London·Exclusive

Western University's 'party problem' must be solved, president vows after FOCO debacle

Western University President Amit Chakma admits his school has a "party problem" to solve, but said administrators made the right choice by moving homecoming to October, saying the event is mainly for alumni, and "not for students."

Western University's president says homecoming is primarily an alumni event, 'not for students, period.'

Western University president Amit Chakma said a Sept. 30 student street party that filled Broughdale Avenue with partiers was a 'dangerous situation.' (Mark Spowart/Canadian Press)

Western University president Amit Chakma admits his school has a "party problem" to solve, but said administrators made the right choice by moving homecoming to October, saying the event is mainly for alumni and "not for students."

"I'm very disappointed and very concerned," said Chakma about a massive student street party on Sept. 30 that flooded Broughdale Avenue — a small, dead-end residential street near the university — with 11,000 revelers. The event led to 11 arrests, 10 hospital visits, extensive damage to public property and a warning from police, prompting students to avoid future gatherings.

"Our [official] homecoming went very well, but we still have to solve this party problem," Chakma said in an interview on London Morning with host Rebecca Zandbergen. 

Chakma said, in recent years, homecoming has become an excuse for students to hold increasingly large and wild parties. 

In an attempt to make it less about partying, Western moved homecoming from the last weekend in September to late October, when students become busier. 

Moving the date

Moving homecoming was an unpopular decision among students, which gave rise to an unsanctioned "fake homecoming" party in late September, which came to be known as FOCO.

The booze-fuelled bash created a difficult situation for police and a public relations headache for the university. 

A much quieter homecoming happened last weekend, which means that moving it to later in the academic year was the right move, said Chakma.

"Our hope was that our first-year students who come to us — they're excited [with] lots of energy — they will understand a bit better that they are at Western, not to party, they are at Western to study," he said.

Chakma said the street party was a "very dangerous"  situation. There were reports of drunken party-goers damaging property, urinating in back yards and climbing on roofs. 

"Partying itself is not necessarily a concern for safety," he said. "But excessive drinking, gathering in a very small, confined space with that many people is highly problematic."

Thousands of students filled Broughdale Avenue in an unsanctioned Sept. 30 street party that led to 11 arrests and 10 people sent to hospital. Police have said similar student street parties can't continue. (The Social Lab/Facebook)

In a statement that may prove controversial among the student body, Chakma also said homecoming is mainly a celebration for graduates, not students.

"Homecoming is not for students period," he said. 

So, what about next year?

At a meeting last week, police said FOCO-style street parties can't continue.

Mayor Matt Brown said he's worried someone could die if a similar party happens in the future, since emergency vehicles had trouble getting down the crowded party street. 

Chakma said the university will continue to work with law enforcement, student leaders and city officials to prevent a repeat of the Broughdale Avenue party. However, he also said the university is limited in its ability to control what students do.

Chakma was adamant that Western's homecoming would not be moving from October anytime soon.

"We're not moving the date," he said. 

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Andrew Lupton is a B.C.-born journalist, father of two and a north London resident with a passion for politics, photography and baseball.

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