Students from the University of Alberta say they were blindsided by changes imposed on the largest residence on campus, Lister Hall, which include a ban on drinking in common areas.
The administration says it discussed the issues with concerned student groups but health and safety risks meant it could no longer wait to act.
“There was an interim review done and a lot of health and safety issues came up,” says Deborah Eerkes, Director of the Office of Student Judicial Affairs and Acting Dean of Students. “They were alarming enough that some kind of change had to take place immediately.”
Students’ Union representatives and Lister Hall residents say that the banning of drinking in common areas is an overreaction and that there is no proof it will make students safer. “They’re using the veil of emergency,” said Petros Kusmu, Students’ Union VP External. “Every time we ask them to provide evidence that this is as severe as they say it is, they skirt around the issue.”
Erica Woolf, a third-year student and longtime Lister resident, shares Kusmu’s concerns.
Both students say the new rules pose an even greater threat to student safety because students may end up drinking more in their private rooms. “If drinking really is that big of an emergency problem, I question why the university would want to force it behind closed doors” says Woolf.
Kusmu concurs. “Confining drinking students to their rooms leaves no way of really monitoring what students are doing in their own rooms, and their very first drinking experiences may take place in Lister Hall,” he adds. “I would think that this poses the real health and safety risk.”
Eerkes says the university weighed the danger of more in private rooms with the current problems in common areas. “[Drinking in common areas] poses a risk not only to our students, but to our staff,” she says. “They have to clean up vomit and broken glass on a daily basis.”
Where students may drink is not the only change that concerns Kusmu. He’s also alarmed by the restructuring of the Lister Hall Students’ Association. The administration will appoint representatives to focus on health, safety, and floor organization—roles formerly given to elected representatives.
Eerkes says he shouldn’t be concerned.
She explained the reasons for the changes. As it is now, each elected representative has two functions. One is to act on the interests of residents and the other is to act in the interests of the university. “While you have one person representing both of these groups, conflicts of interest can come up,” she says. “By separating these two functions we’re strengthening the roles of both.”
Stronger or not, Woolf and Kusmu are outraged at what they see as insufficient consultation. Over the next month, student union representatives are expected to meet with administration. Kusmu says he feels confident that these meetings will lead to a changes, adding “the students will win.”
Eerkes says it is not up for negotiation. “These are high level decisions and they aren’t reversible,” she said. “These are serious decisions made based on health and safety,” she added. “When we learn about these risks, we have to act. We can’t just reverse the decision if students don’t like it.”