Winders: One of those moments that matter

Paul Mayne // Western News

After spending most of his journalism career in The States, most recently as executive editor of the Athens (Ga.) Banner-Herald, Winders joined Western’s Masters in Environment and Sustainability program in 2009, and then the Western News as its editor in 2010.

This is one of those moments.

How our students respond this weekend and beyond will define how people will see this university for years to come. That might seem like an overstatement. But given the magnified attention applied to this year’s Reunion Weekend/Homecoming Saturday celebrations, I am not alone in believing this is an important moment for our student body.

You know the story well:

For the last few years, university and community officials have tried to dissuade students from attending an annual street party timed to Homecoming Weekends on Broughdale Avenue. Attracting as many as 10,000 people onto that small residential street, the event has become an unsafe environment involving Western students, as well as busloads of additional attendees from other universities, high schools and associated criminal community riff-raff.

Just grab purple and you can party.

We have watched for a few years now, watched as this party turned from a nuisance into a tradition, watched and waited for when – not if – a student ended up killing themselves out there. We have been lucky in that area – so far.

Of course, not everyone has been lucky. Last year alone, there were six serious injuries on Broughdale, including a student who impaled themselves on a fence and another who had a severe allergic reaction and survived only thanks to the heroic efforts of two students as emergency responders had difficulty navigating through the crowd.

In May, Western officials moved Homecoming to Saturday, Oct. 22, amidst colder weather and midterms, to chill out the party. However, previously planned faculty reunions, as well as the Alumni Awards of Merit and Golden Anniversary dinners, will still take place this weekend, on Reunion Weekend, Sept. 30-Oct. 2. That split offers its own challenges – from event planning to potentially policing two student parties within a month.

The average student needs to understand what has gone into this. All this effort and worry and planning. Students won’t even know a small percentage of the names of the people who worked on this. But they should. They should thank every one of them.

The reality is, hundreds upon hundreds of university and community officials have spent thousands upon thousands of hours working to mitigate this problem. In the last few years, they have tried nearly everything to convince students there are better options – everything, that is, with the lone exception of shutting Homecoming celebrations down completely. And who would blame them if they did just that?

I gotta ask students: All this effort is toward what end? So some of your classmates can drink their faces off in the street? Is that really ‘The Struggle’ you want to embrace? Maybe so. But I am guessing there are a host of you embarrassed by this reputation.

Forgive me, perhaps I am not in the mood for a #SaveHOCO movement after watching inspiring young people march in the streets of Tulsa, Charlotte and San Diego in the name of human dignity and then see our students complain about making it difficult to have a drunken street party. #DrunkLivesMatter doesn’t exactly have the same ring to it, does it?

Listen, Homecoming isn’t even the students’ party. Homecoming is about alumni returning to celebrate their connections to their alma mater. For one moment, the university is theirs again. However, we have trouble saying that. On a campus focused on best student experience, we have trouble saying some things aren’t about students and their experience.

So, here we are. I am rooting for the students and I think they will rise to the occasion. I always hear about how we recruit the best and brightest, how our student leadership is one step away from leading our nation.

Well, now is their moment. Here’s to them to make the right decision.