My undergraduate studies at Queen’s University included a number of late nights and parties that were probably inconsiderately loud. I lived in the moment, immersed in my studies and focused on making friends. To be honest, I didn’t give much thought to the community in which all this took place.
My experience at university was probably fairly typical. There are growing pains associated with this phase of life, moving out on your own, finding your footing as an adult. At the time, I didn’t consider my unruly behavior to be disrespectful. More accurately, I didn’t stop to really think about whether my actions were bothering anyone else. There may be many reasons for this lack of consideration, but one of the most important is that university is an inherently transient experience.
Undergraduate studies, by their very nature, are transient. Most students move to a new city to study, and many return home over the summer. Undergraduate programs are run for a defined period of time, typically four years, after which students are likely to move again. The friends made in university will also generally move upon graduation. Once the program is finished, there’s little tying a student to the city where they studied. For me, at least, this temporary arrangement clouded the fact that I was living in, contributing to, and influencing the community around me.
The issue of poor student-community relationships has been in the news lately. Frosh week chants at Saint Mary’s University angered students, parents and the broader community. A recent act of vandalism in the south end of Halifax was presumed to have been committed by students. Though the identities of the vandals are unknown, the victims in this case assume them to be students (this in itself speaks to the precarious nature of the student-community relationship). Close to my heart, Queen’s University hosted a homecoming weekend once again this fall, for the first time in five years. This drastic step, cancelling all homecoming activities for several years, was taken in response to negative feedback from the Kingston community.
It’s truly unfortunate that the acts of a few students can be so detrimental to the relationship between universities and their communities. Of course, not all students engage in disrespectful behavior. Equally true, there are levels of disrespect: a loud party running late on Saturday night may be rude, but is by no means as offensive as the apparently pro-rape chants used during Saint Mary’s frosh week. While students have a responsibility to engage respectfully with their neighbours, the community can also brand an entire group based on the actions of a select few.
There’s no quick fix to maintaining a peaceful relationship between students and the permanent residents who share their university cities. I do wish, though, that my 20-year-old self had spent more time thinking about the value of community and respectful treatment of one’s neighbors, however temporary that arrangement may be.