As new alcohol policy approaches implementation, student governments push back

In a survey, hundreds of students and faculty challenge policy restrictions

The AMS, the Engineering Society, the Law Students' Society, and the SGPS all oppose proposed changes in the campus alcohol policy.
Credit: 
Journal File Photo

Before the public consultation period ended for Queen’s proposed alcohol policy on Tuesday, the University received overwhelming feedback from multiple student governments and faculties opposing some of its revisions.

Last updated in 2012, the alcohol policy in its proposed state seeks to usher in significant restrictions to on-campus consumption of alcohol, whether it’s at campus drinking establishments or Orientation week events.

While the AMS has had multiple meetings with the alcohol policy subcommittee since taking office in May, the Society submitted a final report to the University on Oct. 8 emphasizing its opposition to several of the changes the policy aims to implement.

Included in the report were statistics from a survey the AMS hosted, seeking input from both students and non-students about the proposed revisions.

The survey garnered more than 2,000 student and faculty responses. Overwhelmingly, respondents criticized the policy’s proposed restrictions to alcohol consumption at campus bars and during Orientation week.

“We found that the results of this survey are consistent with our advocacy to date and reflect our current concerns with the alcohol policy,” AMS President Auston Pierce wrote in a statement to The Journal.

Though more than 2,000 students and non-students participated in the survey, varying numbers answered specific survey questions.

When asked whether respondents would feel less safe an off-campus establishments, 1,333 of 1,838 agreed, while only 461 respondents said they feel safe both on and off campus, and 44 respondents claimed more safety off-campus.

Of the 1,846 participants who answered a question asking whether restrictions to the number of drinks a student can consume at an on-campus pub would be effective in reducing unsafe drinking habits, only 3.90 per cent said yes.

Representing 1,774 participants, 96.10 per cent said the policy would not be effective in reducing unsafe drinking habits.

Regarding advertisements, 2,021 respondents said advertisements associated with on-campus drinking establishments have not pressured them into consuming alcohol, while only 57 respondents said advertisements have pressured them. 

Of 2,024 respondents who answered a question asking whether the sale of alcohol should be banned from Newts and SGPS Orientation week events, 1,828 said no. 

Despite submitting these survey results to the University, Pierce is still concerned the Society’s efforts will be futile. 

“The AMS is still concerned that the University Alcohol Policy does not take into consideration the realities of drinking culture on campus, may promote a dangerous culture around alcohol consumption, will unduly restrict student autonomy, bar some of-age students from consuming alcohol during orientation week, and eliminate important NEWTS orientation week events,” he said. 

Pierce also told The Journal that members of the alcohol policy subcommittee told him they had consulted with graduate faculties and received “the okay” from them on the policy changes.

On Oct. 7, the Law Students’ Society (LSS) published a letter it had submitted to the Alcohol policy working group officially announcing its opposition the draft’s proposed changes. 

Largely criticizing drinking restrictions to Orientation week, the LSS letter also alleged poor consultations between the University and student governments.

“A policy of this significance, that seeks to prohibit some actions in which adult students frequently participate in, should have been consulted in good faith for an extended period,” the letter stated. “The policy subcommittee should have promised a transparent process that could lead to meaningful accommodation.”

After reaching out to the LSS for comment, The Journal was redirected to SGPS President Jeremy Ambraska. 

“My understanding was that we were told this consultation happened, but cannot speak to the level of communication,” he wrote. 

“While the SGPS participated in the [consultation] process, we do not and did not endorse the version of the policy that was put forward for public consultation. We made this position known and look forward to the concerns of students being incorporated into a subsequent version of the policy.”

In a statement to The Journal, Tom Harris, interim provost and vice-principal (Academic) confirmed that the University received the LSS letter. 

“All feedback received by the deadline, including the letter from Queen’s Law Students’ Society, will be considered by the sub-committee of the Alcohol Working Group and provided to the Senior Leadership Team as part of the policy approval process,” he wrote.

Regarding Orientation week restrictions, Harris said graduate student feedback will be considered. 

“We recognize that not everyone will agree with the practice of a dry-orientation week, and feedback was received from graduate students who feel that alcohol should be permitted for sanctioned second-entry orientation programs events.”

Harris added that, for many years, all sanctioned first-entry orientation events have been alcohol-free.

“Orientation is a critical time for new students. To ensure undergraduate and graduate Orientation activities align with the University’s mission as an academic institution, as well as the increased focus on wellness and inclusivity, the draft policy recommends that Queen’s orientation activities are dry and substance free.”

While Harris did not specifically respond to questions about the Law Students’ Society’s allegations of poor consultation, he did emphasize that the alcohol policy subcommittee did host extensive meetings with relevant stakeholders.

“The subcommittee held over 20 meetings with campus stakeholders, including multiple meetings with AMS and SGPS Executives,” he wrote. “Input was also received from the Post-Secondary Education Partnership-Alcohol Harms network and Kingston Public Health.”

The LSS is not the only Society criticizing the alcohol policy’s proposed revisions.

In a statement to The Journal, Delaney Benoit, Engineering Society president, wrote that the Society is concerned about the proposed revisions to the alcohol policy.

“We believe the policy removes students’ autonomy over their personal decisions in on-campus establishments, at sanctioned events, and for the many students in professional and graduate programs, at Orientation week,” she wrote. 

“It does not account for the close proximity of the many bars and clubs that are not regulated by Queen’s, nor does it consider the evidence available on the topic.”

Like the AMS, Benoit said the Engineering Society has voiced these concerns to the alcohol policy committee.

While the community feedback period for the policy has closed, the AMS is set to vote on whether to endorse the policy in its drafted state at the Society’s Oct. 10 assembly meeting.

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