The weekend in two words: just fine

Our contributor examines the true meaning of Homecoming and the changes since she was at Queen’s

Police patrol Aberdeen St. on Saturday night to keep the Homecoming parties under control.
Police patrol Aberdeen St. on Saturday night to keep the Homecoming parties under control.

Daphne Hendsbee, ArtSci ’13

I first heard about Homecoming and the car flipping incident that led to its cancellation in 2010, when I was in second year and returning from two semesters abroad at the Castle.

That year, some friends and I dropped by Aberdeen St. during the Fauxcoming celebrations and were met with a sea of people, riot police, officers on horseback and patrol cars. There seemed to be officers on every corner and it felt like every student in the city was out between campus and Johnson St.

At its busiest, Aberdeen was chaotic and overwhelming. The next day, it was a mess. In the week that followed, Fauxcoming continued to strain town-gown relations as it drew bad press on both local and national levels.

In a 2010 statement on the University’s decision to suspend Homecoming for another three years, Principal Woolf noted that “the negative national media coverage Queen’s has received over the years related to these events has threatened to undermine their academic accomplishments and community involvement. This issue has also affected our relationship with the city and Kingston residents.”

Somewhat surprisingly, I found myself in agreement with the Principal. We needed to repair our relationship with alumni who missed coming home and the Kingston community where we live. Responsibility for these changes lie with the current students.

Last Saturday’s Homecoming was my first real Homecoming, as the weekend event was cancelled the year before I became a student here. It was the one quintessential Queen’s experience that was lacking in our undergrad years — there was a Fauxcoming weekend every fall in the three years I lived in Kingston, but they always lacked the link to the tradition of an official reunion weekend. As a recent graduate, I came back this past weekend to see friends, watch the football game, revisit places and memories and, like many students and Kingstonians, to see how the weekend would unfold for the first Homecoming in five years. I was hoping for the best: to be proud of my alma mater and to not be embarrassed by its antics.

Despite the mixed reactions I’ve read in regards to the first Homecoming weekend, I think we are well on our way to having it continue for future years.

In my third year, I chose not to participate in Fauxcoming. I didn’t attend the parties and I stayed far from Aberdeen St. The rowdier the Fauxcoming, the longer we would wait for Homecoming to be reinstated. Why would I get involved with an event which consistently earned the school I loved a terrible reputation?

Homecoming was presented to me as a weekend of football and street parties. Missing from this explanation is the fact that the point of Homecoming is exactly that — for alumni to come home.

It’s a weekend for alumni to revisit familiar places from their student days and bond with current students through Queen’s school spirit. While the tradition of Homecoming and the notorious Aberdeen street parties aren’t affiliated, in regards to the University’s image, town-gown relations and public safety, they’re a part of the same package.

A safe weekend on the streets around campus means a successful Homecoming weekend. The current student body knows that this October is its one chance to prove Queen’s can keep the Homecoming tradition alive without it getting out of control.

I was pleasantly surprised by what I saw this weekend — or rather, what I didn’t see. The streets around campus were relatively subdued on Saturday afternoon, both pre- and post-game.

Police presence was visible but not over-the-top. I was both surprised and pleased to see police checks for impaired drivers on Alfred St. and near Richardson Stadium. I was even more impressed with the Aberdeen St. cleanup on Sunday morning.

Homecoming has to be safe and welcoming for everyone: from current students to alumni of all ages to permanent Kingston residents.

Queen’s students are stewards of the neighbourhoods around campus. For those of you who are still at Queen’s, establishing the future of Homecoming can be your legacy.

On the second Homecoming weekend, think of yourself not just as a Queen’s student, but as a resident of Kingston. Treat this city as a place where you want to live, a place you respect — not as a place you quickly pass through while at university. Imagine yourself coming back to Queen’s as an alumnus in four or five years. What do you want to see?

I also urge Mayor Gerretsen to treat Queen’s students as residents of Kingston.

His comments about last weekend on Twitter, which received national attention by the Globe and Mail, served to further alienate Queen’s students and alumni.

The Aberdeen St. gathering was controlled by police and the “aftermath” was cleaned up by students before lunch time the next day.

Should police presence be necessary for crowd control? No, but the relatively incident-free weekend and the cleanup are a step forward from the out-of-control street parties that got Homecoming cancelled in the first place.

I hope that in future years, I’ll be able to come home and meet up with the Class of 2013 as a part of Queen’s-sanctioned events.

I hope the City of Kingston will accept that students are Kingston residents who, in a few years’ time, will be alumni attending Homecomings of their own.

I’m looking forward to celebrating the fifth anniversary of my graduation from Queen’s in a few years. From what I saw this weekend, Homecoming went smoothly. I have four words for you: so far, so good.

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