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U. Alberta students “blindsided” by booze ban

University says health and safety risks forced action


 

GordonsPictures/Flickr

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.”


 

U. Alberta students “blindsided” by booze ban

  1. I think a good action to take here would be to watch what other universities in Canada are doing. There are already a number of universities that ban drinking in public spaces for a number of reasons.

    1) Makes public areas more appealing to those who do not drink
    2) Allows students to feel as if they are welcome to join in an event or social gathering even if they are not drinking. It in the end is more welcoming for all people.

  2. I see no conflict of interest. If acting in the best interest of students is in conflict with what is in the best interest of the university, then something is wrong. Why have Students’ Union (or Academic Staff Association, or Non-Academic Staff Association etc.) representation on the Board of Governors of a university if there is conflict in what is in the best interest of students (academic staff, non-academic staff etc.) and what is in the best interest of the university. A Governor’s main job description is to act in the best interest of the university. Representative Governors can (and have been doing it for a long time) represent their constituents and act in the best interest of the university simultaneously. If the conflict of interest argument holds, then should we get rid of Students’ Union, Academic Staff and Non-Academic Staff representation from the Board of Governors?

  3. What is the health and safety emergency so urgent that the U of A admin can’t keep its written commitments to consultation with students and the Board of Governers? Where is the evidence that these changes will eliminate that emergency? Vomit is NEVER cleaned up by university staff; it is dealt with immediately by a private contractor specifically trained to deal with bio-hazards. This contractor is paid for by the student who vomited. Broken glass is seen weekly, perhaps; it is mostly from the cafeteria’s china plates, not beer bottles. Banning glass/china from the common areas to deal with this “emergency” would be reasonable, but elminating democracy doesn’t keep students from vomiting or breaking glass.

    • Your response alone would give me reason enough to ban drinking … external contractors in bio-hazard suits? Broken glass (which you acknowledge is at least partially from beer bottles? What about the danger of sexual assaults? How about underage drinking? Alcohol abuse? What about if someone wants to study but there’s someone vomiting up a storm outside of their room?

      Seriously, if you want to drink, go somewhere else. Is that so hard? Being able to drink on university space is, in fact, a privilege. In this case, based on what you say alone, it looks like this privilege was abused.

      • The experienced contractors do the same thing for hospitals, airports and construction sites, why not university residences?

        The broken glass is overwhelmingly from cafeteria plates, not beer bottles. Do you ban beer bottles in your house too, just because they’re dangerous?

        Sexual assaults? Those are obviously less likely to happen in a private lockable room than in the public, busy lounge right? If anything restricting alcohol to private rooms will increase the risk.

        Under age drinking? I’m sure that will be much easier to police when it’s happening in private lockable rooms than in a public, busy lounge. And as we all know the difference between being 18 and a month short of 18 is staggering.

        Alcohol abuse? Also seems to be easier to spot excessive drinking through lockable wooden doors than in a public, busy lounge right?

        If someone wants to study, they go to one of the many libraries located a few floors down, or around campus, or study when the floor is quiet which is 95% of the time.

        There’s no logical reason and no evidence to support this change. Your post is a bad slippery slope argument which seems to be generally uninformed and persistently biased.

      • @Ostap

        The main difference between public spaces and private spaces is the question of liability of the university. The university has more control over public spaces. It is far more likely to get sued if a student gets drunk in public space (i.e., space the university can control) and then does something that causes damage. The university would have far more liability with regard to behaviour in public spaces over private spaces and, accordingly, is justified in imposing more stringent rules on public areas.

        Regarding your contractors argument – it is pathetic that people who are supposed to be mature and educated can’t clean up their own puke and act with some dignity. When a person undergoing chemo in the hospital throws us, I get it. I don’t sympathise with a student too drunk to get to the bathroom. Sorry.

        Regarding your beer bottles argument – if I wanted to ban beer bottles in my house, I could, just like the university can. The difference is that I haven’t ever had people breaking bottles (or plates, for that matter) in my house. The university can’t say the same.

        About underage drinking – the university has some limited responsibility toward those who are underage living in residence. Again, they can more easily control what people do in public spaces. I am not saying that drinking laws make sense, but the university should not stand by while the law is being broken on their property. Arguably, they cannot. When underage drinking is in plain sight, the university should act and, here, it did.

        Studying in the library – maybe I’m mistaken, but I think that in a living space, the person studying should get priority over the person drinking and the drinker should have to move before the studier does. Clearly, you do not agree.

        I really don’t see my argument as a slippery slope argument. I never said, “If they allow drinking in public areas, what’s next? Cracked up midget jello wrestling?” However, you are right, my argument is biased. That’s because it’s my argument and my opinion. I am not a journalist and am allowed to spew forth with my opinions when I see fit, just as you are.

    • Eliminating democracy? Calm down. The University owns the residence and can act as it sees fit to manage the public spaces within it to foster a more pleasant atmosphere. I’ve been in enough student residences to know that most of the disorder, broken items and overall mess in common areas can often be attributed to people who are drunk or drinking in those spaces. Many students consume responsibly and don’t create problems, but a significant portion of them act unreasonably- enough to impose this kind of ban. Good move, UofA.

  4. Does this apply to the meeting halls in the Lister Centre too?

    I attended a reception there following an interview for a UofA-based program, and – unlike everywhere else – it was entirely non-alcoholic.

  5. Students pay to live in Lister Hall. It is their home. If even one student is inconvenienced by another student who is unable to act responsibly while drinking alcohol, it is the responsibility of the University to remove that student from the residence or ban drinking in the residence. Some people appear to think they are entitled to be a nuisance to the other residents. In fact they are not entitled to that and I think that feeling of entitlement is outrageous. The University has made the right decision to ban drinking after some of the incidents that have taken place. A University residence is a place of higher learning, not a flop house for dilinquents.

  6. Plenty of universities have banned alcohol in public areas for years. I completed my undergraduate studies at a university in Ontario. When you lived in residence at that university, there was no drinking allowed in public areas, and you could not carry open alcohol in the hallways – it had to be in closed containers. You were also not allowed to have any glass containers in residence. All drinks, both alcoholic and non-alcoholic, had to be in cans or plastic bottles. No glass bottles at all. No exceptions.

    We survived just fine, and there were no major problems with drinking in secret, or drinking in isolation. People would gather in one of the larger dorm rooms (a double, triple or quad) and have a “party” there.

  7. Rather than banning drinking, why not educate students on the harms of alcohol? For example, because the public has been extensively educated on the cancer risks of ultra-violet radiation, just about everybody now takes precautions by using sunscreen. Well, guess what? Alcohol is responsible for three times as many cancers as ulraviolet radiation! So, if only we would tell young people the truth about alcohol, then they would be much more likely to take precautions to avoid the cancer risks (such as by smoking pot instead of drinking alcohol).

    The choice should be based on science, not the pro-alcohol propaganda of government and the liquor industry. Looked what happened with tobacco when govt and industry lied to the public!!

  8. Ummmmmm…. It’s a school, not a bar.
    Nothing more irritating than drunks.

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