HOMECOMING 2013: A Q&A with Vice-Principal (Advancement) Tom Harris
Why is Homecoming being reinstated this year?
Homecoming is a unique and special event for Queen’s and for alumni who, as members of the Queen’s family, see Homecoming as a kind of family reunion. The decision to bring it back, however, wasn’t one that the Principal made lightly, as I’m sure we all remember why it was suspended in the first place. It has taken extensive consultations with students and key members of our community, including Kingston Police, city by-law officials, Kingston Fire & Rescue and city council in order to reintroduce it this fall. A marked improvement in student behavior when gathering informally in recent years has also given us the confidence to proceed, but safety will be of paramount importance.
Why is Homecoming being held over two weekends this year?
The decision to host Homecoming over two weekends came about as a result of our community consultations. In terms of safety, the professional advice was that holding it over two weekends would reduce the number of alumni returning to Kingston at one time, thereby lessening the demands on community resources, including security and emergency services.
How concerned are you about unsafe behaviour or unsanctioned gatherings?
Certainly, our greatest concern around Homecoming will be to ensure that the event is safe and that everyone behaves respectfully. It’s important to understand that on any typical fall weekend, students are out in the streets near campus, the vast majority of them having fun and behaving responsibly. We will continue to encourage Queen’s students to make responsible decisions and we will expect them to be respectful of both their community and the law – as we would at any time of the year, not just for Homecoming. Our students are young adults, and we do expect them to take responsibility for their own behaviour. We also hope that students, community members and visitors will remember that this event is primarily for alumni celebrating a milestone reunion year, and that young alumni will help set the tone. We all want to see Homecoming live on for years to come, but the principal has been clear that can only happen if it is a safe and respectful celebration of the spirit that makes Queen’s unique.
What distinguishes this Homecoming celebration from years past?
The new vision for Homecoming aims to be much more inclusive than the event has ever been in the past. It’s not just about alumni and students – it is also about connecting them with the Kingston community. ‘Queen’s Gives Back’, for example, is an event that will pair students and alumni to collect donations for the Partners in Mission Food Bank, while a scavenger hunt will lead participants through both campus and the city. This year we also have an unprecedented number of home athletic events scheduled on both weekends, so fans can cheer on the Gaels in a variety of sports. There will be lots to do: a full list is available on the Homecoming website.
What about the idea of hosting a sanctioned, licensed event on the Queen’s campus as part of the celebration?
As I mentioned before, it’s important to understand that students gathering on Aberdeen Street is commonplace in the school term - that in itself isn’t necessarily a cause for concern. That is important to remember because it helps put Homecoming in context.
Long before we decided to reinstate Homecoming, students have been expressing their interest in and commitment to the event’s return, and we’ve been very encouraged by that. We have worked closely with the AMS executive and other student groups to plan this year’s event. One idea put forward was that we host a large, sanctioned, licensed event on campus that would involve street closures. We gave this idea serious consideration, and sought out expert advice and held a formal Request for Proposals to see whether such an event might be feasible or somehow mitigate the risk of unsanctioned activity. Our conclusion was that there wasn’t enough evidence to suggest such an event would mitigate risk.
What are you hoping the reinstatement of Homecoming will mean for Queen’s?
Homecoming is about more than returning alumni and events for students. It is about celebrating the spirit that makes Queen’s so unique. What I hope this year is that the four main groups involved – alumni, students, Queen’s community members and Kingston community members – come together to celebrate Queen’s, and make memories that they will have for years to come. It’s incredible to think that the students participating in Homecoming events this year will return 25 years from now as alumni, and the cycle will carry on and on. We all have a vested interesting in making that vision a reality.