I’m usually proud to be a Fanshawe College graduate. Today is one of the few days I struggle to do that.

I know that Fanshawe is an excellent school that continues to grow and expand the courses it offers, and attracts students from London, areas nearby (I lived in St. Thomas before coming to London), further communities including large urban centres like the GTA as well as small northern communities, and all over the world. When I moved to London in 2004, I started a program being unveiled that year, the first degree program that school offered, Integrated Land Planning Technology.

But throughout the time I was at Fanshawe, the name Fleming Drive kept coming up. Spontaneous street parties, property damage, couches set on fire, beer bottles hurled at London Police when they came to intervene. Every year the area is one of those focused on by LPS’ “Project LEARN” (Liquor Enforcement and Reduction in Noise), which is a joint venture between LPS and Western/Fanshawe staff and students in the first month students return after the summer.

These kinds of events didn’t begin to prepare London for what happened last night on St. Patrick’s Day. It was a perfect storm – 22°C, beautiful sunny skies, and what amounts to a drinking holiday on a Saturday. London emergency services were prepared, and had stepped up their presence downtown and in the areas around Western and Fanshawe.

It wasn’t nearly enough, and the breadth of what happened on Fleming Drive is breathtaking. Some of the stories covering the event are here, here, here and here.  Young people (I hesitate to use the word “students” though many media members have done so, and undoubtedly at least some of those involved were) took to the street, set a CTV news van on fire (thankfully no one was hurt, and Sean Irvine actually continued to report from the scene despite what happened), and police were repeatedly repelled as they tried to intervene. Materials including pieces of fence,  a couch, TV etc. were piled on the blaze, and bottles, bricks, rocks etc. rained down on officers as they tried to intervene – several were wounded though not badly, if they hadn’t been wearing riot gear it’s believed it would have been much worse.

I followed this all last night through Twitter as people commented, shared the developing news stories and shared pictures and videos from the scene. The question I kept encountering was “Why”, and people seemed to struggle with the concept that it was seemingly for no reason at all. As others have observed, most countries set fires and aim to injure police because they are protesting for their democracy and freedom. Here, Londoners rioted for no reason at all.

I and many others are struggling in the aftermath to understand what makes London/the Fanshawe neighbourhood so much more susceptible to events like last night than other campus communities. Carolyn Marshall (@karolijn) wondered if the demographics are different, and offered these as some possible questions to explore:

  • how old are these kids?
  • how far away from home (their parents) do they live on average?
  • how much of their education are they paying for on average?
  • what is the socio-economic background of the average student?
  • what’s the graduation/attrition rate of the programs at the school?
  • what are the loan default rates?
    what’s the ratio of student to non-student residents around the school?
  • what on-campus entertainment/social programs are available & what is the rate of student participation?

I wonder if the Fanshawe community really is unique, but I can also only speculate, it would be excellent if this type of assessment can be done. I also wonder if these kinds of actions are attached to reputation. Students come and go, and yet this has been a chronic problem for Fleming Drive in the time I’ve been here, and likely long before. So, why does this happen year after year? I wonder if it isn’t because people that move into the area do so partly because of a social expectation that it’s the place to be for parties, plus permanent London citizens show up to Fleming when there’s likely to be a party/riot.

So what can be done about it?

Already this question is being hotly debated and will likely only continue to be so in the days ahead. Part of the question is what is being done already, something I am working to learn more about. Endevours like Project LEARN seem to be one piece, though entirely reactive. How do we tackle the root sources of the problem? Part of that is activities – it has been pointed out that there is very little to do in the area, and that the college is in an industrial/institutional area of the east end. From my perspective, Fanshawe has been expanding extremely rapidly, and is working hard but struggling to keep up.

The first residence was opened in 1999, and now has 1,200 on-campus units as well as 68 townhouse units for 400 more students, bringing their capacity to 1,600 – of note is the fact the third residence and the purchase of the townhouses happened in the past 2 years, meaning in that time they’ve doubled in capacity. Of particular note is the townhouses, known as Gatewalk. Like Fleming Drive, it had been a source of disturbance off campus which drew criticism of Fanshawe students. To deal with this (as well as the dwindling space on campus for future residences) the college purchased the property and made it an extension of the Fanshawe residences, so that the property is under their control and to guarantee only Fanshawe students were living in the complex and that they are under a code of conduct.

To me, these are the kinds of initiatives that need to happen. I hope that this latest and most horrific event will spark conversations amongst citizens as well as between groups like the College, Residence, City of London staff, LPS, the LTC, local community organizations and FSU. For whatever reason these events seem unique to the Fanshawe area, I hope we can all work to understand why that is, and tackle the root causes.

Harder is changing the culture itself. Many have commented that until whoever were rioting last night (and those that observed them doing it) learn to take personal responsibility for their actions, things won’t likely change.

This story continues to develop, and editorials are already being written. I hope that this terrible event can start meaningful conversation between our city and campus communities to find real solutions. Above all, the actions of the people involved should not reflect on London or its excellent post-secondary schools as a whole. They must also be understood, and we nee to start working now to make sure they don’t happen again.