Home Moral guidelines Sabrina Maddeaux: Panic over university students partying in the streets over control,...

Sabrina Maddeaux: Panic over university students partying in the streets over control, not health

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Outdoor gatherings among vaccinees hardly COVID-19 super-spreader events

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Appalling. Frankly dangerous. Deplorable. Bold. Unreasonable. This is how universities and police across Canada describe a recent wave of criminal activity. What could be so vile, so disturbing to inspire such strong language in these normally stilted institutions?

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Street parties at the university. Yes, it’s true. Canadian universities, municipal police forces and many media outlets are in the midst of moral panic over outdoor gatherings between almost exhausted young adults.

At the beginning of September, Global News was out of breath reported about 1,000 University of Victoria students gathered outside, most without masks, “despite the health risk from COVID-19”.

What exactly is the health risk? There are no restrictions on personal gatherings outdoors or indoors in British Columbia. Even outdoor gatherings have a capacity limit of 5,000 or 50%, whichever is greater. Not only did this holiday fully comply with public health guidelines, being outdoors among vaccinated peers is just about the safest way for students to socialize.

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The article solemnly states, and you may want to find pearls to seize: “Campus security said police made 50 payments of alcohol. An accompanying video, purported to be incriminating evidence of college students gone mad, shows them mostly standing, carrying backpacks, talking and looking rather bored. American pie it’s not.

Cross the country to Halifax, where Global returned at his spooky student party beat to berate Dalhousie students for attending a downtown street party. They question a city councilor who says that “residents did not feel safe to leave their homes” and: “I think it is fair to call it conditions close to riot”. How he handles this with a straight face after the events of last year, I don’t know.

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But he’s not even the worst. A local resident goes on to say, “I think it could have been handled a lot better by the police. Especially when you see how they handled the removal of the homeless from their temporary shelters a few weeks ago. Seeing how they faced violence and pepper spray, then yesterday (the police) just came here and chaperoned a street party of well-off Dal’s students.

Yes, they actually broadcast an interview with a man who thinks students drinking on the streets should face state violence. This is where this moral panic turns from the absurd to the frightening.

Meanwhile, at Queen’s University, Kingston Police have given themselves additional powers through an emergency order to face the outdoor student party. The order creates a new category of crime called an “aggravated nuisance party,” which looks like something an old man clenching his fist to the sky has imagined. This includes a name-shame campaign, whereby police can now leak the names of party-goers to the press for the explicit purpose of publicly humiliating them.

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the mayor of kingston pronounced the threat, “There’s a list of names right now.” How’s that for dystopian? Even if this hysteria was rooted in genuine concern about the spread of COVID-19, any public health official will tell you that shame not only doesn’t work, but leads to worse outcomes.

This is all very reminiscent of the moral acid rave panic of the late ’80s and’ 90s, especially in the UK, which was less about the real dangers to public health and more about the fears that young people would resist. the overbreadth of the law and order of Thatcherism. The media played a central role at the time, publishing questionable reports ravers biting pigeon heads alongside other fear-mongering, but unsubstantiated stories.

Which brings us back to Global News, which also gave airtime to a completely unfounded anonymous claim by a University of British Columbia student who says dozens of his peers contracted COVID-19 at parties. Using a voice changer to conceal her identity, the source said: “They are going to keep their diagnosis a secret so they can attend their classes and they won’t have to miss any of the first week’s events.”

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Never mind that Vancouver Coastal Health says it has no information on possible super-spraying events and has not issued any public exposure notifications related to the UBC parties. In the absence of any corroborating evidence, the story is little more than alarmist click bait – the COVID-19 equivalent of rumors of decapitated pigeons littering the dance floors.

The eagerness of universities and police forces to harshly punish and shame students for street parties is particularly infuriating given their poor responses to cases of sexual assault and rape. Madeleine Stinson, President of the Dalhousie Student Union, interrogates her school’s willingness to use its code of conduct to discipline students at off-campus parties when it has historically been reluctant to tackle off-campus sexual assault.

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“(Dalhousie) needs to take a clear stance or it seems like they pick things that matter based on when they make it in the news and when they don’t,” she said. The difference, of course, is that one action protects the school’s brand while the other potentially harms it.

Dalhousie being the same school that in 2015 when a Facebook group for men enrolled in their dentistry program was discovered to contain misogynistic and homophobic comments, some fantasizing about the rape of classmates, posted A declaration on the “horror” and “regret” of the men involved. All escaped discipline except for participating in a restorative justice process.

In addition, the Kingston Police are the same force that neglected to file a complaint during an assault in April against a Queen’s student. She says the officers told her, “Oh, there are a lot of drug addicts in Kingston. They aren’t usually aggressive, so we usually don’t take cases like this seriously… they don’t mean any harm. But university students who socialize outside are now the real scourges of society.

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It seems clear that the panic over student street parties is not at all about safety, but rather about control. The disproportionate response of academia, police and media to these relatively safe gatherings is rooted in fears of rebellion and questioning of the rules – admittedly, rules that often make no sense or hold on to science.

Similar to the acid rave panic, authorities are far more concerned with the threat of unconditional obedience than the threat of a superspreader event. After all, we can’t let college students think for themselves. Who knows what kind of insane overtaking they would challenge next?

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