Queen’s made the decision to ban alcohol in residence during Orientation Week this year as part of our strategy to reduce high risk behavior, increase student safety and help students successfully transition to university life.
Early indications are that the ban contributed to a more positive Orientation Week experience.
Queen’s, like most universities across the country, moved to an alcohol-free Orientation Week many years ago. This decision recognized that most incoming first year students are under the legal drinking age and that the goal of orientation is to provide a range of opportunities to help students connect with a new learning and living environment.
Several universities expanded the alcohol-free nature of Orientation Week by implementing alcohol-free residence policies during orientation. Our decision to implement a similar policy this year arose in part from our review of Canadian best practices.
Alcohol misuse is a significant issue among some segments of the university-aged population and best practices suggest that reducing access to alcohol is a strategy that reduces risk and harm. Adjusting to university can be overwhelming for some students who may be worried about making new friends, living away from home for the first time and doing well academically. New students can be particularly vulnerable to peer pressure to engage in overconsumption of alcohol or other risky behaviors.
More than 90 per cent of first-year students at Queen’s are underage and the deaths of two first-year students last year, including one on the first day of class, have accelerated the actions of the University’s Alcohol Working Group. The group supports a multi-pronged approach to address alcohol-related harm that includes education, prevention, health promotion and enforcement.
We do not yet have data on how many alcohol-related violations or incidents occurred in residence over the course of Orientation Week — the ban just ended Monday. Anecdotal evidence, though, suggests the ban may have helped to change first-year attitudes and create more opportunities for students to get to know their classmates without feeling pressure to drink.
Certainly student participation in evening residence orientation activities skyrocketed suggesting there may have been fewer alcohol-based room parties.
More than 3,300 first-years went to the welcome rally on move-in night at the ARC. Students had to be streamed into Grant Hall because there were so many people. The post-rally games on Tindall Field drew 700 students, when fewer than 100 students participated last year.
Increased attendance at these types of events is a signal that more students are engaged in the dry events that help build friendships and community.
Residence staff also noticed an increase in the number of students who spent time hanging out in residence common rooms throughout the week, getting to know each other, watching movies and connecting as floor mates.
Campus security and residence life staff reported positive changes at the annual Main Council Residence Dance and carnival, attended by 2,500 students. Unlike in previous years, no one needed first aid, there were no arrests and no one was taken to the on-site Campus Observation Room (COR). Only a few students were turned away because they were obviously intoxicated — last year, more than a dozen students were denied entry to the event.
Initial reports from dons indicate that Orientation Week in residence went very smoothly. When the presence of alcohol in residence came to their attention — and we’re not surprised there were some incidents — students acknowledged knowing about the ban and were cooperative in surrendering the alcohol they had.
We agreed to complete a comprehensive review of this new policy and we will do that once we collect all incident reports, survey results and interviews.
In implementing this policy, we were not expecting to eliminate drinking in residence during Orientation Week — nor did we see the ban as a complete strategy.
The ban is part of a larger strategy and represents a step toward supporting a culture where underage drinking is less pervasive and where more students make responsible and safe choices, especially in the critical first week of school. As students settle into their new homes and new lives at university, anything that reduces anxiety, promotes confidence, helps students connect with one another and contributes to student wellness is a good thing.