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A Community Effort – Creating conditions for a safer alcohol culture

Guest blog by Cathy Edwards, Chair of the Greater Kingston Area Safe & Sober Community Alliance Post-Secondary Work Group

Community partners are working together to mitigate the impact of excessive drinking this coming weekend in an effort to keep both students and community members safe. The traditional celebration of St. Patrick’s Day has become synonymous with parades, parties, and all things green. A major part of the celebration is the drinking culture, with social norms and traditions around St. Patrick’s Day affecting how alcohol is viewed and how it is consumed.

While traditions can play a huge role in how, when, and why people drink, what else influences the culture of alcohol use in a community? There are a number of environmental conditions that play a role including how readily available and accessible alcohol is, alcohol advertising and promotion, campus and local alcohol policies, and enforcement of alcohol laws.

Research demonstrates the value and need to bring campuses and communities together to change the environmental conditions that promote heavy alcohol consumption.[1],[2] As a member of the national Post Secondary Education Partnership on Alcohol Harms (PEP-AH), Queen’s University has expressed its commitment to implementing evidence-based actions to reduce alcohol-related harms, and recognizes that helping shape the off-campus environment in which students live, work and play is an essential component of a multi-faceted strategy to support student health and safety.

So, what does the off-campus environment look like? The targeted marketing and promotion of alcohol, including drink specials to students, is common practice. And with more than half of all licensed establishments in the City of Kingston clustered within 1.5 km or a 15-minute walk of Queen’s University campus, the near-campus environment is one in which alcohol is easily accessible and available. We know that the density of alcohol outlets plays a major role in over consumption, and related problems.[3]

In addition to heightened enforcement, offering training to bars to help create safer drinking environments, and educating students and the public around safe drinking practices, what else can be done to minimize the impact alcohol has on our community? Are we ready to consider and act on the role cheap drink specials, targeted marketing and alcohol outlet density are having on consumption?

Whether it is public intoxication, alcohol poisoning, vandalism, violence, sexual assault, or impaired driving, preventing alcohol-related harms requires a community effort. We must continue to work together to look at better ways to address community alcohol problems.

In the months since Homecoming-related street parties impacted near-campus neighbourhoods and local emergency rooms, community partners including Queen’s, the City, health and emergency services have been working together to examine a plethora of initiatives intended to provide additional enforcement tools and incentives to curb out-of-control parties. The City’s new nuisance-party bylaw is one such tool; it promises to provide stiff fines to those hosting parties that put themselves or others at risk. The partners continue to examine other tools and practices as part of efforts to dissuade harmful or dangerous behaviours.

A key element in the equation is how we can create conditions that support more positive and responsible choices about alcohol. It is crucial that as a community we engage and empower those who choose to drink to value safe drinking. At the same time, it is important for us to look at the broader environment and engage the community if we are ever going to change the drinking culture.

The Safe & Sober Community Alliance Post-Secondary Work Group partners include Queen’s University, St Lawrence College, CFB Kingston, Addictions & Mental Health Services-KFLA, Sexual Assault Centre Kingston, Kingston: Partners for a Safe Community, Kingston General Hospital, KFL&A Public Health, Alcohol & Gaming Commission of Ontario (AGCO), and Kingston Police.

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[1] Wechsler, Henry and Nelson, Toben F., Harvard School of Public Health. “What We Have Learned from the Harvard School of Public Health College Alcohol Study: Focusing Attention on College Student Alcohol Consumption and the Environmental Conditions that Promote It”, Journal of Studies on Alcohol and Drugs, July 2008.  http://www.hsph.harvard.edu/cas/What-We-Learned-08.pdf

[2] https://www.nih.gov/news-events/news-releases/colleges-communities-can-reduce-alcohol-related-harm-students  July 2012 accessed on August 14, 2017.

[3] Ontario Public Health Association. Issue Series: Alcohol Outlet Density; June 2017.

The future is interdisciplinary

(This was originally published in The Hill Times on November 3, 2017 and carried by Universities Canada)

Given the complexity of social, political, environmental, economic and technological challenges facing the world, interdisciplinary research is very quickly becoming something no country can do without.

In the past 20 years, interdisciplinary research—studies involving researchers from multiple academic disciplines—has gone from ‘nice to have’ to ‘need to have.’ Today, given the complexity of social, political, environmental, economic and technological challenges facing the world, it is very quickly becoming something no country can do without.

Canada has the skills, talent and capacity to be an international leader in research and innovation. Seizing that opportunity will require concerted effort and unequivocal government support for interdisciplinary as well as traditional discipline-based research. This was recognized by last spring’s federally commissioned Fundamental Science Review, which included a clear call for greater support for research across disciplines. The authors of that document acknowledged research councils have made efforts in this area, but that more must be done to encourage multidisciplinary research.

Why, exactly? Because it exposes specialists in one area to other perspectives and ways of thinking, challenging received truths and spurring creativity and innovation. In many ways, academic disciplines are like houses, and with disciplinary research nearly everything happens “at home.” I personally like to get out of my own house from time to time, talk to other people, and encounter new perspectives.

In research, this “getting out of the house” has become essential because the problems to be confronted spill across borders, cultural divides and fields of knowledge. Take climate change. It’s not just an environmental issue: it has enormous economic and social implications. How can we possibly take on the challenge of modulating climate change without dealing with the impact of environmental change on local communities and Indigenous peoples?

Technology is another case in point. The rise of the ‘Internet of Things’ and advancement of artificial intelligence both present questions we’ve never had to ask before—questions that are not just of a technical nature but also ethical, legal and sociological.

In all these cases, “interdisciplinary” means not just across the hard sciences but the social sciences as well. To focus only on science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) is to leave a huge amount of intellectual capacity on the table. This is something that someone like Steve Jobs, for example, understood intuitively. It was the combination of engineering excellence and insight into how people interact that made Apple the company it is today.

The value of social science research is not always easy to quantify, though its absence is keenly felt. This was the case with the rollout of the HPV vaccine a few years ago. Some social science research to understand how the public might perceive the vaccine before it was unveiled could have strengthened communications around the launch—and prevented resistance from parents based on unfounded concerns that it would promote teenage promiscuity.

Some areas of research already employ an interdisciplinary approach regularly. It’s easy to find health science labs with biochemists, biologists, pharmacologists and other specialists working shoulder to shoulder. This needs to be broadened.

Interdisciplinary research is something we prioritize at Queen’s, from our degree program in neuroscience to our centres and institutes that bring together faculty from across departments. Our Dunin-Deshpande Queen’s Innovation Centre (DDQIC), which forms teams of young entrepreneurs from diverse disciplines, is testament to the strength of cross-disciplinary research. It was the incubator for Spectra Plasmonics, an entrepreneurial student project that won first prize at an international pitch competition in Singapore this year, beating 35 international teams.

So what needs to happen for Canada to see and support more interdisciplinary research? First, governments at all levels need to fund it. The bodies that administer that funding need to make sure they don’t impose conditions that serve as impediments to interdisciplinary research, effectively administering people back into the corners of their departments, or allow research projects to fall between the gaps.

Within academia, we have an opportunity to think about ways of forging new connections among disciplines, creating the structures to do this kind of work.

We are at the point today where we have to decide how we want to tackle the future. Greg Bavington, the executive director of DDQIC, often asks, “What kind of hockey team would you have if you had all the best goalies in the world—and no one else?” It takes a well-rounded team to achieve a common goal.

The future will be full of challenge and opportunity—most of which we cannot now predict. Rapid technological advances, geo-political challenges and climate change will test our ability to react and navigate. It is through interdisciplinary research teams that we will be best able to respond to these changes, to innovate, seize new opportunities and improve quality of life—both at home and abroad.

Cultural Appropriations Have Lasting Harm

It has come to my attention that plans are underway to organize a party known as “Beerfest” at an off-campus house. The history of this “annual” event is not a proud one; already numerous students who feel upset, scared and unsafe have contacted me to express their concerns.

Last year, participants wore costumes that consisted of unacceptable cultural appropriations, and through their actions alienated groups on campus or otherwise caused members of our community to feel belittled or uncomfortable.

It is clear from the language used by the organizers that they have failed to appreciate the lasting harm and the negative impacts this specific event had on others – particularly on racialized members of our community. The evident lack of empathy and judgement of the organizers (and any participants) is alarming and disappointing.

Clearly, some students fail to appreciate that our society has changed and progressed; people expect better of students, and rightly are less tolerant of insulting and hurtful behaviours towards others. We have seen and can expect more outrage from the community when students engage in unacceptable behaviours.

Queen’s strives to be a diverse and inclusive community. Any event that degrades, mocks or marginalizes a group or groups of people flies in the face of our shared values and is completely unacceptable. I am grateful that so many students, staff and faculty on campus share this belief and have had the courage to raise their concerns.

To any students who may be feeling negatively affected or in need of help, the university stands with you. I encourage you to speak to someone if you feel you need support. To those who have not yet learned to respect others, I hope you know we are paying close attention.

Keep Homecoming Safe and Respectful

With Homecoming only days away, I invite you to participate in one of the many inclusive activities intended for the enjoyment of alumni and students alike. I also ask you to join me in encouraging everyone to demonstrate safe, respectful behaviour and good judgement throughout the weekend. Homecoming is a special event for Queen’s – it holds a unique place in the hearts of Queen’s students and alumni – and we all want this year’s Homecoming to be a success.

Please take time this weekend to welcome and help honour our returning alumni. Perhaps ask them to share some of their stories and memories that will have brought them back to campus. Join in activities such as Gaels games, tours, open houses, panels, and the ReUnion Street festival; these are all great opportunities for students to meet and greet returning members of the Queen’s family, who continue to cherish and support our university.

Safety for everyone is a paramount concern. Poor citizenship or irresponsible and unsafe behaviours can negatively affect peers and members of our Kingston community – so please consider the impact of your actions on others. For example, large street gatherings that block roadways, or taking up hospital spaces and resources with what could be preventable issues, divert emergency services away from urgent needs in the community. No one wants to see that happen.

During Homecoming, you are ambassadors for and representatives of Queen’s. The University expects you to set and follow a high standard of positive, community-minded behaviour, on and off campus, and ask that you, in turn, expect the same of your peers and of visitors. Have fun, but adhere to the Student Code of Conduct, and respect local laws and community standards. Misconduct can result in fines, charges, and referral to the university’s Non Academic Misconduct system.

In preparation for this year’s celebrations, Queen’s and the Alma Mater Society have made great efforts to promote student health and safety with the intent of reducing the number of student-related incidents involving city, public safety and healthcare resources.

Activities and services in place include Residence Life’s third annual Homecoming (HOCO) 101 – an opportunity for students in residences to learn about Homecoming, to prepare some spirit items for the weekend, and to receive reminders of safe drinking practices. There are also alternative evening activities, extended dining hall hours, water and snack distribution, additional capacity in the Campus Observation Room, additional AMS Walkhome staff and Dons on duty, and a host of other events to provide options to students, and promote personal safety. Students finding themselves in distress or needing support are encouraged to access all of the services available to help.

The Alma Mater Society executive and the Student Maintenance and Resource Team (SMART) will conduct a neighbourhood cleanup early Sunday morning. Please make the team’s work light by disposing of your trash properly and keeping the surrounding areas tidy.

Enjoy Homecoming, and please help me to encourage everyone to keep it a safe, respectful and inclusive event enjoyed this year and for years to come.

Culture, Heritage, and Dialogue: My Experience in Canada’s North

Guest author Justine Aman (ArtSci’18) writes about her experience with Global Vision’s Arctic Youth Ambassador Caucus in Iqaluit. Her trip was sponsored in part by the Principal’s Student Initiatives Fund.

With exams looming and the end of the semester imminent, it is with a grateful and slightly stressed out heart that I am writing about an incredible experience I had the opportunity to partake in. For a week this past March, I took part in Global Vision’s Arctic Youth Ambassador Caucus in Iqaluit, Nunavut, a mission which brings together 50 Canadian youth leaders (25 from the North and 25 from Southern Canada). Global Vision (GV) is a national not-for-profit charitable organization, founded in 1991 by former Member of Parliament, Terry Clifford. GV has organized this Caucus every year since 2010 with the purpose of fostering a dialogue on the unique issues faced by Canada’s North. The roundtable topics this year included food security, health care, environment, poverty, and education.

Even though temperatures averaged -50 C, the passion and intelligence of the youth leaders was enough to warm your soul (even if your ears remained frozen). Conversations were engaging and insightful, with members of Nunavut’s government as well as Elders and community leaders all participating with the goal of furthering awareness, sharing experiences, and promoting knowledge. Eight-five per cent of Nunavut’s population is Indigenous and many of the most northern points of Canada have a majority Indigenous population. Because of these demographics, the Indigenous and non-Indigenous participants in the Caucus emphasized the importance of culturally appropriate solutions. The open and supportive environment allowed for constant dialogue and exchange of ideas. At the same time, we made connections and developed friendships with some of the most incredible people, who, without this program, would have remained strangers.

Although the Caucus had clear overall goals, GV encouraged its ambassadors to identify individual areas of interest, allowing for a personalized experience with relevant take-aways. For me, as a third-year sociology student, I integrated my interest of population health and health-care quality to expand my knowledge of these topics within the context of Northern Canada. It was a first-hand look at Canada’s North and the role that social and physical determinants play in determining the health of Canada’s most northern populations. While there, I took the opportunity to observe and educate myself about some of the barriers and enablers impacting the addressment of the HIV/AIDS epidemic among Indigenous peoples. I drew upon these observations to supplement a final project, in which I created a health-care intervention program that addressed these factors through the collaboration of Western medical techniques and traditional Indigenous medicine.

As you can imagine, a program that can break down geographical barriers within our own country to create cross-Canada dialogue costs a lot more than your average exam snack haul. I have been, and continue to be, absolutely blown away by the generosity of individuals, various community groups, and Queen’s University that made this dream a reality. Departmental support and the Principal’s Student Initiatives Fund are just a few of the many ways that Queen’s supports its students and, without which, I would have been unable to participate in this program. I have brought back the knowledge and experience I gained during my time in Nunavut and have prepared presentations for various community groups – all to keep the conversation going. I cannot wait to see where the future takes me and how I can continue to use this experience to strengthen North-South dialogue and to encourage youth to become community leaders.

Cha Gheill,

Justine Aman (Artsci’18)