Servicing the students

Kingston professionals weigh in on students, town-gown animosity and stereotypes that go both ways

The sight of a taxicab waiting on University Ave. besides the JDUC is a familiar one for Queen’s students.
The sight of a taxicab waiting on University Ave. besides the JDUC is a familiar one for Queen’s students.
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Photo: 

Kingston is home to about 117,000 people, a little less than ten times the Queen’s student population. While Queen’s students spend the better part of their years of study in this town, to many it would seem odd to call it their own.

We’re greeted every day by cafeteria workers, cashiers, bus drivers and others who identify as locals. But for some, the notion of being Kingstonian seems separate from being a student.

The “townie” moniker has always bothered me. I view it as both demeaning to individuals who inhabit this city and exemplary of the Queen’s bubble’s seal from all things non-Queen’s in Kingston.

I decided to seek out the individuals who deal with students every day, serving us food, driving us home drunk and swiping our student cards, to see how they perceive us. Are we studious squatters in the eyes of the Kingston public, valuable contributors to the lifeblood of this city or something worse?

Anthony Caddick has worked at the popular student eatery Pita Grill on Princess St. for the past nine years. He said he notices a difference in how students treat him based on the faculty and their year of study.

“Obviously engineering students are a little bit more rowdy than, say, commerce students. ArtSci students, English majors, philosophy, things like that tend to be a lot more laid-back,” he said. “Generally, the smaller the numbers, the easier they are to deal with. The more there are the tougher it gets. That’s the same with anybody.”

Students’ varying maturity levels is also a factor, Caddick said, adding he can get a good feel for a students’ attitude just by their demeanor.

“The further they are in the program, the smarter they are, the less likely they are to cause problems. You can just tell by the attitude of the students,” he said.

Most students are very friendly towards the Pita Grill staff, Caddick said. Their regulars will often stop to chat about how they’re doing in school and on their exams. There are some bad apples, though.

“Occasionally some of them will be a little bit snooty, talk down to you, things like that. But you just go with it. I’ve been in this city a long time so I’m used to that type of attitude,” he said, adding that he’s lived in Kingston for over 20 years.

Caddick said both students and longtime Kingston natives have misconceptions about each other, which generates some animosity.

“People that live in the city have an attitude towards Queen’s students that’s somewhat influenced by a couple of stupid students,” he said. “Like Homecoming, for example. I mean, you get a bunch of students that act like idiots and then all of them are pictured that way, which isn’t really fair. So you know both sides have to change their attitudes to make it work a little bit better. But I don’t think it’s that bad, or any worse than any other university town.”

Blair Littlefield works in Leonard Cafeteria and has been a Sodexo employee since 2007. She said although most students are a pleasure to see every day, enforcing the cafeteria rules has been an issue.

“There are some students that are great; they’re awesome to have come in—we love to see them come in when they do. There are other students that can be really rude if they don’t get what they want. And we do have general rules set down that they have to follow and some just don’t want to follow them,” Littlefield said.

One of the main rules that is often breached is that you can’t bring food out of the cafeteria. Littlefield said students constantly try to leave the cafeteria with food and get angry when they’re told off by Sodexo workers. Spats can also occur when students try to hand off their cards to other people and use photo I.D. to come in.

Littlefield said students tend to be less tidy and more brash during big parties like St. Patrick’s Day and Homecoming, which she attributes to the increase in drinking.

The cafeteria has a rule that they can’t let in students who are obviously intoxicated. Students also frequently leave their trays and break salt shakers, which generates waste and unnecessary mess.

As Littlefield recounts this, dozens of students hand off their cards for her to swipe. With the most genuine of smiles, she hands the students’ cards back and wishes them a good night. She said students will often pause to talk to her.

“A lot of the students are really courteous,” she said. “They’ll stand and have a conversation with you for a couple minutes.”

Turning to cab drivers, the ambassadors for those who deal with students’ debauchery, the image of students is also fairly positive.

Murray Gilmour has been driving a taxi for 10 years. He said students can be a nuisance when they drink, but for the most part he hasn’t experienced major problems.

“You might find the odd one that’s intoxicated or whatever, but generally they’re pretty good,” he said, adding that when the OAC program was eliminated he was expecting more incidents of rudeness from the younger crowd.

“Actually I’m kind of impressed with them,” he said. “I was expecting a little bit of immaturity.”

Jeff Bolton, who’s driven a cab in Kingston for nine years, said the first few weeks of the semester are tougher as first-year students are adjusting to their new surroundings. Rudeness peaks around frosh week and then dies down, he said, adding that it doesn’t come from Queen’s students any more than other people.

“You’re going to have that no matter what,” he said. “It could be from RMC; it could be from Queen’s; it could be from St. Lawrence College; it could be someone from out of town—anybody. I mean, this is a service industry.”

Bolton said although Queen’s has a somewhat negative image in the Kingston community, he thinks it’s unjustified. He said Homecoming in particular has been bad for students’ image.

“I find most of the negative image associated with Homecoming is people that have no association with Kingston or Queen’s,” he said. “And I find these are the trouble-makers that are causing a negative image of Kingston and with Queen’s itself.”

Joan Jones, co-ordinator of town-gown relations at Queen’s, said Kingstonians’ perception of students depends on how much student interaction they’ve experienced, adding that most of the negativity is based on hearsay rather than actual encounters with students.

“Just like students tend to generalize [about] Kingstonians, Kingstonians tend to generalize [about] students based on a story that they’ve read in the Whig or a story that they’ve heard happened to a friend,” Jones said. “I think that most people really do like students.”

Jones said Kingstonians tend to have more problems with students than service workers because they’re the ones facing noise complaints and litter around their neighbourhoods. Most families don’t want to live close to the student areas, so many schools are at risk of being closed, a problem for people with children living downtown.

Jones said most people in the community see tangible benefits to Kingston’s student presence in the amount of shops and restaurants downtown, but some feel students overlook the beauty and history of the city.

“Students tend to generalize and be sort of skeptical of anybody that comes from Kingston, and make those sweeping general comments of ‘Why would they want to live here?’ kind of thing,” she said. “When I hear students say that I go, ‘Well, why did you come here?’”

Jones said the divide between the University and Kingstonians is diminishing with time. She said downtown used to have bars that were clearly characterized as “townie” and others designated for students, but that this is less common today.

“Downtown isn’t really set up that way any longer. It’s definitely integrated,” she said.

Jones said it’s easy for the community to get disillusioned with the constant turnover of students and to jump to conclusions over a few bad incidents. In order to improve relations between students and the outside community, she said it’s imperative those who know the students share their positive experiences with them.

“I think people always have to tell the good stories,” she said. “I think we have to remember all the great things that students do.”

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