Another year, another Dalhousie University homecoming come and gone. The student-organized celebrations were rescheduled following Hurricane Fiona. The problem? The notorious street parties got out of hand yet again, while blame rained down on students.
Dalhousie could have embraced HoCo to create a potential highlight of the student university experience. It was a prime chance. Instead, I felt Dal and the Halifax Regional Police (HRP) created an atmosphere of fear.
On the afternoon of Oct. 1, 2022, Jennings Street was a sea of yellow and black. Dal merch was everywhere and people were having a great time. New friends were made over beer pong tables, while a backyard concert developed an insane mosh pit. There was a feeling of camaraderie among many Dal students.
Enter the HRP.
Police presence and student safety
In the beginning, police were mainly stationed at either end of the street. I was there. At this point, I witnessed a few students receive tickets for having open containers of alcohol.
The rigid enforcement of the open container policy may not have been well thought out. Ticketing for open containers scared some students into fleeing. I believe police should have limited involvement to encourage trust that they were there to help keep everyone safe, not scare people away.
Later in the day, HoCo moved to Larch Street. HRP estimated between 3,000 to 4,000 people showed up. The street appeared to be an experience of revelry and fraternity. Once again, police exerted themselves in the festivities.
I didn’t see any more tickets handed out for open containers. What I did see was police shoving, yelling and threatening to arrest people looking for help.
Students were handcuffed, pepper sprayed and shoved. To me, it felt like the police were too harsh in asserting control over the situation.
When I asked if the officers might have seen or detained an individual who had gone missing following a pepper spray incident, officers were consistently unhelpful. They shoved people away and refused to look at a photo of the missing person.
I can’t help but feel the HRP didn’t help “to build and maintain confidence, trust, and safety in partnership with our communities,” as stated in its vision.
HoCo got out of hand
Halifax Regional Municipality (HRM) has a population of 439,819 as of 2021. One in 10 of HRM’s residents are students. That means students make up a large proportion of our city’s population. We deserve equal respect and support from HRP.
When a student needs help, we shouldn’t have to fear being arrested or shoved. We should find a receptive officer ready to use discretion to protect members of our community from real harm.
I know HoCo wasn’t sunshine and lollipops for law enforcement. HRP saw officers injured too and that’s not okay. Working together with guidance and regulations in place, we can find a safe solution for everyone in the community.
I spoke to students who had attended prior HoCo events before the 2022 party took place. Some were receptive to police being there.
Third-year law, justice and society student Stan Tse feels police presence can be helpful.
“[The police] close off Jennings Street from everywhere and inform non-Dal residents [of the event]. There’s no real harm there,” Tse says. “The cops go up and down the street. They basically keep you off the road, it’s super controlled.” The cops aren’t unreasonable when it’s going on. Really, if you’re not jumping off of a balcony or hanging off a power line, are we doing that much harm?”
Unfortunately, some harm was done, both to students and community property. A street fire and public urination shouldn’t have happened. But, if there had been a more organized university-sanctioned event, would these have been avoided?
Students shouldn’t shoulder all the blame
The story told by HRP and Dalhousie places the blame exclusively on students. I don’t believe students are the only ones at fault.
Third-year political science and English student Ainsley Priddell called HoCo a necessary evil. Priddell, who didn’t attend the party, suggested the university should be doing more to mitigate risks instead of avoiding the issue.
With a stabbing and other threats of violence, police knew students needed help throughout the event. It doesn’t surprise me some students appeared reluctant to ask for that help. Watching peers ticketed and pepper sprayed by the people who are supposed to be helping you will do that.
To create a safe HoCo, we need a more united and organized Dal community. Instead, I felt HRM and Dalhousie were willfully ignorant of attempts to create a safe atmosphere to celebrate academic success. In fact, according to a recent article in The Coast, former DSU president Madeleine Stinson argued “the school’s hands-off HoCo approach ends up pushing students and their parties out onto neighbouring streets.”
Third-year marine biology student Teya Hunter agrees and is open to a campus party for HoCo events.
“They could always allow it to be on campus, instead of forcing kids to have it on residential streets. If the kids didn’t feel super threatened by the university, we’d just do it on campus and avoid the residential area,” says Hunter.
A unified Dal for safer HoCo celebrations
By discouraging HoCo, Dalhousie loses out on creating a fantastic celebration for their students.
Some students even believe HoCo could be used as marketing material for new students. Third-year management student Dirk Short, has some insight into the idea.
“I would say it’s the greatest Dalhousie advertisement ever because we all wear Dalhousie gear and that goes on everybody’s [social media] story. Then all these grade twelves are like ‘Wow, Dalhousie seems really cool,’” Short says.
HoCo consisted of thousands of people wearing Dalhousie merch having the time of their lives. Imagine if these parties went smoothly, or as something that went into Dal’s advertising material. It could make for a bigger student body and safer HoCo celebrations in years to come.