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A police officer escorts a reveller at the 2007 Queen's homecoming party, in Kingston, Ont. (Mark Bergin/The Canadian Press/Mark Bergin/The Canadian Press)
A police officer escorts a reveller at the 2007 Queen's homecoming party, in Kingston, Ont. (Mark Bergin/The Canadian Press/Mark Bergin/The Canadian Press)

Queen's cancels Homecoming for three more years Add to ...

Queen's University is known for academics and a remarkable sense of spirit, but it has struggled recently to shed a perception that it is also a hub for over-the-top partying.

Even after Queen's cancelled its famed Homecoming celebrations the past two years, illegal street parties continued, as did the keen attention paid to them, prompting the school's principal to scratch the event from the calendar for three more years.

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The announcement Tuesday was met with widespread disappointment, but several students said they understand the need to curb the thousands-strong Aberdeen street parties, which have been the flashpoint for Homecoming controversy, to keep revellers safe and protect the school's good name.

Concerns about carousing on Kingston's Aberdeen Street came to a head in 2005 when partiers flipped and burned a car in a crowd of thousands, a few of whom also reportedly threw beer bottles at police officers. With the city spending upwards of $200,000 to police the party and clean up its debris, "town-gown" tensions flared each year over what some saw as a "riot."

"Frankly, I think the community's getting tired of this annual discussion, and I wanted to send a very clear signal that this party must stop," said Queen's principal Daniel Woolf.

Homecoming has been synonymous with street parties since the 1970s, but they swelled in the last decade as word of mouth attracted people with no allegiance to Queen's. The nights got rowdier, and many students now agree the Aberdeen tradition isn't worth fighting for.

"Most students, from what I've heard so far, understand that it's a safety issue," said Safiah Chowdhury, president of the Alma Mater Society, the school's main student association.

Robbyn Walsh, an alumnus who witnessed the 2005 debacle, disagrees with a further three-year ban. After graduating last spring, she returned in September for "Fauxcoming," the unsanctioned remnants of Homecoming, but found "nothing was going on" on Aberdeen - proof in her mind that it's time to try again.

A statement from Queen's estimated 1,500 to 2,000 partiers still took to the streets, leading to 95 arrests. That's an encouraging decline from earlier years, but hardly sufficient, Dr. Woolf said.

But Ms. Walsh also saw students begin to pull back from the larger drinking events as they became uncomfortable with the way outsiders looked at them.

"A lot of students talked about our degrees going down in value," she said. "You don't want to talk to someone and say, 'I went to Queen's,' and [have]that foremost in their mind - that we had the riot."

For decades, Queen's has combatted hard partying with education and alternative events. Those efforts came under extra scrutiny in September after first-year student Cameron Bruce died during frosh week, which is typically peppered with alcohol-soaked gatherings. It is still unclear what led to Mr. Bruce's death, or if alcohol was involved.

"It's just [a matter of]enhancing some of the educational strategies we've discovered," said John Pierce, Queen's associate vice-principal and dean of student affairs. "On-campus dry events send a strong message. ... I think we're making some progress there, definitely."

Fifth-year student David Cook is disappointed that Homecoming won't be back any time soon, but also adamant that Queen's had to wash away the stain of Aberdeen bashes on what he thinks is otherwise a largely sensible student body.

"From the sense I have of friends at other universities, I don't think the drinking culture or partying atmosphere is much different at Queen's than it is at any other university," he said.

Queen's is betting that after five years without a Homecoming, and once students with memories of Aberdeen have moved on, the public will share his opinion.

Follow on Twitter: @jembradshaw

 

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