Since the St. Patrick’s Day riot (on Fleming Drive, close to Fanshawe College) last Saturday night, a lot of questions have been asked, seemingly without answers. It’s been noted here that the area has had a long history of issues, raising the question of why does this seem to keep happening on Fleming Drive, and why hasn’t more been done to curb it?
There has also been plenty of blame going around.
Matt Gurney of the National Post wrote this article. In it he lays the blame on the feet of the city and police service for not having a better strategy and failing to quell the violence faster and more harshly. In his view, “The only thing that will deter more violence on Fleming Drive is a strong police response to future disorder — no more retreating before the mob — and successful prosecutions.”
am980 writer Nathan Smith posted this article. In it, he noted that these kinds of events aren’t happening in other areas of the city like the downtown or the UWO area, and therefore concludes “This is a Fanshawe problem”. When I first read this article, I agreed with him, because this has been a persistent issue in the Fanshawe area since before I began studying there in 2004, and one that the college apparently hasn’t been adequately addressing. Nathan’s argument is that it is the lack of on-campus residence space that forces first year students into the community, immature and unprepared to be unsupervised. However, as I thought more about the article and what I know about the college, I started to disagree.
First, Nathan Smith’s numbers about the college residence aren’t correct. He states that the college has only 1,000 residence spots for students, while in fact they have over 1,600. Half of those beds have been added in the last 2 years with the completion of R3 Merlin residence and the purchase of the Gatewalk townhouses, now know as Kestrel Residence (R4).
Nathan is under the impression that the college isn’t attempting to keep up with residence demand, despite the fact that they have doubled the size of their operation in just over 2 years. R1 was built in 1999, R2 in 2005, R3 in 2009, and R4 was acquired in 2011. It would not be far-fetched to imagine with this pattern of growth another two 400-bed residences in the next five years.
Nathan also states that “Fanshawe has among the fewest on-campus residence spaces of any post-secondary institution in Ontario”. Fanshawe is a college that was designed to serve a community, and has only in the past couple of decades drawn students from outside London who would require student housing. I took a look at the other 28 colleges in Ontario, and with 1,600 beds, Fanshawe actually has the highest amount of residence spaces available of the 28. If you do the math, almost 11% of Fanshawe College students live in Residence (15,000 full-time students in 1,600 beds). That’s almost double what most comparable colleges Fanshawe’s size can offer.
Finally, Nathan Smith states that “spaces that do exist are not offered up to first year students, as is often the case at other Colleges and Universities, and are instead made available on a first come first serve basis.” Also untrue. A quick phone call to the Fanshawe residence front desk told me that only 15% of residences spaces are given to upper year students, and 85% are held for first years.
The residence website does explain that they have switched from a random lottery system to a first-come-first-serve basis, but what this entails is that your acceptance into residence hinges on your acceptance into the college, so if you’re accepted into the college first, you are served first. This is common at other college residences, according to their websites. Many other colleges also do not reserve spaces for first years at all, putting them into competition with upper year students for the beds.
Thinking more about this issue, I now wonder what the college could have done differently. As President of Fanshawe Student Union (FSU) Veronica Barahona stated at the Fanshawe press conference Monday, they actively work to educate students in the Fleming Drive area about city by-laws concerning noise, alcohol etc., they work with LPS to strategize how best to anticipate and quell any partying issues that may arise, etc. In reality, the area is private residences outside of Fanshawe’s control. Has it been noted that Kestrel residence townhouses, despite being next to Fleming Drive, was extremely quiet?
This raises the question, why doesn’t the college purchase the Fleming area as well? Fanshawe president Dr. Rundle called it “prohibitively expensive”, and he has a point. If each one of those money-spinning rental houses is worth $250,000, we’re talking about a million dollars for every four houses,and that’s just the purchase price. Then there’s the cost to do something with them after they’ve been purchased. I’ve heard people ask if the college security can patrol Fleming, and the answer to that is simply no. Can the college enforce residence style rules in those private houses on Fleming? Also no. It’s private property.
Nathan Smith’s article does ask a question fundamental to this issue: why do riots like this happen only in this area? This is a question Fanshawe College as well as London needs to answer, especially as the college’s reputation has already been tarnished by this event.
Who can answer this question, and what can be done to make sure it doesn’t happen again?
Tuesday night, Council agreed to start some form of public debate on the issue, as discussed in this and this article. Fontana observed different groups are discussing the issue individually already, saying “There are a lot of investigations going on. The police have a task force, Fanshawe has certain things convened; David O’Brien (the city’s division manager for corporate security and emergency management) is co-ordinating a response,”. Council voted unanimously to have a public meeting arranged as quickly as possible, though details are being ironed out as to time, place and to ensure all appropriate organizations are involved in the meeting.
I think this is a positive start, and hope that this conversation will start initiatives that the community can continue. Council is concerned that this could spur a series of meetings that they would be chairing and overseeing, but I hope that in time, it would encourage other groups such as community associations to enter conversations with the college, FSU, LPS etc. to start their own initiatives without Council’s assistance.
When all is said and done, though, I hope the blame game stops. If you threw a beer bottle at a cop car, set fire to a vehicle, or torn up a street sign, there is no one more responsible in the world than you, and no one should be taking the blame for you. The nice weather did not make you drunk. Fanshawe College did not make you pick up that beer bottle. The police were not asking for it by being there. Your absentee landlord did not make you take aim at the cop car. Neither society nor your parents let the bottle fly.
You did, rioter, and a lot of people are taking a lot of undeserved heat, because of the decisions you made on St Patrick’s Day.