society a better place, contributing more than it takes away. All of Kingston should be able to look forward to Homecoming, a time when those who have enjoyed their time at Queen’s can return and reconnect with the city they once called home.

The Aberdeen street party has been building since 2001. Many students have never known a Queen’s Homecoming without an Aberdeen Street party. Seven years later, Queen’s has spent hundreds of thousands of dollars on policing and hosting numerous alternative events to try to divert people away from Aberdeen. Armies of volunteers have been deployed in an attempt to normalize the situation and minimize the mayhem. In spite of these efforts, injuries to Queen’s students have continued to occur.

Whether any tradition is worth these costs is a debate that can be left to another day. One thing is clear, however; the costs of this “tradition” aren’t worth it. It’s time for the Aberdeen Street party to be added to such practices such as hazing, mandatory daily student prayers and the requirement that female students volunteer to darn the socks of male students. All are out-dated traditions that Queen’s had the good sense to set aside.

Calls that the Aberdeen Street party can be eliminated simply with more security, alternative events and minor tinkering to manage it are simply calls for the status quo. Einstein said one definition of insanity is a belief that one can continue to do the same thing over and over, each time expecting a different result. That there continues to be a riot on Aberdeen each year is crazy, our response to it should not be.

It’s time for a plan to eliminate this noxious “tradition.” Rescheduling Homecoming by a few months, for only two years, sounds worth trying to me.

Christopher Lee
ArtSci ’03

Cancelling Homecoming is like throwing out the baby with the bathwater. It will only worsen what is bad and forbid what is good. Cancelling Homecoming eliminates only the positive: alumni events organized by Queen’s. It cancels the year reunions, the alumni parade and the alumni dinner. It cancels the productive events that strengthen affinity for Queen’s.

In contrast, cancelling Homecoming does not stop people from partying in Kingston. Principal Williams himself acknowledges, “Homecoming is not in itself the problem—Homecoming does not cause the Aberdeen Street gathering.” The street party, the event the principal wants to eliminate, will still happen this fall. Facebook groups promoting the event already boast 4,000 members. Principal Williams claims there is no alternative, that an organized and sanctioned event is impossible. Is it?

In cities across Ontario, citizens drink at celebratory events without chaos. Toronto has the Pride Parade, Taste of the Danforth, Caribana and more. Ottawa has Canada Day. Even St. Catharines has Grape and Wine. These cities facilitate events with extra policing, emergency responders and volunteers. They provide special permits to close streets and allow licensed food and beverage venues. At each event some attendees get drunk or high, fight or cause mischief. However, no other city or institution in Ontario cancels events as a result.

Comparing Homecoming to these other events demonstrates that Homecoming, even with the Aberdeen Street party, is not an unprecedented, out-of-control, wild and unsafe party. Students and alumni are understandably frustrated that Queen’s continues to join Kingston in maligning students and refusing to implement reasonable, safe alternatives.

Queen’s and Kingston would better address Aberdeen by providing a safe alternative, perhaps involving a licensed venue or a concert (something beyond cookies and soda pop in the JDUC). They could engage the co-operation and support of students and young alumni by collaborating with year presidents, campus media, student-athletes, residence floors and involved alumni.

Instead, the principal ignored the suggestions of students and alumni, issued a diktat and demanded his words be headed. Beyond a one-page press release, Principal Williams has not released any information demonstrating a need to cancel Homecoming. For every other major decision I’ve seen any university make, lengthy consultations were followed by an even lengthier report. This authoritarian and parental approach will not improve matters. A compromising, conciliatory and collegial approach will. The vast majority of students and alumni want to make Homecoming safer. But students and alumni require co-operation from the city and institution to find mutually acceptable solutions. The principal’s decree will not stop the Aberdeen party. A solution that respects the views and desires of all constituencies will.

A sanctioned event, on Aberdeen or elsewhere, is possible and will make Homecoming safer and more enjoyable. It is unfortunate Queen’s had no desire to compromise or find a moderate solution. I fear a less safe weekend this September because this decision was arrived at and communicated in an autocratic manner. I fear an increasingly disengaged Queen’s community because of the paternal approach of the administration, both towards Homecoming and generally.

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