ANTIGONISH, N.S. - With raucous house parties around town starting early on Saturday, during St. F.X. Homecoming weekend, a new event for current students is being organized on campus Sept. 29.
“The students' union and our student services department are jointly working on an event for St. F.X. students that will begin at 10 a.m. and run right up until the football game [2 p.m.],” St. F.X. vice-president advancement Murray Kyte said.
“It’s to encourage St. F.X. students to come on campus and stay on campus, leading up to the football game.”
Kyte said there will be a variety of activities to attract students to attend the event, including music and food.
“It’s meant to encourage a greater number of students staying on campus as opposed to going out into the off-campus community,” he stressed. “It also encourages responsible social activities.”
Kyte said, being a first-time event, organizers are excited and hopeful for its success.
“Hopefully it will become a new tradition where we’ll see a greater number of students engaged on campus leading up to the football game,” he said.
“It’s going to be held in Chapel Square; that area behind MacKinnon Hall and right in front of the Bauer Theatre,” he added, referencing a spot very central on campus.
During town council’s regular monthly public meeting Sept. 17, council voted to contribute $4,000 to the event after Mayor Laurie Boucher noted organizers were guesstimating the total cost for entertainment, food, security and other items to be approximately $10,000.
Deputy Mayor Diane Roberts was the lone ‘no’ vote. Although she stressed that she fully supports the idea of contributing to the event and its goals, she didn’t feel the town’s contribution had to be around 40 per cent. Roberts felt other partners of the event could support it financially and a town contribution of around $2,000 would be more reasonable. Antigonish Mayor Laurie Boucher, pictured speaking at an Antigonish Art Fair event this past summer, talked about the town's contribution to a new St. F.X. Homecoming event designed for current students.
Boucher explained why council was so willing to make the significant contribution in conversation with reporters after the meeting.
“We want to show St. F.X. we do appreciate their efforts,” Boucher said, adding it’s a strong sign to residents as well that they recognize the problem of excessive partying on Homecoming Saturday.
“The students are in our community as residents of Antigonish; we want to show the onus just isn’t on the university, it’s on the town as well, so show as much support as we could.”
Boucher shared Kyte’s word - ‘hopeful’ – when talking about the first-year event; she added that something has to be tried as it seems the problem is getting worse.
“Within the last few years, the disturbance in the community has been growing steadily during Homecoming and residents in town want to make sure the students are safe, first and foremost, and mitigate as much disturbance in the community as they can,” Boucher said.
“Six or seven months ago, there was a working group that met at the university - people from the university, the town, county, RCMP, St. Martha’s Regional Hospital, student services at St. F.X. and the landlord association. The meeting took place with, keeping in mind, everyone wants the same thing; students to remain safe and to have less disruption in our neighbourhoods. From that, St. F.X. came to the conclusion it would probably be safer for students if they were travelling less and [not] having huge house parties. So the idea is to have more activities on campus for students.”
Boucher said the working group realizes things are “not going to change overnight.”
“But we’re hoping this is the first step to maintaining a safer environment,” she said.
“It’s an action packed weekend for alumni coming in, but there isn’t a lot for current students, so to try and remedy that, this is what student services came up with.
“We’re very excited; we’re looking forward to it. We want to partner with St. F.X. to see what we can do for the students and our neighbourhoods.”
Sgt. Warren McBeath, from the Antigonish RCMP, used the word “optimistic” when speaking about the event.
“This is definitely a step in the right direction,” he said. “It was identified, rather early, that there are a lot of activities on Homecoming Weekend for the alumni but, really, there is not any activities organized around the current students.
“So we’re going to give it a try. There has been some good leadership by the St. F.X. people and some excellent support from all the other partners. We’re all in favour of trying something and I think this is a good step in the right direction.”
McBeath echoed Boucher’s thoughts on priorities.
“The number one priority, and we identified that at these meetings, was student safety and the safety of the town residents.
“You have people who are engaging in consuming alcohol and walking around town, it’s not a good mix. If you can keep them in a safe location with appropriate supervision – it’s not like we’re going to be standing beside them and watching their every move – but if someone is in some sort of distress or needs assistance, at least we have people there who can provide it. Whether it’s simply helping them back to their residence or home, or if they need medical attention. We want it to be enjoyable and safe experience for everybody.”