We can do better – Dean of Students on Dalewood street party

For decades, universities have worked to develop productive relationships with the cities and neighbourhoods they call home. In recent years some of these relationships have become strained, as many universities have struggled to prevent massive street parties, most often occurring during Homecoming and St. Patrick’s Day.

Queen’s cancelled its Homecoming a few years ago. Western shifted theirs to later in the fall, hoping inclement weather would cool off party planning. (The response to this strategy was predictable – students chose the earlier weekend anyway and called it “Fake Homecoming”.)

Social media acts as an accelerant on the size of these parties and the speed with which they are formed. Risks to physical safety, damaged property, and strained relationships with neighbours are but a few of the serious impacts that can occur as a result of something that was intended to be “fun.”

For years, McMaster has worked closely with Hamilton Police Services, the City, the neighbourhood associations and the McMaster Students Union (MSU) to enable events like Homecoming to be held while preventing them from getting out of control. McMaster and the MSU pay for additional police and by-law officers during peak party weekends.

We run awareness campaigns and educate students through peer-to-peer communication organized by the MSU’s Student Community Support Network. We meet regularly with Hamilton Police and our own Security Services to develop operational plans and proactively identify likely party hot spots.

This work has helped to prevent the types of massive events that have afflicted other campuses.

That changed on Saturday night when a large group of partygoers occupied part of Dalewood Avenue. Some of those partygoers behaved regrettably, disrespecting our neighbours and our institution in the process. This is especially disheartening because of all the good our students do – the thousands of students who volunteer their time and contribute to our community in a myriad of ways. In just a few hours, some of this goodwill was undone by behaviour that was immature and dangerous.

Our neighbours, our university, and our city deserve better.

So, we have more work to do. Every year we have a new cohort of students who enter the university. Every year we need to work with our partners to re-iterate the commitment and expectation of our students to be positive, contributing members of this community.

We need to strengthen our students’ understanding that they cannot be passive bystanders and that one peer or one event can quickly denigrate all that they have worked hard to build.

We need to continue to work with our community partners to implement measures that enable us to better identify and minimize the size of parties before they become too big. We are dedicated to the education of our students, fostering good relationships with our neighbours and to the safety of all.

Working with police, the city, and our students, we are committed to reviewing all available information on this event and to addressing the circumstances that led to the party on Dalewood so that we can have a respectful and inclusive neighbourhood that all of us are proud to call home.

Sean Van Koughnett – AVP and Dean of Students