What to do about Aberdeen?

In our Sept. 30 issue, the Journal asked students to consider this question in an essay. Here, the contest winners offer their proposals for making future Homecomings safe, respectful and fun

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Educating students to be critical thinkers is key to preventing another unsanctioned Aberdeen Street party, say the members of POLS 856.
Educating students to be critical thinkers is key to preventing another unsanctioned Aberdeen Street party, say the members of POLS 856.
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First place: ‘make students feel that they are essential to the solution’

By Matt Aikins, ArtSci '06

There is a foolproof and easy solution to the Aberdeen Street Party: simply arrange for a torrential, frigid downpour to begin at 8 p.m. on Homecoming and last until 5 a.m. the following morning.

Barring this, however, there are no simple ways of preventing a repeat of the chaos and violence that marred this year’s Homecoming. We learned this lesson last month. Despite a year of preparation and consultation between the AMS, Kingston Police and the University, despite the heavy police presence and the well-attended alternate event, our efforts failed.

Nor should we focus our attentions solely on Aberdeen. For the Street Party is only a symptom of a deeper sickness that afflicts our university: the gulf of mutual understanding and respect that divides students and residents.

One need only to look at one Kingston resident’s recent letter to the Whig-Standard, which detailed how student vandalism and rowdiness eventually forced her family to move from their University Street home, to realize that the problems between students and residents are not confined to one night of the year. The chaos on Aberdeen is only a symptom of an underlying tension, and if we are to be good physicians we must both treat the symptoms and cure the disease.

Before we begin, a word must be said about what will not work.

Firstly, we’ve seen that alternate events cannot, in themselves, solve the problem. They can’t run late enough, they can’t—because of the University’s insurance—accommodate large numbers of out-of-towners, and they won’t solve the problem of those who simply desire lawlessness.

Secondly, in regards to cancelling Homecoming, as Vice-Principal Patrick Deane put it in a Diatribe Magazine interview, “it would be a naïve person who assumes that that would deal with the issue.” Aside from failing to deal with the underlying town-gown problems, and aside from robbing Queen’s alumni of one of their finest traditions, there is no guarantee that such a move would prevent the street party—students may simply schedule their own “Boozecoming” through the same word-of-mouth networking that has drawn so many out-of-towners to previous Homecomings.

Even moving Homecoming to January may trigger such an event, and there’s no question that the snow-clogged streets of wintry Kingston would hamper Homecoming’s official events.

Thirdly, a forceful riot squad crackdown on Aberdeen would be utterly counterproductive. Such a dismal failure of imagination would lead to the very things that we are trying to avoid: injuries, violence, property damage and soured town-gown relations.

These solutions will all fail because they do not engage the creativity and goodwill of the student body. A successful solution must begin and end with the students themselves. With this in mind, let us start with the treatment of the symptom: the Aberdeen Street party.

Due its location in the heart of Ghetto, Aberdeen Street is the natural nexus of student partying and there is thus no way to prevent students from gathering there. Instead of preventing a street riot, we must supplant it with a positive and good-spirited event: a celebration of everything that is unique about Ghetto life, an Aberdeen Festival.

One of the problems this year was that everyone on Aberdeen had nothing to do besides simply revel in the fact that they were doing something illicit. In collaboration with various stakeholders, particularly Aberdeen student-residents, we should organize a series of events that create a fun and carnival-like atmosphere on Aberdeen. Shut down the street to traffic and hold a sidewalk sale during the day. Set up a flatbed that plays music—the amplified voice of an announcer could be helpful in preventing any problems that arise. Hire street performers, shoot off fireworks, and set up free cotton candy and popcorn machines.

The key is to make students feel like they have a stake in the event. Organize a University-sponsored street parade and encourage campus groups and student houses on Aberdeen to enter their own floats—perhaps include the police and fire departments, too.

The positive, carnival atmosphere should continue into the evening. Set up large, temporary streetlights to fully illuminate Aberdeen. Licensing the event is out of the question—the street is too narrow to fence in along its length, and the backyards too porous to make any other fencing effective.

Students will, of course, bring their own booze. Encourage them to avoid bottles—have AMS volunteers on hand with plastic cups. Set up large glass recycling bins to collect bottles.

Tone down the enforcement, have police focus mainly on open beer bottles. Overzealous ticketing was a major cause of student resentment towards the police—perhaps the police could adopt a one-warning system, with officers carrying indelible markers to mark the hands of first-time open-alcohol offenders instead of ticketing them.

All of this must be done in conjunction with a grass-roots education campaign. Hiring a few radio ads is not enough—we need to engage the energies of the students themselves.

Reach out to the many students who feel disillusioned about what happened this year. Start a “Not My Aberdeen” campaign that promotes responsible, mature partying (it doesn’t have to be an oxymoron). Make students feel that they are essential to the solution, and they will be.

This sort of education campaign highlights the bridge between symptom and disease, between treatment and cure. We need to recognize the disconnect that exists between Queen’s and Kingston and seek to bridge that gap. The potential is there—consider the some of the good work that students already do for the community: the Camp Outlook camping trips for disadvantaged youth, the Prison Literacy program, and the Men’s Rugby breast cancer run that raised $13,887. Encourage these groups by setting up a large University grant fund for Queen’s-Kingston relations.

If we have the imagination and the courage to pursue creative solutions we can turn the Aberdeen disaster into an opportunity to renew town-gown relations. In her recent vision for Queen’s, Principal Hitchcock urged us to “engage the world.” The world begins at our doorstep.

Having attended four years of Aberdeen Street Homecoming parties as reveller, reporter, and photographer, Matt Aikins has witnessed Aberdeen’s gradual mutation from beloved street fest into media-fanfare Frankenstein.

Second place: ‘create a sense of ownership among all present’

By Tom Woodhall, Sci '05, ArtSci '06

Creativity and inventiveness, with a [hearty] dose of common sense, are necessary to create a safe and enjoyable Homecoming for students and alumni.

The first step in dissipating the potential dangers and hazards of a Homecoming street party is realizing how important it is to reduce the factors that contribute to the risk. This can be divided into two categories, the first designed to remove the risks and introduce a mild level of sterilization into the event, and the other aimed at re-establishing ownership of the event for Queen’s students and alumni. The overarching objective should be to eliminate the potential for problems using creative solutions, because what has been tried to date has aggravated things rather than helped.

Risk Mitigation

In order to understand risk, logical steps must be undertaken to remove the things that were most risky in the past. It is necessary for the police, the city and the University to remove anything that could easily become problematic for a large crowd. This is best exemplified by the removal of objects such as automobiles from the street before the event. Broken glass has been cited as a serious problem for emergency vehicles and partygoers. Using the example of the Engineering Society’s Municipal Affairs Commission, a bottle drive should be run in conjunction with a plastic-cup effort. This would involve student volunteers located at the area’s intakes (University Avenue, Johnson Street, Earl Street and Division Street), as well as clearly marked volunteers moving around the area, encouraging revellers to pour their beer bottles into free plastic cups.

Bottle deposits should go to charity, encouraging people to give up their bottles rather than throw or smash them. To further remove the risk of smashed glass, small dumpsters should be set up intermittently on the street edge to encourage people to dispose of their glass/cups properly.

In order to ensure that there are avenues of entry for emergency personnel, crowd control barricades (similar to those used at concerts) should be placed on either side of the sidewalk with occasional entranceways to the street. This is modelled on the efforts of the London (UK) Police during a Canada Day street party.

Police should then stand in pairs intermittently along the sidewalk, keeping people moving on the sidewalk and preventing anyone from standing still. The advantage of this is that partiers and loiterers are kept on the street, but the police and emergency technicians can use the sidewalk as clear avenues of entry should they need to be utilized.

The installation of ample and working street lights would help reduce the anonymity of darkness during the event, making it safer and helping police identify culprits of vandalism.

It is important for the police to take a friendly but active role in preventing the situation from becoming unpleasant. This means that they need to accept things such as open alcohol and jaywalking, instead focusing on identifying students who are causing problems by throwing bottles, causing fights or other acts of vandalism. By giving the police room to work, as well as having them positioned throughout the event in order to create a large visible presence, the risk of “bad apples” is drastically reduced.

Establishing Ownership

Queen’s has a strong tradition of pride and self-discipline. These aspects need to be re-established at a Homecoming street party in order to reduce the risk of non-Queen’s students coming for a party in which they have no vested interest. Queen’s students, who live, study and party in the Ghetto area are going to be less likely to cause damage and headaches for themselves, especially after this past year’s “celebration.” A series of small steps will help to create a sense of ownership among all present that it is a “Queen’s” event.

Homecoming is primarily about the alumni, and creating a positive relationship with students. Students are usually less likely to be involved in “mob mentality” activities if there is a clear “parental” presence around.

This would mean that alumni attending their reunion should be casually encouraged to attend the street party, in an attempt to increase the presence of “older” people, and to help mitigate some of the young, invincible attitude which has permeated the event in recent years. This can further be encouraged by having alumni attend many of the pre-football game parties/breakfasts that occur in the student village, where students can further develop a bond with alumni as people who are fun as well as respectful.

The street party itself should be further promoted as a “Queen’s” event. Banners, posters, and decorations around the street party area should scream Queen’s. This endorsement of the event could be further extended by utilizing cheerleaders or the Queen’s Bands at the start of the event to rally students and alumni from the beginning.

Creative methods can be employed to increase the ownership of the event. Currently the street party does not have any provisions for food. The use of street vendors (hotdog carts, etc.) on the surrounding streets can be coupled with a discount for those wearing Queen’s apparel. If this is advertised, or something similar promoting the presence of Queen’s specific items like tams, jackets, or coveralls, it will aid in making those who are not associated with Queen’s feel unwelcome or uncomfortable.

The use of the student-run Judicial Committee is also paramount to creating a sense of ownership. If and when the students who have been found to cause problems at this past Homecoming are brought before JComm and fairly tried, it will help make students aware that they are not young and invincible, but rather are members of the Queen’s and Kingston communities, and are liable for their actions. Students will need to understand that those being irresponsible and problematic will be held accountable for their actions.

By increasing student ownership and responsibility of the event, and using principles of risk mitigation, Homecoming and any ensuing street party can be held in a safe, responsible, and fun manner.

Tom Woodhall was inspired to write this essay because he enjoys parties and residential streets, but hates when the two collide. Also, there was the money.

Third place: ‘learning that supports critical thinking’

By Amee Barber, Karen Diepeveen, Hillary He, Devon Lougheed, Ashlee Nicholson, Emma Saunders-Hastings and Ryan Saxby Hill (The class of POLS 856)

As the Kingston Police Service requests money for Tasers, the student body recovers from its collective hangover, and the University administration sets in motion consultations, reports, and town hall meetings, it is appropriate to contemplate the proper response to the events of Homecoming weekend.

This is a moment of realization for the University. A moment where the fault lines and shortcomings of the University are exposed and the attention of the community should turn to understanding why and how Aberdeen was able to happen.

The modern university has worked to develop linkages with the community in which it operates. For Canadian universities this means linking the university with the capitalist system that supports it.

In her working paper on the future of Queen’s University, Principal Hitchcock reminds us of this function: “In my Installation Address, I articulated a future for Queen’s as ‘ ... an institution embedded in society—deeply committed to basic academic values, yet able to configure itself in ways which are responsive to the society which supports it.’ In short, I called for Queen’s to build on its history of service and become a truly engaged university.”

With her use of the word “yet” to connect these two goals, the principal exposes the crux of the dilemma facing modern educational institutions. How can the university both provide well-grounded education ensuring the production of thinking, considerate, and critical citizens, while maintaining the steady supply of unthinking corporate labour capital to the “society which supports it”?

The events of Homecoming weekend expose the University’s inability to achieve this intricate balance. A focus on “skilling,” rather than true and whole “education,” has left students with an inability to critically assess modes of group control and intimidation, and an unwillingness to assess the implications of their individual and collective actions.

Teaching and learning that supports critical thinking may not be able to appease the corporate wallets that help to build the modern architectural facades of this aesthetically venerable institution, but it could begin to ensure that students understand that they have responsibilities to the societies in which they exist beyond simply ensuring that its shareholders reap the benefits of their education.

Education after Aberdeen must be focused on the prevention of mindless herd behaviour; the University must become a site for the transfer and development of more than simple marketable skills. First and foremost, this will require an actual re-embedding of the value of education into a social context. Tuition forces a university education to conform to the rules and expectations of exchange. Queen’s students procure the opportunity to attend this institution, and consequently, there is an assumption of owner-direction over the purchased commodity. Not surprisingly, when told through University-directed ad campaigns to avoid Aberdeen Street, the student-consumers revolt against the breach of what they perceive as their right-by-purchase.

A shift in how the value of education is conceptualized, which necessarily must begin with the University administration and flow top-down, must place education in a social context. This could be accomplished by engaging students with critical pedagogy; students, provided with strong tools and effective strategies of offering resistance to dominant modes of violent and oppressive social power, would inevitably find more constructive ways to voice concern with authority figures. Certainly, the University must operate competitively in the modern-day capitalist world, and thus some discussion of “world-of-work” skills is appropriate. And yet, there is something in the image of an upturned car that suggests maybe, just maybe, we should cut down on the whole “teamwork” thing. The question may be asked: is education as a preventative tool completely idealistic? Perhaps, although, examining Aberdeen as the product of the current education reveals an almost deterministic power.

The dissemination of an ideal of hardness is built into such timeless traditions as Frosh Week and the initiation practices of varsity sports teams. The school teaches students to be hard-lined consumers, indoctrinates them with the strict rules of market fundamentalism, and then is surprised when there is an attempt to renegotiate the precise rights to which a tuition payment entitles one.

The irony of suggesting that a university should focus on education is certainly not lost on us. Aberdeen was the culmination of many factors, and we certainly do not intend to act as apologists for maniacal student behaviour. For all those directly and indirectly involved—students, administration, the City, the police—education must be separated from the free market and the drive towards capital accumulation, and rejoined with a critical mode of thinking.

The first drive towards this imperative, especially since both the students and the police have proven easily susceptible to hysterical groupthink, must come from the University administration.

It is a maxim of effective writing to “show, not tell.” Perhaps the University should stop telling students that it is, as Principal Hitchcock writes, “embedded in society” and make an effort to provide real systemic change. Consequently, simple statements like “Welcome to Queen’s, new students” could not be interpreted, as they most certainly are now, as “Welcome to Queen’s, new wallets.” Removing the framework of exchange negates any market-rights claims of a student-as-consumer; instead, a critical education would provide students with constructive methods of voicing opinions.

The obvious countermoves to the events on Aberdeen are dominated in equal measure by the logic of hardness (can students handle Tasers?) and the logic of the market (is the University willing to pay for those Tasers?). By reducing the problem to one of testing the endurance of rioters and assessing the strength of their demand for a riot, we risk dismissing moral incentives in favour of electromagnetic ones. The moral incentives that we point to are, as always, susceptible to the charge of idealism, and simple solutions (open our wallets, expel the wrongdoers, move Homecoming to November, cut power to street lamps on Aberdeen) will no doubt retain their appeal. In such situations, the instinct for all parties is to bail themselves out. We merely suggest that in the midst of all this frantic bailing, somebody consider turning off the tap—even if the side-effects include a reduced cash flow.

This essay was inspired by a study of the work of Theodore Adorno. During a seminar on critical theory, members of POLS 856 discovered there was much that this body of work could offer to an understanding of the causes and potential repercussions of the events of Homecoming weekend. This essay is a collaborative work by the members of that course.

The judging panel

• Jennifer MacMillan and Emily Sangster, Journal editors in chief

• Naomi Lutes, AMS municipal affairs commissioner

• Shiva Mayer, AMS VP (university affairs)

• Floyd Patterson, city councillor for Sydenham Ward

• Constable Lester Tang, Kingston Police

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