Students arriving at Dalhousie are expected to learn a lot — and not just in the classroom.
Every September, the university steps up its efforts to educate new and returning students about a number of topics: rules for living in residence, noise- and alcohol-related issues, understanding sexual consent and more.
The goal: creating a safe, welcoming and inclusive environment for all and preventing issues from popping up in the first place.
Dal Security Services, Residence Life (Res Life) and the Halifax Regional Police are among the groups involved in the advocacy efforts across the university this time of year, which include orientation-week talks, online outreach and training sessions for everyone from student leaders to first-year new arrivals.
New to Dal’s initiatives this year is an online module on sexual consent and alcohol harm reduction for students designed by Dalhousie Student Life, the Dalhousie Student Union, and the Human Rights, Equity & Harassment Prevention (HREHP) office.
Melissa MacKay, advisor for harassment prevention and conflict management with HREHP, helped create the content for the module and says it teaches students what to do to prevent and respond to sexual harassment or assault.
“Sexual assault and harassment happens everywhere and it happens here,” says MacKay. “I think we need to be realistic about that and make sure students are aware about the resources and supports that are available.”
The module is a pilot project for this fall, and while it is not mandatory for students at this point, those individuals who complete it — using BlackBoard in Halifax and Brightspace on the Agricultural Campus — are entered into five random draws for $100 gift-card packs. The university is promoting the training tool through student email newsletters, the Class of 2019 Facebook page and in orientation sessions.
Not surprisingly, many of the issues that emerge in the community around back-to-school season relate to alcohol use. The university has been doing its part in recent years to ensure that when it comes to having a good time, alcohol isn’t always the first or only option.
Dalhousie’s Orientation Week has been alcohol-free in its programming for several years now. The Dal After Dark program also continues this fall, which gives students low-cost or free late-night events to go to on Thursday, Friday and Saturday nights throughout the school year. (There are also occasional day-long surfing or hiking trips.) The program is hosting a glow-in-the-dark capture the flag event during orientation week, for example, and a roller derby night later in the term. Students are encouraged to submit their own ideas for Dal After Dark activities, too, and can receive a grant and help from organizers in planning them.
Expanding on the success of the program, Dal’s largest residence, Howe Hall, will also be offering its own selection of alcohol-free activities on Friday nights this year.
When issues with alcohol do come up in residence, Dal’s RAs and residence staff do their best to pinpoint and connect with individuals engaging in potentially risky behaviour. And students who are ticketed for violating alcohol policies may in certain cases be required to attend a workshop that focuses on drinking habits and the safety concerns that can arise from higher-risk drinking behaviours.
“It’s about talking to them about being aware of their limitations, so that when they are travelling around they have their wits about them,” says Lyndsay Anderson, manager of student dispute resolution, who runs the workshops.
Even with all these efforts to keep campus safe, incidents do happen. That’s why Jake MacIssac, community safety officer at Dal Security, has worked hard over the past couple of years to ensure it’s as easy as possible for students and staff to access security services.
MacIssac encourages everyone to download DalSafe, a new mobile app that provides quick access to security services, Tiger Patrol shuttles, the SAFEwalk program on the Agricultural Campus, interactive maps, campus notices, parking info, and many other resources to enhance personal safety.
“We wanted to make it easy to access those services,” says MacIssac.
Read also: Thinking safe this fall
Dal’s security team has also started doing walkthroughs and getting to know students and others in the Dal community in an effort to be more visible and reassuring.
“Our desire is that when people see us they don’t think, ‘Oh my god, what’s wrong?’” explains MacIssac. “What they should say is ‘I’m glad they’re here.’”
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