Battle lines in the Limestone City

Tensions between students, permanent residents due to lack of understanding, mayor says

Mayor Harvey Rosen says small cities with large student populations face similar tensions between students and permanent residents.
Mayor Harvey Rosen says small cities with large student populations face similar tensions between students and permanent residents.

Penny Tsinaritis has worked closely with Queen’s students for 14 years as owner of Freddie’s Grocery at the corner of William Street and University Avenue.

Although she thinks not all students are irresponsible, she said some go too far sometimes by damaging property.

“The things that their landlords do and things that I do around the store, it’s all for them, but then they destroy it.”

Tsinaritis told the Journal she has had to repeatedly replace equipment stolen and damaged by Queen’s students.

“I’ve lost my vending machine. They’ve tipped them over twice and it just costs too much to repair them. I’ve had benches outside the store, and they got stolen. I’ve put signs outside, and they’ve been torn down. … I know that the other store on the street got [their] flowers destroyed,” she said.

“We try to make it nice for the students, but then there’s that few that kind of wreck it for everyone.

“Now I don’t put anything outside the store because I’m afraid—I know that they’ll get wrecked.”

Tsinaritis said she thinks the divide between students and residents can be attributed to a small number of people.

“There’s quite a few [residents] around who think students are selfish and partiers, they’re rowdy and destroy property. … There’s always a few on both sides to wreck it for everyone.”

Samantha Coutu, ArtSci ’09, thinks students contribute significantly to Kingston’s economy. She said the town’s residents sometimes forget students are the city’s main economic source.

“Without us, residents wouldn’t have much,” she told the Journal.

According to a 2003 study by the Office of Institutional Research and Planning at Queen’s, student spending in Kingston was estimated to be $207.3 million during the 2001-02 fiscal year.

Coutu said students are more of an asset to Kingston than a detriment.

“They can get mistreated by students a lot of the times, but they also make a lot of money off us,” she said.

Another Aberdeen resident, David Tavares, ArtSci ’09, thinks permanent residents view students as outsiders.

“People in the community—like, a lot of the local stores and stuff—cater to students in downtown, so there’s that, like, a good aspect. The other aspect is that people who like live here year ’round see us as outsiders. So we can’t really feel at home.”

Tavares said some students live in Kingston only for attending Queen’s.

“Students are here more for the University. So, they just see it as they’re here for the University, and not for the city.”

Mayor Harvey Rosen said other areas are wrestling with similar lifestyle divisions between students and residents.

“I read a study in Barrie about a student housing area that is experiencing a problem similar to that experienced by Queen’s,” he said.

“[But] in communities like Toronto and Ottawa, the student population is swallowed up in the larger population of the city.”

In cities such as Kingston and Barrie, where the student population represents a larger proportion than in larger cities—close to 20 per cent of the overall Kingston population—the problems have become more obvious.

Rosen said educating both groups through dialogue could become a part of the solution.

“There are things we can do in terms of educating both the resident and students about what the needs of each are, and how to respect those needs.”

The Aberdeen Street party of Homecoming 2005 led to more than 35 arrests and 324 charges for liquor license infractions. A car was flipped over and lit on fire, eliciting heated responses from local residents and garnering national media coverage.

Rosen told the Journal these tensions could be worsened by the lack of understanding among permanent residents.

“The residents don’t care who’s responsible. It’s just a situation that they don’t want to tolerate, and they want stopped.

“Obviously, the target is Queen’s, because [the street party] happened during a Queen’s event.”

Community planning and last year’s toned down Homecoming celebrations could help bridge the gap between students and permanent residents, he said, adding that the co-operation between Kingstonians and the AMS was encouraging.

“I think the last year’s Homecoming, there was a tremendous involvement of locals with the AMS and Queen’s students … although everyone felt it would’ve been better if it did not occur.”

Dean of Student Affairs Jason Laker said student-resident tension between a university and its host community is a fairly common occurrence and can be attributed to one of two reasons.

“One is that students and permanent residents having different lifestyles—and that causes conflicts. Second is universities that are very strong, grow, build things and buy property,” he said.

“That also causes tensions between a university and its host community, because the permanent residents have lived in the city for years. If the university is becoming physically larger, local residents and governments worry about whether that will somehow undermine the social fabric and plans for the community.”

Laker said the reasons behind the relationship between a university and its host city can vary.

“Obviously, no one likes to have tensions between the city and the university. But like in a marriage, the two people have some times of harmony and tension,” he said, adding that some of the negative statements residents make about students are the opinions of the minority.

“Queen’s goes back and forth. For example, Homecoming [in 2005] brought forth a very difficult year in the relationship.”

Christine Schretlen, ArtSci ’08, said her experience with Ghetto life and living in Kingston have had their ups and downs.

Schretlen has been a resident of the student Ghetto for more than two years. Kingston holds both pros and cons in its community structure and livability, she said, and some of the cons come from other students.

“My next door neighbour for two years was an elderly lady who always said hello to me. … She is an example of the positive impressions I have of my neighbourhood,” she said.

“On the other hand, there have been times when I have been disgusted. It’s difficult not to feel that way when … I would go past my neighbour’s well-shoveled sidewalk and nearly step into a frozen puddle of vomit left behind by a weekend party-goer.” Schretlen thinks the “students against townies” attitude is largely fictitious.

She said most students have positive or at least neutral interactions with permanent residents, and many residents in her neighbourhood tend to appreciate or at least accept the student presence.

“Most Kingston residents that I’ve met are as kind and respectful towards me as any other person. The fact that I am a student and they are residents of Kingston is not a consideration in my daily life.”

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