Residents around Dalhousie University are urging students to be more considerate after the homecoming street parties on Sept. 25.
“I really do love having students in my community — for 364 days of the year,” said Larch Street resident Caitlin Lees.
Lees said she and her partner were awake until almost 2 a.m. the night of homecoming, both from the noise and anxieties about student safety.
“I was a student for a long time. I’ve lived here for a while. Moving into this neighbourhood, of course, we knew that there would be some more noise and parties. But I’ve never seen anything like that night.”
Lees said students were using her backyard as a toilet, defecating and urinating in the grass where her toddler plays. A physician, Lees became so concerned by what she saw that she provided medical care for a Dal student.
There were also 10 arrests made during the partying, according to Halifax Regional Police (HRP). Police also “issued numerous summary offence tickets for illegal possession of open liquor,” according to a Facebook post the HRP made on Sept. 26.
Urge for coexistence
Despite students disrespecting Lees’s neighbourhood and property, Lees still appreciates the students in her community.
“There’s a lot of dialogue and maybe some rhetoric right now, around residents versus students. I want to emphasize that I think that we can all live together and have a community that’s safe and enjoyable for all of us,” she said.
Lees said students have helped babysit her child and having students around gives life to the neighbourhood.
Lees is also hesitant to lay blame on anyone specific. “I don’t think that any students set out that night saying, ‘Well, I’m going to be as disruptive as possible and make my neighbours feel unsafe.’ I don’t think anybody went out with that intention,” Lees said.
“I think COVID-19 has a lot to do with this. People are tired of being isolated. We’ve had students for two years now who have largely done university online. I can’t imagine having done the first two years of my undergraduate degree online. It would be really hard.”
Dalhousie Student Union president Madeline Stinson asks students to consider what kind of effect they want to have on their community.
“I went to the party in 2017. So I’m not going to tell these students that they’re irredeemable. One of them is probably going to have to be the DSU president someday. The chances they all become stellar people are out there, they just need to recognize what it means to be living on your own.”
Stinson said students who attended should look to the future and make positive changes. “Do some self-reflection and think about where you want to be. You don’t need to sit there in shame for months, you just need to recognize that you can probably do better in the future.”
Lees medical concerns
Lees said she feared most for the safety of students during the hoco street parties. “One of the things for me is knowing how overwhelmed the healthcare system has been lately. We’ve really struggled with getting timely access to emergency health services,” she said. “So to see people on my property or near my property, who need medical help, and not knowing if they’re going to get it in a timely way, that was really hard to see.”
Lees said she had to give medical assistance to a party attendee, but wouldn’t disclose more information due to patient confidentiality.
Councillor Waye Mason, the municipal councillor for district 7, which includes Dalhousie, shared Lees’s concerns. “We don’t need people jumping out of a tree and breaking their leg, or drinking so much that they need to go to the hospital when we already have emergency rooms that are facing risk of overload because of COVID-19.”
The fear of COVID-19 spread following the event was also a concern. Dalhousie asked party attendees to stay home for the week following the events in an email to students and statement released after the parties.
Stinson said the DSU has been getting emails from students concerned about COVID-19 spread. She said she hopes to see responsibility from students moving forward. “I do think students actions in the coming weeks will be important to limiting the impact on public health,” she said.
Second-year philosophy student Rhamita Roy Bhattacharya was concerned during the events.
“We came to Dal on Saturday, when the homecoming parties were going on. I went to see what all the hype was about,” Bhattacharya said. “It was terrifying to see such a big crowd. We had our masks on and nobody else had it on.”
Punishment from Dalhousie
In its statement condemning the “unsanctioned and illegal street parties” Dalhousie said it “will be pursuing disciplinary action under our Code of Student Conduct” against students who attended the parties.
The day after the events, Mason tweeted his condemnation of the events and wrote he would “debrief with police and Dal about next steps.”
In an interview with the Dalhousie Gazette, Mason clarified his position on pursuing students. “We do not want students in stocks down at historic properties. No. We don’t want students walking through the streets being shamed like in Game of Thrones, that is not what we’re looking for.”
Mason said more so than the university enforcing the code of conduct, students should take responsibility for their own actions. “Should somebody be expelled because there are pictures on social media on Larch Street? No, I don’t think so,” he said.
However, Mason does think students who run certain party-centred social media accounts should be punished. “Any of the companies or social media accounts, national social media accounts, that encouraged people to do things that mean that we end up with a Delta [variant] outbreak on campus, and maybe your chance of having in-person classes to the end of December goes out the window?” he said. “Yeah, that violates the code of conduct and you should probably be expelled for that.”
In its message to students after the parties, Dalhousie said the Code of Student Conduct can be applied to off-campus activities “in situations which raise concern for the safety or well-being of students or the university community more broadly.”
Larch Street resident Neil Ritchie shared Mason’s feeling. “These are things that are encouraged by these websites and encouraged by the lifestyle. Students are manipulated by corporate interests to drive traffic to their sites and ultimately sell advertising by having outrageous behaviours posted,” he said.
Ritchie and Mason did not refer to any social media accounts in particular.
However, the Instagram account Dal U Party Life, a regional off-shoot of the account Canadian Party Life, shared videos of Larch Street on homecoming to their 14,000 followers. At the time of writing, the page is private.
Canadian Party Life has more than 500,000 followers. By visiting the biography of Dal U Party Life, users can find Canadian Party Life’s website, which sells merchandise. The website does not currently display any advertising.
On Sept. 22, a few days before homecoming, Canadian Party Life posted the “2021 hoco dates” for multiple universities in Canada, which listed Dal’s hoco as taking place on Sept. 25. The dates were determined by polls Canadian Party Life had previously posted on their Instagram stories. These stories are no longer available to view on the page, however, Canadian Party Life commented “BASED ON MOST REQUESTED DATES IN YESTERDAYS [sic] STORY POLLS,” under the post listing the various dates.
On homecoming, Canadian Party Life posted a photo of partiers in Halifax. The caption read, “You love to see it.”
Dal U Party Life and Canadian Party Life did not respond to interview requests from the Gazette.
Ritchie also remarked on some of the demographics of the street party. “I didn’t see any Indigenous students, or Black students, or persons of colour or new Canadians in the crowd,” he said. “It seemed to be more of a white privilege crowd. We need to understand the roots of systemic racism and institutional entitlement and we need to take a hard look at how we’re educating our young people about empathy and respect and regard for communities.”
From hoco to Halloween: rules moving forward
First-year University of King’s College student, Wren McMullen, is among the students concerned for Halloween weekend after the scale of the homecoming parties. “I think [people partying] is fine as long as they follow COVID-19 guidelines and don’t exceed the maximum gathering limit. The problem starts when people are reckless and don’t have any regard for the safety of others. Jumping out of trees is probably taking it a bit too far.”
Bhattacharya said, “If other people are celebrating in a way that’s not safe for most of us, then I don’t think I’ll be going out. I’ll stay home with my roommates and a few other people over. That’s about it.”
Under the new phase five restrictions of Nova Scotia’s reopening plan, there are no formal gathering limits on events hosted by organizations. However, informal social gatherings, like the September homecoming parties, will continue to be restricted. No more than 25 people indoors or 50 people outdoors are allowed to gather, which is unchanged from phase four.
Additionally, mask requirements will remain in place for indoor public places. Proof of vaccination will also be required at any formally recognized event.