Symposium seeks Aberdeen’s roots

Jennifer Holub, AMS social issues commissioner, said respect is a key Homecoming issue.
Jennifer Holub, AMS social issues commissioner, said respect is a key Homecoming issue.
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In the first public attempt to understand the causes and events surrounding the unsanctioned Aberdeen Street party Sept. 24, professors and students came together on a panel Wednesday evening to voice their thoughts.

“Don’t cancel Homecoming, move it to January,” said Sociology Professor Vincent Sacco, offering a solution to attendees.

The seven-speaker symposium, held in Ellis Auditorium, was organized by Samantha King, a professor in the faculty of Physical Education and Health.

“The events of Aberdeen should not be blamed on a singular cause such as beer or over-policing, but instead the analyzing of the historically entrenched social and economic forces that shape the Queen’s community and Kingston as a whole [should occur],” King said in an introductory address to the audience.

The symposium was attended by residents and students, as well as Principal Karen Hitchcock, Vice Principal (Academic) Patrick Deane and a Kingston Police officer.

Sacco, whose research interests include crime and deviance, said two aspects of the current public debate over Homecoming stood out to him.

“I think that so much of the discussion seems to be fueled by anger, finger-pointing, and partial viewpoints that I am afraid jeopardize a truly useful understanding of the issues,” he said.

The second aspect was the degree to which arguments were taking place in an empirical void, he said.

“Many who offer commentary don’t seem to know about or care about the events of Aberdeen,” he said.

He added he didn’t think the events on Aberdeen were unique or characteristic of the student body, and that participants were not controlled by a mob mentality. Calling Aberdeen a “celebratory riot,” he said the most common activity for people involved is to stand around.

“The problem neither starts at Queen’s nor ends at Queen’s,” he said. “Most [of the] serious infractions are committed by a small number of people.”

Using greater police force as a solution the next time a problem erupts is not a good idea, Sacco said.

“If we find ourselves using these measures, it seems to me that we have failed,” he said.

Sacco said other preventative options could include making parents more aware of events like Aberdeen, using plastic cups instead of glass bottles, and changing the weekend to a colder, less popular month for outdoor parties.

AMS Social Issues Commissioner Jennifer Holub, another panelist, said she felt masculinity on Aberdeen was a major cause of the night’s escalation.

“Masculinity [is] referring to all sorts of power,” she said. “[In this instance, the term is] not a gender-specific term, but rather a power-specific term.”

Holub said the most influential forms of power that evening were illicit control—represented by the police monitoring the event—and retaliatory control, represented by the crowd.

She said although she has seen the Aberdeen Street party grow in size over her four years at Queen’s, she observed something fundamentally different about this year’s event from past years.

“I couldn’t help but notice the overwhelming police presence,” she said.

Holub said the solution to the problem came down to an issue of respect.

“I think we have lost sight of what respect means for one another, and I think that it is crucial that we recognize how very important it is to restore that very element in the least.”

Bob Oliver, a PhD candidate and professor in the geography department, said the problems that occurred on Aberdeen are not new to Queen’s.

“The Aberdeen Street party happens to be our most recent example of uncontrollable thoughtless behaviour,” he said.

Oliver cited examples from past decades, including the 1999 highway-sign fiasco in which crude student-made billboard signs were posted along Highway 401.

He said he thinks the link between campus and community needed to be placed under investigation.

The campus is bordered in the east by a park, the south by the lake, the west by homeowners and the north by the Ghetto which is seen as a transitional space between Queen’s and Kingston, he said.

“[The] student ghetto becomes a source of friction because it is permeable.”

Oliver said the two important questions he thinks need attention are the definition of campus space, and the line should be drawn in applying the University Code of Conduct.

Naomi Lutes, AMS municipal affairs commissioner, told the audience the “Queen’s bubble,” an inward-looking attitude many students have, increases tensions in town-gown relations and is a contributing factor in the escalation of Aberdeen.

“We need to be a part of this community from day one,” she said.

Lutes said living in off-campus housing is an important way students participate in the Kingston community, but the quality of housing is not acceptable.

“If students can’t take pride in their housing, they lack the foundation to take pride in their neighbourhood,” she said. “We [need to] work together to improve living in order to close the gap between the reality and ideals of off-campus housing at this school.”

Jack Smith, a PhD candidate with the Faculty of Education, said students’ own sense of entitlement provoked the events of that evening.

“I think it is a manifestation, if not [of] Queen’s culture, [then] a manifestation of universities like Queen’s, who in this era of excellence, the discourse of excellence pervades universities,” he said.

He also said this attitude of entitlement was encouraged and supported by the University community.

Jon Thompson, an MA candidate and co-editor of Golden Words, said an evaluation of race and class should also be taken into account in thinking about the Aberdeen incident.

He said instances where race became a focal point of the evening include a photograph published in the Toronto Star and Whig-Standard of black KCVI student Zola Mehlomakulu, standing alone on the overturned car, and reports in local media that students rushed the streets that night yelling “Fuck the Police,” a phrase taken from NWA’s 1988 rap album, Straight Out of Compton.

“Most Queen’s students aren’t straight out of Compton,” he said. “What makes privileged, outstanding academic students behave this way?”

Thompson said it’s important to match privilege with social obligation—something he believes is overlooked at this University.

“We were told we were going to become the leaders of tomorrow,” he said. “We weren’t told what the social obligations were.”

Thompson said the University community has a responsibility to shift the way it thinks and addresses issues, and more articulation needs to occur from the top.

“We need the administration, faculty, and students all working together,” he said.

SGPS VP (Internal) Toby Moorsom, the symposium’s final panelist, said the University’s history of non-academic discipline enshrines privilege for students.

“I understand that non-academic discipline [functions] as a supplement to the civil court system,” he said. “[But I believe that,] in practice, we have a public police force that is unwilling to charge Queen’s students … . In the University, we have a board of trustees and a senate that is nervous to make statements about students.”

He said he believes the University won’t let faculty or teaching assistants accuse students of plagiarism for fear of being sued by their wealthy, influential parents.

“It is time, however, that we remove some of these privileges by abolishing [the] non-academic disciplinary process that protects Queen’s students, and work to ensure our public police force is as accountable and responsible to all citizens equally.”

Thompson told the audience those individuals who attended the symposium were involved and wanted to see a solution.

“[But] if a solution was simple, we would already have it,” he said.

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