Queen’s Homecoming is a problem to be managed, not solved

To mitigate street parties, the University needs to reinvest in programming for students

Ariel believes Queen’s should refocus its approach away from policing.

Queen’s has a longstanding history of rowdy Homecoming celebrations.

Every year, it seems as though the university experiences the same routine. The weekend consistently features a shocked mayor, a somber principal condemning street parties, disgruntled neighbours, and disorderly students celebrating in the streets.

Although the student body continues to be freshened with new faces, the pattern is feeling a little worn out.

In fact, the only change in the narrative seems to be the size of the festivities. This year, with ever-increasing student enrollment and an unsatiated appetite for Homecoming celebrations leftover from long lockdowns, the street parties have reached another all-time high.

The intensity of street parties this year shouldn't be surprising.  

To mitigate rowdy street parties, Queen’s should instead invest in deterring students from attending street parties through a greater focus on engaging in-person programming.

My first year at Queen’s coincided with the last year of the four-year suspension of Homecoming between 2008 and 2012. Although "foco" celebrations continued in those intervening years, the street parties returned with a bang in 2013 when Homecoming was officially reintroduced.

You could also consider this year’s celebrations as similar to "foco"of years past, since official Homecoming celebrations continued to take place virtually this year.

This doesn't bode well for what the street parties will look like next year.

Regardless of the length of the suspension, the reputation of Homecoming ensures new students and others outside the Queen’s community conflate the weekend’s celebrations with public parties and hanging out on rooftops. The pandemic helped build anticipation for this year’s festivities, and it's clear the scale of street partying is on a steady upward trend. 

Now, the cries of expulsion are raining down harder than bylaw fines.

Former Kingston mayor and current MP Mark Gerretsen recently argued that increasing student discipline via expulsion is the “only meaningful solution.”

While violent behaviour over Homecoming weekend cannot be tolerated, students who are expelled will simply be replaced by future Homecoming offenders the next year. 

Additionally, expulsion does little to address the number of party-goers with no association with Queen’s. As Mayor Bryan Paterson has noted, Kingston police estimated that “about half of the crowd” from the first weekend of this year’s Homecoming gatherings weren't Queen’s students.

It appears that Queen’s Homecoming has earned the distinction of becoming the last stop on the university town “roadshow” as the mayor put it.    

It’s frustrating that despite larger fines failing to stop even larger street parties, elected Kingston representatives continue to double down on a hardline approach in search of a silver bullet. While this policy may be a deterrent to some, it obviously does not dampen the enthusiasm of those students determined to party on Aberdeen.

It's likely those trekking on the Homecoming roadshow don’t factor in bylaw fines when planning their itineraries, either.

With Homecoming firmly established as a special weekend to party in the minds of students across the province,  there’s no solution to this problem.

Instead, to help mitigate this problem, Queen’s should refocus in its approach to managing student behaviour by offering better programming over Homecoming to its students.

Consider that before the implementation of the ReUnion Street Festival, there was no official Homecoming programming on Saturday nights. The festival was implemented in 2014 to offer students a meaningful chance to celebrate Homecoming with alumni and other members of the Queen’s community.

As a member of AMS leadership at the time, I spent long meetings with university administrators and City of Kingston staff to convince them that it was critical to offer students a compelling choice other than flipping cups in someone’s front yard.

While it didn’t eliminate street parties entirely, the ReUnion Street Festival did serve as a draw for students and even had the endorsement of Kingston politicians and community leaders after they saw the impact  it had on reduced student crowds.

It may currently be unrealistic to host such a large-scale event again on campus while still facing public health restrictions, but students shouldn't have to choose between an unsafe environment in the University District or simply staying at home.

The University has already demonstrated the fiscal capacity to grant $350,000 to the City of Kingston for this year, and this money may be better allocated towards a proactive approach towards tackling student behaviour.

As it stands, writing an annual cheque to the City does not change the underlying factors behind Homecoming’s reputation and doesn't quell Kingston resident’s frustrations and calls for more severe punishment.

From my time as the Municipal Affairs Commissioner at the AMS, there was a notable lack of collaboration between University administrators, City officials and their counterparts from different university towns facing similar problems.

After Mayor Paterson said recently that university towns in Ontario need to work together, it appears this is disappointingly still the case. Perhaps a simple practical solution to the Homecoming party circuit may be scheduling all Ontario university Homecoming festivities to occur on the same weekend.

Regardless of the specific tactics, Queen’s has an obligation to provide a safe and welcoming environment for students, alumni, and Kingston residents during homecoming weekend. The cast of students will change every year, and so the threats of cancellations and expulsions will continually miss their mark.

Whether you are a Kingstonian or an alumnus watching from afar like me, the plot line is getting tired. It's time for a change of direction.

Ariel Agular Gonzalez is a ’98 Queen’s alumni and former AMS Commissioner of Municipal Affairs.

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