Mending fences in the Ghetto

Principal’s Task Force unveils 13-point plan to improve student-community relations

After more than six months of research, public consultation and meetings, the Principal’s Task Force on Community Relations has released 13 recommendations to address city-student tensions that came to a head last fall and winter.

The report states the recommendations are “intended to create the conditions for change.”

Highlights include a commitment of the University and student governments to work with Kingston police to improve Homecoming, a review of student-administered non-academic discipline and the provision of more resources to deal with problem drinking among students.

Principal Karen Hitchcock endorsed the report at the Queen’s Community Breakfast, held at the Howard Johnson Hotel, where it was officially released on June 15.

“I’m pleased that students and citizens and members of the Queen’s community have come together and all have a single mind on this,” Hitchcock told reporters. “I’m very hopeful this will bring about real, lasting change.”

The report is largely the University’s response to permanent city residents—especially those living in or near the Ghetto—who voiced strong concerns about off-campus student behaviour, beginning with a meeting organized at the Kingston Frontenac Public Library last November.

The Journal reported that residents complained about “open liquor, public drunkenness, public urination, keg parties, petty vandalism [and] yelling late into the night.”

The Task Force was struck in November to review the full scope of issues related to student life off campus.

Hitchcock said the report’s message to students is two-fold.

“One is students are residents—students here, as every resident, want a wonderfully fulfilling environment for living,” she said. “So a statement to students is that they are part of this, it’s a two-way street.”

It’s also a statement of shared responsibility, Hitchcock added.

“[Students] have to be able to take responsibility for working with their colleagues in peer pressure and in controlling the kinds of behaviours that are there,” she said.

AMS President Ethan Rabidoux took over the AMS’ part in the completion of the report from out-going AMS President Tyler Turnbull, who co-chaired the Task Force with Dean of Student Affairs Bob Crawford.

“As far as defending students goes, there is a lot in this report that is excellent, groundbreaking,” Rabidoux said. “For the report to work, every side has got to be ready to give a little.”

Turnbull said via e-mail that the Task Force realized there was no quick fix to the problem of student-resident tensions.

“It’s important to understand that change is not going to be instant,” he said. “Ensuring that students and the permanent residents can live together [will] take time.”

Hitchcock said the report offers both short-term and long-term strategies to restore community relations.

Immediate solutions include adding resources to Campus Security to assist the city in decreasing noise issues, working with the city to clean up the off-campus area by providing resources for the September move-in period, and developing a plan to combat the illegal activities associated with Homecoming.

Last year 19 arrests made by Kingston police were directly attributable to Homecoming and 35 kegs were seized from one large-scale party.

Hitchcock said Homecoming problems are not unique to Queen’s, but she hopes this year will be different.

“I can’t commit that to you, [but] there will be a heightened awareness of the issues,” she said. “There’s going to be noise, there’s going to be a party, but we want it to be responsibly done.”

Crawford said that many ideas have been tossed around, but there are no answers at this point. “The issue is Aberdeen and what can we put in place,” he said.

Rabidoux said last year’s University financed/AMS-operated alternative event in the JDUC, Crash the Ceilidh, failed because not enough money was spent on the event.

“You’ve got to go big or go home, you can’t tiptoe your way into this and just hope students will come,” he said.

Hitchcock said the University has not yet determined its budget to carry out the recommendations, but the province’s recent financial injection into post-secondary institutions will provide greater flexibility.

“Every dollar you put toward something like this is a dollar not put towards faculty hiring or student programming,” she said. “But we feel this is so important to the overall learning environment of our students, that it’s a meaningful investment.”

Rabidoux said he’s not expecting the fulfillment of recommendations to cost the AMS—or the University—an exorbitant amount of money.

“It’s a question of what is gained versus what is lost, and spending a little bit of money to make sure the situation is better all around will help Queen’s students enormously,” he said. “That’s what the University has got to do.”

Rabidoux said the recommendation to strengthen the mandate of the AMS and SGPS for addressing non-academic discipline puts the system under scrutiny.

The peer-administered discipline system is unique among Canadian universities.

Last year, Rabidoux held the position of Judicial Committee chief prosecutor.

“It’s an issue that we need to be on our toes about,” he said. “While by no means is this antagonistic, it is a clear indicator of what is to come in that it’ll be a non-stop process of making sure [non-academic discipline] stays in the hands of students while making sure simultaneously it’s the best system possible.”

Hitchcock said the University has no plans to change the system, but wants to ensure it’s effective and timely.

“That was a very important recommendation,” she said. “That they look to be sure it’s not broke.”

Crawford said the issue of student safety off-campus—which became a significant issue after student Justin Schwieg was slain in AJ’s Hangar nightclub in March—was not addressed in the report.

“That’s not in any of the Task Force recommendations, no it’s not,” he said. “We talked about it at virtually our last meeting.”

However, he said the Task Force recognized it’s a big issue Queen’s must review, but that review will not take place under the Task Force.

Turnbull said although the recommendations don’t deal specifically with off-campus venues, the Task Force felt the AMS and the University need to discuss the issue at length.

“This could be the focus of an entirely new group and should be so that all measures to prevent another tragedy from occurring are fully taken.”

Rabidoux said the issue is tough to handle, but should have been dealt with in the report.

“Justin Schwieg was a heartbreaking example of the reality that maybe it’s not just the students that are causing the problems in the community,” he said. “It was not an isolated incident as much as we would like to believe ... in the sense that students being threatened or harassed or even beaten up in the Hub area is not getting better.”

He said he hopes the University will apply more pressure to problem areas off-campus to better protect students.

“Maybe it’s a no-brainer thing—they’re going to do that anyway considering we just lost a student,” Rabidoux said.

The report also recommends that the University establish more stringent eligibility standards to advertise on the Queen’s Accommodation Listing Service. Landlords will be required to have their properties inspected to ensure they meet the same standards the University sets for its own rental properties prior to being posted by the service.

The AMS, in conjunction with the city, may also hire and train a student to become a property standards officer, who would act as a liaison between student renters and the city.

“I think students are nervous if they were to actually complain that they might get evicted,” Crawford said. “We think students will be willing to call students.”

Rabidoux said the AMS will hold the University to their commitment to improve the student quality of life off campus.

“With everyone now united in this report, it creates the perfect atmosphere for even more initiatives to raise the standard of student housing off-campus, especially in the Ghetto,” he said, referring to his executive’s own promise to crack down on second-rate landlords.

Rabidoux said he hopes city residents recognize the significance of the report.

“The very fact that Principal Hitchcock and the administration and the AMS even said ... they were ready to do this, to indulge in this Task Force, to listen to the complaints of the residents and at least hear a commitment to make it better, that ought to speak volumes,” he said.

The Task Force received input from representatives of the AMS, Kingston Police and the city, as well as about 60 individuals who made written submissions or a presentation during one of three public consultation meetings in March.

The 36-page report was compiled by a 16-person membership including student government representatives, local alumni and University faculty and staff.

Task Force Recommendations

1. Elevate responsibility and accountability for community relations to a senior portfolio of the University.

2. Create a “Better Community” permanent implementation team to develop multi-year plans aimed at improving the quality of life for both students and permanent residents in the off-campus area.

3. Conduct a full examination by Senate of the systems, responsibility and accountability for the well-being of students and their impact on local neighbourhoods, specifically related to those living off campus, as set out by Queen’s Senate (in Senate Function 11).

4. Strengthen the mandate and resources of AMS and SGPS for addressing non-academic discipline with a focus on off-campus student behaviour.

5. Provide a place for residents to call to quickly resolve noise issues in the off-campus area.

6. Elevate the awareness among students of the Code of Conduct and sanctions for breaches.

7. Direct more University resources toward more effectively dealing with problem drinking among students.

8. Queen’s, the AMS and SGPS must commit to work with Kingston Police to improve Homecoming.

9. In cooperation with the City of Kingston, work to clean up the off-campus, student housing area by identifying the resources needed year-round and specifically during peak times of the year such as move-in (September) and move-out (April).

10. Establish new, more stringent standards for off-campus student housing. Standards must be met to be eligible to advertise on the Queen’s Accommodation Listing Service through Queen’s Apartment & Housing.

11. Create property inspection capabilities at the AMS to work with the City of Kingston Building & Licensing Division to improve inspections of off-campus housing for students.

12. Develop an off-campus housing policy to allow for more active engagement by the university in neighbourhoods surrounding the University.

13. In partnership with the City of Kingston, develop a vision for the off-campus area that includes a broad urban design plan to transform it into a unique residential area.

—To read the full report, visit queensu.ca

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