I came to university to get away from my parents… not to get new ones

Exchange students experience residence as paternalistic and patronizing

Some residence policies that benefit first-year students make less sense for exchange students, Tom Connolly writes.
Some residence policies that benefit first-year students make less sense for exchange students, Tom Connolly writes.

This time last year, when I found out I was going to go on exchange to Queen’s, I was over the moon. I couldn’t wait to head to Canada and experience university in North America. 

That anticipation was well founded — I’ve met amazing people, seen beautiful scenery and experienced things I never could have imagined. The past six months have probably been the most enjoyable of my life.

However, one thing has been bugging me throughout the year: it feels like the University is trying to be my parents. 

I’m from the UK, where you’d think the culture would be very similar — both western, capitalist, English-speaking countries who share the connections afforded by the British Empire. However, that didn’t seem to be the case. 

When I was applying to Queen’s for exchange, I noticed international students could apply to live in residence. When I applied I was told that, if successful, I’d be living in Harkness International Hall along with other exchange and international students. More importantly, Harkness is on the edge of campus and near the University District, where the action seems to happen. 

It turns out Queen’s didn’t want to keep that promise, and we were allocated West Campus, and not even in Phase 1 of Jean Royce Hall. We were even farther: west of west. Not the most welcoming introduction to Canada, but we all took it on the chin — I was here to experience things and this was an experience in itself. 

It wasn’t until a few weeks in that I realized the uni wanted to be mum (yes, it’s mum not mom) and dad. I found the mollycoddling suffocating. 

A few weeks ago, one of my friends was turning 22. She’s from the UK — that means she’s been able to legally drink for the past four years — and, as you would expect, we were celebrating. We decided to have a few drinks at home, before we headed out (in some amazing fancy dress might I add). But apparently we weren’t allowed to have a few quiet drinks together in the common room before going out. This was in a residence house that’s exclusively exchange students, who are all over the legal drinking age, on a floor where everyone was invited. 

When I spoke to dons about how they planned activities for their residents and how they were judged by their management, I was worried. These are students too and it’s not surprising that many of them are stressed from both academics and their “home lives” in residence, which includes patrolling corridors at night.

I accept these responsibilities are something dons take on when they apply for the job, and that they can be a source of support for students. However, it’s my choice to seek out this support, not to have it forced on me. Moreover, dons’ responsibilities to both discipline and support students distances them from students, making it hard to adequately provide either. In my opinion, the role of the don should only encompass support, not being a police officer within the residence.

In my experience, UK universities allow students to be more open about drinking. This which allows them to have at least some supervision, rather than what I’ve seen with the first years in my residence, who hide their drinking and do so in an unsafe way. Teaching that they have to drink away from any sort of supervision is dangerous — it encourages unsafe drinking and that’s good for nobody.

Once you go to university, you’re an adult and you have to take responsibility for the consequences of your actions. The actual punishment that some of my pals were given after my friend’s birthday was to write an essay about how “bad” drinking is. To be fair, some of my friends opted to make educational posters instead. These types of punishments aren’t just paternalistic, they’re frankly patronizing and won’t actually change anyone’s mind about their drinking habits.

Don’t get me wrong, I’ve had the time of my life here at Queen’s and I’m truly thankful for the experiences I’ve had here. But the University is doing its residents a disservice by not allowing them to live the adult life that university is there to prepare them for.

Tom Connolly is a second-year exchange student from the University of Aberdeen in Aberdeen, Scotland.

When commenting, be considerate and respectful of writers and fellow commenters. Try to stay on topic. Spam and comments that are hateful or discriminatory will be deleted. Our full commenting policy can be read here.