The time has come for “decisive action” regarding a particularly notorious street party that has marred official Homecoming celebrations and frustrated university and city officials in recent years, according to Western President Amit Chakma.
On Tuesday, Western officials announced this year’s Homecoming celebration has been moved to Saturday, Oct. 22, in an effort to address a variety of concerns associated with an unsanctioned street party on Broughdale Avenue. ‘Homecoming Saturday’ will feature a football-centric experience for participants. Previously planned faculty reunions, as well as the Alumni Awards of Merit and Golden Anniversary dinners, will still take place as originally planned on Reunion Weekend, Sept. 30-Oct. 2.
“As Western’s president and as a parent, my greatest concern is the safety of our students,” Chakma said. “University administration, London Police Service, Middlesex-London Emergency Management Services, City of London officials and hospital medical staff have held several meetings on this issue and we all share concerns this street party has escalated to such levels that more decisive action is required.”
Despite the university’s “best efforts” to dissaude students from attending the party on Broughdale Avenue, a neighbourhood adjacent to Western’s campus, it has become an unsafe environment in the eyes of many. Attracting as many as 10,000 young people, this event has involved not only Western students, but others who no connection to the university, including busloads from other universities, high school students, as well as individuals police have identified as having “criminal histories.”
These kinds of parties are not unique to London and are occurring with more frequency and severity in university and college towns and cities throughout North America, Western officials said. However, police describe the Broughdale party as a “powder keg” – that it is only a matter of “when” not “if” someone is killed or seriously injured.
And the numbers from last year seem to bear that depiction out.
Between 10 a.m.-7 p.m. Saturday, Sept. 26, 2015, 31 ambulances were dispatched to Western and Broughdale Avenue – 16 of those were incidents on Broughdale. A total of 23 patients were transported to hospital – 11 of whom came from Broughdale.
Police reported six serious injuries on Broughdale including one student who fell on a fence and another who had a severe allergic reaction. Stacia Pepper, in her second year at King’s University College, received a Citizen Citation Award from the London Police Service Board for her actions during Homecoming weekend which helped save that woman’s life. Pepper and a friend, Shawn Hope, a Fanshawe student, who also received the award, administered CPR to the woman in anaphylactic shock while they waited for emergency responders to navigate through the massive crowd.
Hospital officials said they were stretched to respond to other emergency room patients because of the number of students arriving, most of whom had consumed too much alcohol, some in combination with drugs.
There were reports of sexual assaults connected with Homecoming, with at least two young women going to hospital for help.
Chakma, along with other Western administrators, hope the increased academic pressures of assignments and exam preparation that is the norm in late October will not only reduce the number of students who attend the party, but also the number of students who come from other universities. As well, university officials are also rooting for less favourable weather for a street party in late October.
“Moving Homecoming is only one of the means by which we will be encouraging students to find safer forms of entertainment,” Chakma said. “I remain personally committed to doing everything we can as a university to build awareness of how serious the Broughdale issue has become. Western is fortunate to have the support of important community partners such as the London police and we will continue to work collaboratively to address the problem.”
This fall, the university will roll out a targeted campaign to ensure students understand the legal and safety risks they are taking when they host or attend large parties, the dangers of binge drinking and possible repercussions according to Western’s Code of Student Conduct.
“London Police Service has been working closely with Western administrators and other community partners to address this issue and we support the university in its decision to move Homecoming,” London Police Service Deputy Chief Steve Williams said. “In addition to a strong police presence on Broughdale, we are all hopeful that our collective efforts in advance will help students understand the risks this party poses to themselves and their community so they will make the decision not to attend.”
For decades, Chakma said Western has prided itself on providing a Homecoming experience second to none in Canada, and hopes to continue providing this to alumni into the future. In terms of plans for 2017, he promised a full debrief will take place in late October to determine how the university will approach Homecoming moving forward.