Fall Homecoming

This is the text of a statement I’ve just released on fall Homecoming:

Two years ago, then-Principal Tom Williams suspended Queen’s Homecoming because of the risks, associated with the Aberdeen street event, to students, alumni, members of the Kingston community and to the university.

Principal Williams indicated his decision was not an easy one and today, I am announcing another difficult decision – that in my judgment, based on the continued occurrence of an illegal street party on Aberdeen Street,  it is regrettably necessary to suspend fall Homecoming for a further three years.

As an alumnus who has enjoyed Homecoming in past years, I have been obliged to take this decision with some reluctance but with no doubt that it is the correct one for Queen’s at this juncture. I would personally like to see Homecoming’s return to the autumn in the future.  In order to do so, I must be satisfied that the cycle of annual street gatherings has truly been broken.

Since Homecoming was suspended two years ago, there has been some progress, and to those who have stayed away – thank you. The crowds have been smaller, there have been no serious injuries, and there have been fewer arrests and charges laid against students and alumni. Still, despite the leadership and encouragement of the AMS, SGPS and Queen’s University Alumni Association (QUAA), disappointingly large numbers of individuals have gathered around Aberdeen Street. This year, there were 1,500-2,000 on the streets – most appear to have been connected to Queen’s – and 95 arrests and 255 charges laid.

The Chief of Police has said more time is needed and there remains a high risk to student, alumni and city resident safety. I share this concern and in reaching this decision, the safety of students, alumni and community members was paramount.

I have also considered the impact on the university’s reputation locally and across the country. The vast majority of Queen’s students are responsible and civic-minded and contribute positively to the life of this community and the university. However, the negative national media coverage Queen’s has received over the years related to these events has threatened to undermine their academic accomplishments and community involvement. This issue has also affected our relationship with the city and Kingston residents. We cannot permit this to continue.

I remain concerned that if the University’s homecoming is reinstated next fall, not enough time will have passed to truly break the cycle. The potential consequences of the return of dangerous street gatherings far outweigh those of delaying the return of Homecoming for another few years. I will reassess my decision in late 2013, based on the diminution, and I hope complete disappearance, of dangerous street parties and a continued safe and respectful environment for our students and the community.

Once again: as an alumnus, I recognize that the absence of fall Homecoming for a few more years may be an enormous disappointment to my fellow alumni as well as to students — the overwhelming majority of whom have not been responsible for the problem. However, I ask you all to set this disappointment aside in the interests of the university, the safety of our students, and our relations with our Kingston neighbours.

Finally, I want to indicate in advance my conviction that when fall Homecoming eventually returns, it must be moved to coincide with the last home football game of the season in October, and cooler weather. This is consistent with its calendar placement up until a few years ago. It is significant that the Aberdeen street party problem coincides with an earlier move from October into late September.

In the meantime, Spring Reunion and Mini-U will continue and I look forward to welcoming alumni back to campus for these special events.

I welcome your feedback at principal@queensu.ca

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