Canada’s Queen’s University, consistently ranked as the second best university in the country, has recently been deprived of another of one of its claims to fame – or infamy. The university’s principal Tom Williams announced on November 18th that Queen’s would no longer host its annual homecoming celebration, amidst protestations against the unoffical student street party that traditionally follows the official homecoming football game (American, of course).
The street party takes place every autumn on Aberdeen St., the main artery of a small neighbourhood known as the “student ghetto” near the leafy campus in the university town of Kingston, Ontario. Thousands of students and alumni from Queen’s crowd the residential area for a night of dancing, yelling, and, most conspicuously, heavy drinking. This year, the Canadian Press (CP) estimated that 8,000 revellers flooded Aberdeen St.: 140 people were arrested at the party and 700 liquour violation tickets were handed out. The party was said to be made up this year by more people not affiliated with the university, most worryingly, high school students. In a province where the drinking age is 19, most first year students, many second years, and no high school students are permitted to drink, and drinking outdoors is strictly illegal, two laws which account for the incredibly high rate of ticketing.
Another factor is the 300 extra police hired specificially to control the event by the Kingston police force, at a cost of 300,000 Canadian dollars, according to the CP. One popular rumour on campus is that no police officer is allowed to take the night of the homecoming Saturday off.
In a letter Prinicipal Williams wrote to the alumni of Queen’s asking them “to make this sacrifice, because I am persuaded that something very precious is at risk: our hard-won reputation.” This is not the first time the street party has made national news.
Canadians were shocked in 2005 when a local resident’s car was flipped over on during the festivities, and photos of Queen’s students jumping and dancing on the overturned vehicle, which was then lit on fire, made the front pages of the nation’s daily newspapers. As this reporter witnessed first-hand, the scanty line of police officers in riot gear at each end of the street could do little to stop the chaos going on right in front of their eyes, and while they stopped people from crossing police lines into the party, I was escorted by a Queen’s student around a house, through a backyard and between two houses, emerging in front of the destroyed car while students threw empty beer cans from the roofs and porches of every house on that stretch of street.
After homecoming in 2005, the Kingston Police threatened to use tear gas and tasers to control crowds the following year, but the 2006 and 2007 Aberdeen Street bashes were mellower: although car-wrecking had quickly become a tradition, no police-crowd clashes were reported.
Predictably, a Facebook group entitled “Don’t Cancel Homecoming” was quickly set up to rally students, although the group had only 1,071 members by the end of last week. The group was set up by Queen’s alumnus Fraser MacDonald, and its mission statement called canceling homecoming “an overreaction to a problem that was on its way to subsiding”, and a “drastic action” taken “probably to please certain special interest groups” which weren’t specified. It also included Principal Williams’ email address and office phone number.
In the discussion being held on the page, one student, Alex Jokic, voiced a common sentiment among Queen’s students that the city of Kingston (whose residents are commonly referred to as “townies” by the students) profits by the huge influx of people during homecoming: “I wonder how the city ACTUALLY feels about its loss of revenue? Last week you couldn’t book a hotel in Kingston for Homecoming weekend 2009. I’m sure every room is/will be available now.”
This is in stark contrast to the community groups, made up of residents who live near the student ghetto of the Queen’s campus, who have protested homecoming in the city council and to the university vigorously.
Some even handed out pamphlets during the first week of term to students and their parents asking them to not to be part of the Aberdeen St. party this year.
But will canceling homecoming – and only for the next two years – get rid of the Aberdeen street party? Says Nick Roberts, a fourth year student at Queen’s: “There are already plans to have the party anyways. It’s just a sense of entitlement that we
can have this party and no one can stop us.”