Stop the bad press about Queen’s students

Negative headlines won’t foster a healthy relationship between students and locals.

Emily Clare believes students are part of the solution, not the problem.
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Being a student in 2020 has come with its fair share of added stresses.

When COVID-19 forced many universities, including Queen’s, into predominantly remote learning, it caused a major shift in the experiences of many students. Eight months of public scrutiny regarding the behaviour of Queen’s students isn’t making anything easier.
Even if the discomfort of Kingston locals is justifiable given the stress of the pandemic, a constant focus on the students’ mistakes, rather than their successes, only serves to widen the divide between the town and the students.

Making headlines is old news for Queen’s students. Maclean’s magazine once deemed Queen’s “a notorious party school” and in 2016, the school was subject to national criticisms after photos of a racist party held by students circulated online. 

In February of 2020, right in the early stages of the COVID-19 outbreak, Queen’s students were once again in the spotlight after hosting a virus-themed party and posting photos with insensitive captions—ultimately leading to the resignation of a student trustee who attended the party.

The history of partying and insensitivity displayed by Queen’s students has created a stereotype associated with the school. Many Kingston locals regularly express their distaste for the institution’s pupils online, often referring to them as spoiled and disrespectful.

Unfortunately for many students, the negative headlines ignore those who are practicing social distancing and working hard for their education during this global pandemic. There is a fine line between reporting and feeding into a narrative. By fueling the public with eye-catching headlines that shame Queen’s students rather than celebrate their successes, the press will be responsible for the separation between the city of Kingston and Queen’s University.

With its beautiful landscapes, gorgeous architecture, and vibrant community, Kingston is undeniably a great place to study. Integration into Kingston itself is a core part of the Queen’s experience. It is the public’s right to voice their concerns, however, they must ensure this city remains a safe space for Queen’s students.

In September, about 2,300 students were invited to live in the university’s residences by Queen’s administration despite all undergraduate classes being shifted online. Many of these young students left their hometowns to study in a new and unfamiliar city. Since then, the handful of students living on campus who have tested positive for the COVID-19 virus have been accused of being self-centered and behaving irresponsibly.

These standards of criticism should be upheld for all members of the community and not just Queen’s students. Accountability is crucial to maintaining a healthy relationship between students and the city. Headlines that focus solely on the errors of students are hypocritical and imply they are the only ones at fault during this pandemic.

The impact of these headlines on students cannot be ignored. Living away from family during a pandemic is challenging enough without being publicly shamed. Many members of the public, often eager to judge the students for reckless behaviour, seem to forget that we are all humans, too.

It must also be understood that many Queen’s students are not represented by the stereotypes created by the press. Rather than partying, lots of students are working hard to adjust to an online learning platform while struggling to pay their unadjusted tuition fees. During this particularly difficult year of study, some empathy from the public would
go a long way.

It’s the responsibility of the University’s administration to ensure they create an environment on campus that’s safe and sustainable for both students and Kingston locals. In turn, students have a responsibility to follow the rules and mitigate the spread of COVID-19.

Unlike many Canadian cities, Kingston has maintained a green community status for a number of weeks based on its relatively low number of active COVID-19 cases. The majority of students have adjusted their lives to respect the guidelines, which includes a decline in parties. Most students refrained from in-person gatherings on Homecoming weekend, with many opting for COVID-friendly virtual celebrations instead. Unfortunately, these successes seemingly went unnoticed by the general public as negative headlines have persisted.

Positive headlines celebrating the successes of the students will encourage the continuance of good behaviour and reinforce a sense of belonging to those living in Kingston. In the long term, this will also allow students to build a relationship with the beautiful city while permitting a safe and healthy environment for everyone.

The overgeneralization of Queen’s students must end. The Kingston and Queen’s communities need each other now more than ever.

 

Emily Clare is a fifth-year Arts & Science student. 

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