Bemoaning student behaviour

Long-time Kingston resident discusses desire for Queen’s, city to work together

Mike Wheeler
Mike Wheeler

Why is it that when some young people leave home, mostly for the first time, they behave in ways that would be unacceptable to their parents and to the community in which they have been brought up? This is a dilemma that faces Queen’s University, the Alma Mater Society and the residents of Sydenham District who live near Queen’s and in the student village that surrounds the university.

It is an issue where the board of SWTRA (Sydenham Ward Tenants’ and Ratepayers’ Association) has met on many occasions with Queen’s administration, the AMS and other concerned groups to explore how the impact of a large student body and events such as Frosh Week and the informal events associated with the Homecoming Weekend can be managed without causing unnecessary annoyance and anger to residents living in and sharing the district. It seems that Frosh Week, where the evident aim is to establish the “Queen’s Spirit,” somehow also fosters a pattern of beer drinking and rowdiness in some students. This carries through to the heavy drinking and excessive noise that occur on and around Aberdeen Street during the Homecoming weekend.

Again, why is it that some of the brightest and most intelligent young people have to get drunk to have a good time? We know only a minority of students are involved, but with a large student body and the tightly knit area in and around Queen’s, the impact of those who do party late into the night or come home drunk from the downtown pubs is felt by many more than those who live in the village. For example, I live on Bagot Street and frequently on Friday and Saturday nights between midnight and 2:00 a.m., we are disturbed by loud, well-inebriated students returning to the village. The Queen’s Off-Campus Response Program, a branch of Campus Security that responds to resident complaints against students in the Ghetto, is an excellent service for dealing with the rowdy parties and I must recognize Queen’s for initiating and supporting this program. However, it clearly cannot deal with noisy groups as they straggle their way through the community and back to the village.

Homecoming weekend, where drunkenness has been so severe for some that emergency hospital treatment has been required, is perhaps the worst. The events on Aberdeen Street also act as a Mecca for bringing in students from other universities, colleges and even high schools. Many of these young people have no affiliation with Queen’s and apparently little respect for local property and residents. Inevitably, Queen’s students have been blamed for the disturbances that have occurred on Aberdeen Street, whether or not this is the case, and with the unfortunate effect of damaging the reputation of Queen’s, its students and its Alumni.

SWTRA board members have participated in various committees, formed from residents, Queen’s Administration and AMS representatives, which have tried to develop plans to curtail the excesses of the unofficial and unlicensed events that occur during the Homecoming weekend. Last November, several board members participated in the roundtable meeting held at the Ambassador Hotel, where representatives from all the interested parties were involved. SWTRA took up one idea developed at this meeting and opened joint discussions with the Queen’s administration and the AMS. In the end, the SWTRA plan was not taken up, but it remains on the table for future consideration should alternative arrangements need to be explored.

We now see with some considerable relief that Queen’s administration, under the leadership of Principal Tom Williams, has become much more involved in seeking ways to reduce the problems that arise during Homecoming. We very much hope the plans that Queen’s and the AMS are pursuing this year in collaboration with the City will curtail the Homecoming weekend excesses.

That said, the patience of many residents is exhausted. If things are not greatly improved this year, there will be very strong calls for significant changes.

Perhaps a totally different approach is needed to address the issue of heavy beer drinking and to promote the idea that it is cool and smart not to get drunk. There are other means for establishing bonding, especially as the Frosh join the University community.

To Orientation Week organizers, I would like to draw attention to an approach used at Trent University this year where all first-year students and their professors were invited to read the same book, Joseph Boyden’s Three Day Road, and then to meet in groups with their professors to discuss the book. Apparently it was a big success as an icebreaker for the students. In the Queen’s context, this would add a calming element and, dare I say, an intellectual element to Frosh Week and might help to break the linkage between Frosh Week, partying and Homecoming.

SWTRA is hopeful that the arrangements put in place this year will reduce the noise, rowdiness and drunkenness on Aberdeen Street during Homecoming and many SWTRA members, some of whom are Queen’s Alumni, will again join the teams of blue and red caps to help bring this about.

Whatever happens, SWTRA will be there to participate with the AMS, Queen’s administration and the City to help shape new arrangements for Homecoming.

Mike Wheeler is a past chair of the SWTRA Board of Directors. He has lived in Kingston for over 20 years.

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