Earlier this year, Dalhousie initiated a new collaborative process to address the complex issue of street parties and high-risk party culture by engaging directly with students, community members, and other partners.
The goal of this process is to deepen collaboration and foster socially innovative approaches. To help guide this work, Dalhousie tapped into the expertise of Inspiring Communities, an independent not-for-profit facilitator based in Nova Scotia that builds collaborative relationships for social change in Atlantic Canada. Their team leads collective impact frameworks in several communities across the region where they engage with community to identify shared priorities of focus and to convene residents, community organizations, government, and business around these priorities.
The process began with a literature review, media and social media scan, and a neighbourhood survey. The next step involved interviews with internal and external stakeholders and several Dalhousie neighbourhood residents. All of this work led to a two-day Community Strategies Lab in late June.
A shared neighbourhood
Kristian Curran, a Dalhousie alum and one of the neighbours who attended the summer session, says he values having students as part of the shared community but has been concerned about large, unsanctioned street parties.
“The event hosted by Dalhousie University and Inspiring Communities allowed students and community members to discuss issues of mutual interest,” says Curran. “The session was respectful, well-organized, and identified many important issues that impact the daily lives of those students and community members connected to the university and adjacent neighbourhoods. This is the first step in what is to be a productive and positive dialogue, with the betterment of our community for all in mind.”
Another neighbour, Caitlin Lees, left the event feeling hopeful.
“Inspiring Communities provided a much-needed forum for students and community members to address common concerns and discuss how best to move forward, together, despite the mutual challenges presented by party culture,” she says. “I am optimistic that with collaboration, community members and students alike will enjoy a more positive neighbourhood experience.”
The path ahead
While Dalhousie staff supported and created capacity for this process, Inspiring Communities has produced an independent report that includes the following high-level recommendations for moving forward:
- Continue (and formalize) the collective impact process
- Improve ongoing communication with all stakeholders
- Provide new and expanded alternatives to draw some energy from Big Parties
- Engage the academic community at Dalhousie and peer universities in solution-building
- Leverage position to advocate for change among other stakeholders
- Practical & Tactical Suggestions (for mitigating risks and impacts)
“We embrace the recommendations from Inspiring Communities and look forward to ongoing, collaborative, and constructive efforts with key partners to address the growing issue of unsanctioned street gatherings, which are occurring in campus communities across Canada,” says Rick Ezekiel, vice-provost of student affairs at Dal. “Dalhousie is proud to be part of and contribute to our broader neighbourhood and Halifax communities. We will continue and expand our endeavours to foster meaningful and respectful interactions between our students, our valued neighbours, and all stakeholders.”
While the timeline for this work will likely span over years, Dalhousie staff and partners are incorporating ideas and feedback heard throughout the process into strengthening efforts around student education and engagement, partner coordination, harm reduction, and risk and impact mitigation during the 2022/23 academic year.
Students’ voices are fundamental to this work. Dalhousie’s multi-year student engagement process will begin this fall in partnership with the Dalhousie Student Union. This will deliver important conversations with students about the student experience, social wellbeing and finding new alternatives to toxic party culture.
Plans are underway to bring all stakeholders back together later this fall to learn and reflect on the findings of the student process, while also building out the recommendations from Inspiring Communities into a phased and integrated action plan.
To learn more and read the full report, please visit dal.ca/community