Across this great land of ours, young first-year students are earnestly hunkering down for a semester’s worth of classes after a week of introductions, orientations, and—perhaps—even enjoying a few alcoholic beverages. Or a lot.
Universities not-so discreetly allow such imbibing—heck, some organize week-long events centred around the concept—because they want students to feel they had a rich, fulfilling time getting their bachelor degree, and having a wicked awesome first week at your new university certainly helps with that.
Of course, this trade off is only beneficial to universities if students somewhat behave themselves. If not . . .
Which leads me to last Saturday’s delightful shenanigans at the University of British Columbia, where dozens of police had to be called in after a party at a fraternity got out of hand. A group of around 15 people were fighting in the Fraternity Village courtyard, and when two RCMP officers attempted to break up the brouhaha, they were physically assaulted. And while no one was seriously hurt in the incident, you don’t have to be a public relations expert to know that a story involving a frat party, assaulted police officers, and a possible gun will get picked up by the media. Unsurprisingly, the university said “the fraternities must take responsibility for all individuals they host at their parties and in their houses. Many clearly failed in this duty.” They’re now talking with the fraternities to find a solution so this doesn’t happen again.
Thus far, the response of most frat members I’ve gotten in touch with has been to a) turtle up and not talk to the press (as they’re generally instructed to do by their superiors) or b) complain about biased media coverage. They do have a point. Most articles either had sensationalist headlines (“Mounties assaulted at rowdy UBC frat party”), grossly overstated the number of people at the party (it was estimated between 500-1000, but each of the fraternities are separate organizations with separate buildings, so it’s impossible for one party to have more than 200-300 people. What the police did was take the number of people at each separate party, add the people in the courtyard, take the total number, and say close to 1,000 people were at the party. Big difference in semantics. End rant.), didn’t point out that the vast majority of people who cause issues at fraternity parties, including this case, are not UBC students (something the RCMP readily admits) or didn’t include any sort of response from the fraternities themselves.
However, given the negative perception of frat boys in society, when your first response is to claim victimhood, as the Intra-Fraternity Council President did when he said “It’s unfortunate that the fraternity systems are being taken advantage of by people outside of the UBC system for the social activities that we offer,” you aren’t exactly helping your cause. And when a university wants to curb excessive partying on campus, they can move quite quickly.
Take Queen’s University as an example. For years, Homecoming events were a highlight of the year for students, and a lowlight for permanent residents. Amazingly, when adults see thousands of drunken students laying waste to the streets for an entire weekend—complete with a burning car or two—the cry of “can’t students have a little fun?” falls on ears made deaf after hours of being kept awake at night. And so, at a certain point, the university put their foot down, and suddenly, there was no Fall Homecoming, at least until 2011.
Mind you, UBC is limited in what they can do in this situation, as the fraternities have a 99-year lease on the property, and it is private property. But it’s still owned by the university, and they can certainly make life difficult for fraternities in a number of ways (having Campus Security patrol the area, reducing the housing capacity, etc.). So if fraternities want to avoid more hassles down the road, they would do well to show some contrition in the coming weeks.