The beginning of the end of frosh week - Macleans.ca
 

The beginning of the end of frosh week

The tragic death of a Queen’s student has renewed calls for a crackdown that is already well under way


 

Natasha Zapanta, a cheery first-year Queen’s University business student in a perfectly manicured first-week outfit, won’t be telling her grandchildren about any Old School-worthy hijinks. Frosh week for this 17-year-old involved scavenger hunts, a video dance party and “Commerce Cares”—random acts of kindness visited upon unsuspecting fellow students by commerce freshmen. “There was nighttime partying,” she admits, “but we just stayed in the residence hall.” Most of her friends are also 17, below Ontario’s legal drinking age and, while alcohol is readily available, they’ve been warned not to indulge.

For biochemistry major Connor Forbes, the week was so low-key it threatened to dampen that famous Queen’s school spirit altogether. The gloom extended even to the engineering faculty, where students were this year banned from the school’s ancient move-in day tradition, in which engineers paint themselves purple and taunt incoming freshmen. Engineering society president Victoria Pleavin, citing complaints, sent an email to all engineering students warning them that anyone caught engaged in the practice would be escorted off campus. “Move-in day was really an introduction to the fun of the school and gave you a sense of community,” says Forbes. “The event is gone and we don’t know if it’s coming back. They took it away.”

Such moves followed a raft of measures taken by Queen’s administrators aimed at taming the furor surrounding frosh week—and, it seems, everything else too. Last year, the university cancelled its infamously out-of-control homecoming event, which newspapers have become fond of noting cost over $200,000 to police. Queen’s also vowed to curb freshmen excesses by stamping out the likes of “Slosh the Frosh” and “Sauce the Boss” because, according to senate meeting minutes last year, they “put students at risk.” The clampdown is, depending on your politics, already a success. Says John Pierce, interim associate VP and dean of student affairs: “By last Thursday, I was getting reports that, ‘Well—jeez!—frosh is going better than it has before!’ ”

And yet even these stringent measures could not prevent tragedy. Last Monday, Queen’s students on their way to rugby practice discovered the body of Cameron Bruce, an 18-year-old freshman from Connecticut, on the lawn outside his residence, just hours before he was to start classes. The night before, Bruce had attended an engineering banquet—a sort of last hurrah to end engineering frosh week. After dinner, he walked back to residence with friends. What happened next is still shrouded in mystery: police suspect no foul play, and they’re investigating whether alcohol played a role in the incident.

News of the death brought the inevitable newspaper editorial: “Be it the mass drunkenness of Aberdeen Street or young people getting a dubious initiation to booze in peer-pressure-filled orientation activities,” wrote the Kingston Whig-Standard, “the greater community has long quietly wondered: what will it take for Queen’s to do something about this? Does someone have to die?” The incident’s significance was not lost on students: “I think it’s the beginning of the end of frosh week,” one told Maclean’s.

No, actually. It’s the end of frosh, full stop—not just at Queen’s, but everywhere. A generation of children raised in an era so risk-averse that schools ripped seesaws, parallel bars and fireman’s poles from playgrounds has come of age and gone to university. The halcyon days, when freshers set cars and couches ablaze and guzzled beer at university-sanctioned keggers, now grow dim and will soon become distant memories. Many schools have retired the word “frosh” altogether, preferring less festive words like “orientation”; at the University of Ottawa, freshmen are referred to by the tin-eared sobriquet of “101er.” Official first-week events are now mounted sans booze. A handful of U.S. colleges are entirely dry. The University of Guelph this year, for the first time, made residences alcohol-free zones during frosh week. It’s a revolution some students call a “war on fun.”


In Ontario the trend goes back to 2003, when the province eliminated Grade 13, sending thousands of underage students into first year. The echoes resound still. Just this year, at Ottawa’s Carleton University, administrators wrestled control of frosh from the students’ union and hired a planner from the U.S. who shifted the week’s focus away from socializing toward workshops promoting study and life skills. “If you look at it from a risk-management perspective, the university just feels way more comfortable having professional staff,” director of student affairs Ryan Flannagan told Maclean’s. Alumni “wouldn’t even recognize it” as frosh, he says. “Alcohol used to be the main feature of evening activities. Now it’s interesting to watch how serious our student leaders take the issue—there just really is zero tolerance for having alcohol as part of the activities.”

At the University of British Columbia, the RCMP have started rationing the special occasion licences they grant on a campus that’s increasingly residential, transforming what was once a paradise of autumn beer gardens into just another condo development. “These events used to be a mainstay because UBC is so isolated from the rest of Vancouver,” says Justin McElroy, coordinating editor at the Ubyssey student newspaper. More and more students are drifting off campus and into the city—often en masse, “which causes its own problems,” says McElroy, who complains there’s “less and less campus culture” as a result.

The measures have also stoked the popularity of old-fashioned frat parties. “Frats say so many people are coming to the events because there aren’t a lot of places to be social on campus,” McElroy explains. “When you have 12,000 students living on campus, they are going to look for something to do on Friday and Saturday night.”

A similar exodus in Guelph, Ont., has caused local police to target student revellers in that city’s downtown. Project Frosh, as it’s dubbed, last year saw police hand out 64 bylaw and 147 Liquor Licence Act charges in the first five weeks of classes. “People are urinating, defecating, spitting,” says Sgt. Douglas Pflug, who 25 years ago was himself a University of Guelph student. “We didn’t go downtown—there were a lot of bars on campus,” he says. After last call these days, at the historic Wyndham and MacDonell intersection, a drinking hotspot, as many as 3,000 youths can find themselves coralled by police barricades designed to manage the mob. Fights break out, attracting audiences Pflug says are now primed by the popularity of ultimate fighting. “You put enough macho guys with enough girls watching, they’re going to want to fight,” says Brandon Skarpa, 20, a third-year criminal-justice major who has videotaped the brawls, posting them online.

At Dalhousie University there’s now a zero-tolerance policy when it comes to drinking games in residences.

For several years the university has put $30,000 into hiring police to patrol campus during frosh, and on Thursday, Friday and Saturday nights during terms. Bonnie Neuman, VP of student services, says administrators have been debating about whether to put underage students together in residences and away from those who are of age—a sort of ghetto of deprivation.

The irony is these measures follow a period in which studies show young people are already drinking less—and more responsibly—than in previous decades. Elizabeth Saewyc, a nursing prof at UBC whose work as research director with the McCreary Centre Society focuses on youth, says fewer B.C. teens are now experimenting with alcohol, likely thanks to better education and more effective policies in high school. “If you’re going to get kicked off the sports team for drinking, that’s a clear motivator,” says Saewyc, who believes the rest of Canada is more or less in line with the B.C. trend.

She has heard anecdotally that delayed drinking among teens has meant “some of the behaviours you used to see in high school are now happening in university. I don’t know of a single university that doesn’t feel alcohol use, especially with incoming freshmen, isn’t a problem.” Still, the most recent numbers available suggest a happier picture. Louis Gliksman, acting chief of research at the Centre for Addiction and Mental Health, says that when it comes to drinking, “for most students, it’s not a real problem.” He estimates based on 2004 data that alcohol becomes an issue—defined as binge drinking at least once a week—for 15 per cent of students in Canada. Research since suggests changes in university policy have caused those numbers to decline even further.

That’s still a good portion. But is it enough to rip the seesaws out? Perhaps not even a freak accident like Cameron Bruce’s death ought to be. Nevertheless, that’s just what some at Queen’s fear will happen there.

“What the administration needs to do is look at the root cause of the death and try to figure out if regulating frosh could prevent similar incidents,” says Connor Forbes, the Queen’s biochemistry major. “I’m worried they will continue to clamp down blindly just because it’s the easiest reaction.”


 

The beginning of the end of frosh week

  1. Macleans: Shame on you for connecting a top student’s death to drinking without any word from authorities that alcohol was involved.
    Shame on you for not doing your research and finding out that ALL official Frosh Week activities are dry and that orientation leaders sign a no-drinking pledge for the duration of the week.
    Cameron Bruce’s death was a tragic accident and you disrespect his memory by mentioning it in this article.

  2. And then what do we end up with if students can’t party? A bunch of completely socially inept virgins who go into their 30s masturbating through life while they bitch and complain about people who drink. I am sorry, but there is something to this partying that goes on at universities. Unless you can find another way for students to let loose a little, it serves a purpose. Those students who party eventually go on to be the more socially well adjusted adults in our society. Even research is now showing that it is the tea drinking crowd that suffers from the most health problems and mental health issues as they grow old.

  3. @ Lisa Jones – surely you jest! Calling for a curb on mass drunken idiocy complete with mischief to property, theft of street signs, fights, beer bottles thrown at police, fire and ambulance personnel, and ER’s packed with students suffering from alcohol poisoning and injuries does NOT equate with making life a joyless, sexless, sterile existence. When I was in university my friends and I somehow managed to party and have lots of fun without breaking the law and putting people at risk. It is, believe it or not, possible.

  4. I find it interesting that the majority of the examples provided are from provinces where the legal drinking age is higher than Alberta.

    I know from having been an orientation leader at a undergraduate focused university in Alberta that very few of our Orientation Week events were dry. The concerts, the wrap up parties, the first class bash all contained an “all ages” open floor as well as an on campus beer gardens. On that note, the majority of our students are of legal age. They have access to the beer gardens and when they want to party on a Friday or Saturday night they go out to our on campus bar or one of the various establishments around the city where their consumption is controlled instead of resorting to playing taboo drinking games in dorms and chugging back a 26 so they can get “totally shitfaced” before a dry event. Because we treat them like adults, they behave as such.

    Does this totally solve the problem? No. There are always going to be a few students who have serious drug and alcohol consumption issues but, at the very least those students’ habits are out in the open where the appropriate authorities can intervene if need be and students concerned about their peers are free to discuss issues without ruining an entire dorm’s party. They aren’t prisoners. Stop treating them as such.

  5. It’s pathetic and somewhat sad really. When I came to Queen’s as an engineering frosh, frosh week and homecoming were by far two of my favourite parts of the year. This year’s OC didn’t have the balls to stand up to the administration who call for an increasingly sterile and pathetic frosh week. If you let them erode our traditions piece by piece, soon we’ll have nothing left, and be a group of arts kids running around yelling cheers about how we “feel so good” and doing terrible group icebreakers.

    Then we’ve got homecoming, yet another bit of engineering tradition ruined by an administration who should be worried less about something they clearly can’t influence (interestingly enough, many faculties organized their own reunions last weekend and essentially told the administration to piss off) and more about actual issues on campus, like our ridiculous tuition hikes going toward an overfunded athletics centre. Aberdeen is an aberration merely made worse by the police presence, but it’s the missing alumni, the rushing of the field, and every bit of spirit we throw aside for these dodgy seniors in tweed jackets that’s truly lost.

    Newsflash: students get hurt. Students get made fun of by their peers. It happens, and at this point in their lives, it’s time for them to grow up and accept responsibility for what they do rather than rely on an inept appointed body to hold their hands like children and tell them everything will be okay, everything will be politically correct, everything will be safe, while the freedoms guaranteed by our government fall by the wayside.

    Engineering frosh week was one of the most painful weeks of my university career. And I wouldn’t take back a single second of it. I cherish those memories, and I’m thankful that we were the last year to go through before the administration really started to interfere. It started with the revamp of thundermugs, and it’ll end with the cancellation of the greasepole, a hugely important tradition older than half these idiots that attempt to interfere. You get dirty. You get tired. You get pelted with oatmeal. You get covered in mud. You spend hours in a dirty pit. And through that, you bond with your frosh group more than any other students you’ll meet.

    I walk about in the outside world wearing my engineering jacket with pride, and several times I’ve been hailed on the street by an engineering graduate who sees the jacket. There’s an unspoken bond between those who have gone through what we go through, and alcohol plays no part in that. What we risk losing is greater, much greater than most can comprehend.

    Cha Gheill.

  6. This article is a joke for no research and a very biased point of view. I attended frosh week this year and got beligerently drunk every night and for many of the frosh events. Also, I was ‘taunted and jeered at’ by older students most days.
    I can say the co-writers of this article weren’t at any events and chose with care the students they interviewed.
    It was one of the most fun times of my life…