After a massive street party in a Halifax neighbourhood that saw thousands of rowdy students crowding streets and engaging in drunken antics, some are questioning a Dalhousie University policy that prevents students from partying in their residences instead.
The party on Saturday violated COVID-19 protocols and led to several injuries and arrests, as well as damage to property around Jennings and Larch streets.
“I don’t think there’s any excuse for the student behaviour that went too far and was definitely a clear show of irresponsible decision-making. It was not a representation of the true values of our student body,” said Madeleine Stinson, president of the Dalhousie Student Union, in an interview Tuesday.
“But at the same time, I think it was predictable and preventable and that we could’ve taken steps to mitigate the impacts.”
She said students had been talking about organizing off-campus homecoming parties weeks before it happened, and said the school could have re-examined some of its on-campus policies “to make sure we weren’t driving students off campus and into communities.”
One of those policies is the prohibition of possessing alcohol and cannabis in residences, which was put in place during COVID-19 to discourage large gatherings.
For students who are underage and can’t drink in their rooms or at bars, those determined to drink will find other means of doing so, said Stinson.
“They’re going to find other places to go. And the second-closest place is a residential neighbourhood right next door,” she said.
It’s a view also held by Halifax councillor Waye Mason, who said the pandemic has created pent-up frustrations for thousands of students who have been unable to participate in university activities for nearly two years.
He said if students want to have a party, they have to go into the surrounding community instead.
“What I hear in the neighbourhood is a dry campus means a wet neighbourhood,” he told Global News Morning on Monday. “I think Dalhousie has to reconsider that.”
Tackling drinking culture
Verity Turpin, assistant vice-provost of student affairs (acting) at Dalhousie University, said the school is “extremely disappointed” about what transpired on Saturday.
She said as soon as the school learned of the planned party, they asked students not to attend. Turpin said they are currently gathering information to process complaints under Dalhousie’s code of conduct.
Turpin said there are clear health and safety mandates due to COVID-19 and the aim of the policy to not drink in residences was to prevent those rules from being broken.
“We can’t hold students responsible and accountable for meeting very specific rules around COVID and taking health measures, when at the same time we allow them to consume alcohol and substances that would impair their judgement and their ability to meet those rules,” she said.
“There is no question that when we enter Phase 5 (of the reopening plan), the university will be looking to expand on the existing programming for students, and also work with our student union to make sure that that programming meets our students’ needs.”
Turpin clarified that while alcohol is restricted in residences, there is nothing prohibiting alcohol service on campus and bars from remaining open for students who are of legal drinking age. About 80 per cent of people in residence are underage, she said.
Meanwhile, she said the school is working with other institutions across the country to address student drinking culture, which she described as a “prevalent problem” among post-secondary schools.
While she said there is a focus at Dalhousie on harm reduction programming and ensuring students don’t feel pressured to drink, addressing the issue of drinking culture in schools will take time and effort.
“This problem, this challenge is complex, and no one solution will fix it,” she said.
Lisa Lachance, the MLA for Halifax-Citadel-Sable Island, agrees with the idea of focusing on harm reduction and fighting against the culture of drinking.
But one part of harm reduction is to have a safe space for people to engage in these behaviours, said Lachance.
Pushing students away from drinking on campus “also pushes students away from supports and from folks who are keeping an eye on them,” they said, noting that sexual assault remains a big issue on university campuses.
“Being in a safe, controlled environment where people know you, where there are other people who are, in fact, paid to keep an eye on you, those are all really helpful factors.”
Lachance said they, along with Mason, are in conversations with the school and the community to figure out ways to move forward.