President's Corner is a regular column from President Deep Saini.
Dear Dal Community,
The new academic year is well underway, and the return to in-person operations — while largely positive — has not been without its challenges here at Dalhousie and across the country.
Among such challenges are the unsanctioned street parties taking place near universities across Canada (and, indeed, North America) this fall, including in the neighbourhood surrounding Dalhousie’s Studley Campus. These massive illegal gatherings have hurt relationships between universities and neighbours, added unnecessary pressure to emergency services at a time when they are already overburdened, and caused damage to private and public property. In many cases, they have also happened in direct contravention of public health requirements meant to help manage the fourth wave of COVID-19.
Read also: Update on university response to unsanctioned street parties (Oct. 7)
Of course — and it is commendable — the majority of students choose not to attend these parties, and not all who participate are in fact university students. Nevertheless, this has become a complex problem that universities, civic authorities and communities must reckon with. At Dalhousie, we recognize that we must do more, in partnership with students and other stakeholders, to proactively discourage these gatherings, create alternate programming for students to socialize and celebrate safely, and strengthen collaboration with our partners across the city to respond if events like these do occur.
All of us, perhaps especially young adults, have made great sacrifices to get to where we are today. This cohort of students has been uniquely impacted by the pandemic, missing out on important rites of passage like graduation ceremonies, life in residence, moving away from home, and gaining vital independence. However, behaviour that results in excessive drinking and public intoxication, personal injury, damage to property, makes neighbours feel unsafe, and puts stress on emergency services already at their limit is not a rite of passage — nor is it a right in any sense. It is not victimless. Most importantly, as we have seen in news headlines across the country, it puts everyone’s health and safety at risk.
One of the key features of our new strategic plan is its focus on civic engagement. This includes pursuing our global mission and ambitions with constant attention to our responsibility to play a role in the economic and social well-being and development of our communities. Co-opting the university’s name and colours for an unsanctioned event that actually does harm to our local community seriously undermines the shared aspirations that we are working towards as a university.
This is salient as we approach our fall Convocation season and celebrate our students’ achievements and this well-deserved milestone. Our greatest source of pride at Dalhousie is our graduates, who are globally minded citizens who make countless positive contributions in their communities here in Nova Scotia and around the world.
A university experience has always been about learning within and outside the classroom, a time for experimentation and growth, but there are negative aspects of university culture that students and administrators alike continue to work diligently to end. There is no question that unsanctioned and destructive street parties are a problematic phenomenon and part of a harmful student drinking culture that extends well beyond Dalhousie. Our challenge now, is how we can work together — students, universities, civic authorities, and community partners — to cultivate new traditions that are more in line with our shared values. This is important work, and finding solutions will require our ongoing collaboration and commitment.