To the ills that we endure, one must now add discussions of Queen’s Homecoming. For no topic has attracted attention from local residents since at least the last time the Golden Gaels won the Vanier Cup. With the bona fide riot of 2005, fueled and celebrated by students, townies, and outsiders from everywhere who flocked to Aberdeen Street to find out what was “going on,” the local ivory tower assumed its place not just atop Maclean’s academic pinnacle, but—much more fun—at the apex of North American party schools.
Like the weather, everybody talks about Homecoming, but no one does anything about it. It’s a perennial bone upon which Queen’s student government, principal’s office and upper administration, the mayor and city council, and, of course, the police chief and department gnaw. And this is the short list of interested parties. The din produced by discussion of the event—along with concomitant demonization and finger-pointing—now approaches that of the cacophony of Homecoming itself.
It’s time to consider a new track to ameliorate this portentous problem, an approach that takes into consideration all the good and ill will on all sides, in addition to the political eunuchry (yes, you can look it up—it won’t be there) that prevents tough decisions being made. Given what’s gone down in the recent past, Kingston’s finest are now on retainer to the university for the Homecoming, abetted, it seems, by the OPP and local military police.
This standoff recently produced what happens at Queen’s and in Canada generally when a scandal or “big thing” prove intractable. Committees and Blue Ribbon Commissions, respectively emerge to demonstrate the seriousness of the problem. Meetings occur and recommendations emanate. Then, often as not, the issues are forgotten and we move on to the next scandal or "big thing”.
Few observers wish to be so bold as to don the mantle of a prophet and think large thoughts about the problem. In the past couple of years, several good ideas have emerged from collective thinking, including the “red hat brigade,” the replacing of beer bottles (they break—we know this from the detritus of Thursday night partying through the year) by plastic cups, the on-site presence of the local constabulary, city big-wigs, and university chieftains, and, not least, the reportage of local press, which treated Homecoming as comparable to historic uprisings like those in places like Watts, Newark, and Detroit.
Yellow journalism, after all, sells papers and provides one of the few instances where events in Kingston reach Stirling, Tamworth, and, yes, Chatham. Rupert Murdoch does not yet own the Whig-Standard, but at times during the build-up and aftermath of the Aberdeen Street party, one would not know it. So the worse things look, the more worrisome the prospects, the more edifying the post-mortems, the fact remains that the only person whose suggestions made any sense whatsoever in the aftermath of Homecoming 2005 was honoured by all sides in their neglect. Professor Vince Sacco of Queen’s Sociology Department remains a prophet without honour and his sane proposals made during a public meeting now more than two years ago still stand as reasonable and possible.
This is not the time or place, however, to analyze the reasonable. Homecoming times, to quote American upstart in the 1770s, Tom Paine, are the times “that try men’s souls.” So we must bring the debate to a higher level, one that allows new insights, however problematic, to gain hearing and touch those souls.
Return with us now to those thrilling days of yesteryear, even before the 1770s, in this case 1729 when Dean Jonathan Swift penned his “A Modest Proposal.” Three years earlier Swift became known for Gulliver’s Travels, which carried a good part of his tongue in cheek. The essay that followed brought the rest of the tongue and cheek along for good measure. For the good Dean argued that amidst famine and want, the Irish eat their own offspring. A fine example of verbal judo, Swift’s piece showed that he had spent much time on the issue, especially England’s policy elite’s unwillingness to imbue the Irish with any semblance of humanity.
So let’s purloin Swift’s arsenal—his essay was far longer than this will be—and get at the big question surrounding Homecoming, which remains: What to do?
The answer should be clear to any and all rocket scientists who’ve thought about Queen’s Homecoming and the disgusting behaviours that accompany it. First, we recognize that a party is a party and that Queen’s students have excelled at partying over the last century and one-half. Last time we checked under Founder’s Rock, we detected an empty bottle of Sleeman’s. So ingrained is the party habit, in fact, that Applied Science alumni threatened this fall to withhold contributions to the university unless the powers restored the Clark Hall liquor license, earlier suspended.
That story ran adjacent to another, detailing how parties on all sides of Homecoming were tearing their hair. So let’s admit that the Journal does not know, or will not admit, how confirmed the alcoholic habit is among Queen’s students. I’ve been around here for thirty-eight years now, and I’ve seen my share of excess produced by the demon rum and mighty mead. When I lived directly east of Queen’s campus, students ridded themselves of all manner of vital fluids and solids in the backyard. I recall a memorable evening when an engineer jumped over the fence to relieve himself, the latest in a long number, and I told my golden retriever Tuborg, The Dog, to take his trousers all the way down and hold them down.
That was fun, especially for the dog. We had no more night visitors. But that’s not the point. What matters is what the kids do when they’re drunk, when they’re bingeing, when they’re congregating in groups. This is probably the key point to all this—alcohol is here to stay; it’s shown its staying power over the years as a fun drug. If I had my way, I’d ask City Council and the Academic Senate to distribute marijuana to one and all before homecoming—few would be awake for Aberdeen Street, let alone the football game, when students in any event suddenly disappear at half time.
Where are they going? “Duh,” as Homer Simpson might say.
So, what to do? Clearly the time has come, indeed, long passed, to stop admitting white males to the university. The presence of this specie clearly provides the vanguard in the march to the bottle, and it would take only official recognition of long-standing longitudinal studies that show Queen’s is becoming female to get rid of the alcoholic ringleaders altogether.
Mayor Harvey Rosen recently called for less “growth” of the university in Kingston, and more “diffusion”. Rosen is dead on target, but his suggestion is a milquetoast. Moving the engineers to Belleville, and Commerce to Cornwall might be steps in the right direction, but these initiatives do not hit the problem head on.
No, a sure-fire way to bring the shenanigans to an end would be to cease admitting white males to Queen’s for a decade. White males, after all, lead all cultures at the university, and the alcoholic culture is at the forefront of this list. Studies show that white boys drink, coerce females to drink, and figure centrally in all the news that’s bad in Homecoming’s aftermath.
A few feminist friends have seen this truth. When the U.S. announced in 1969 that it had “put a man on the moon,” one added, “why can’t they put all of the men on the moon.”
That’s unfair, of course. But at Queen’s, in AD 2007, the time has come to put a plug on the basic cause of drinking excess at the university—white male students. I shall predict here that if the university shows the courage necessary to implementing this proposal, drinking rates and partying excesses will decline accordingly.
After a decade of denying white male entrance (come now, the boys have earned it), Kingstonians will have a hard time remembering Aberdeen. They’ll think of the old country and western song instead, or a street bordering the new Student Centre.
Geoff Smith partied a lot when he was young and believes, therefore, that his jaundiced view of the behaviours of young white males has great merit.
This article appeared in the Kingston Whig-Standard on 30 November 2007