Members of the Blackall House residence are speaking out against MUN Housing, saying others were also treated unfairly following a party early in the semester, in which a student was evicted for her alleged involvement.
Keely Noiles was evicted for her involvement in a party on October 17, in which participating residents were partnered, taped together, and expected to consume 750mL of alcohol between them over the course of the night. During the party, four underage residents were sent to hospital with signs of alcohol poisoning.
However, MUN Housing also disciplined the four executive members of the Blackall House student society, claiming they also participated in organizing the event.
The students say they were told that they would be evicted from Blackall if they did not sign an agreement, which restricted their freedoms to criticise Residence Life and forced them to take responsibility for every student living in their house.
The students, however, claimed that they played no role in this and that they were being unfairly punished.
“At no point was anyone forced to do anything,” said Blackall Treasurer Andrew Van Vliet.
“There were realistically two people who said they were going to do it, and everybody else wanted to join in. So it’s very much not just voluntary, but people looking to do it”.
Instead, Van Vliet says he questions the judgement of the Residence Staff in handling the situation.
“Just sending a bunch of drunk people off isn’t exactly responsible, because what you’re dealing with now, is you’re just sort of washing your hands of it and saying ‘not my problem’,” said Van Vliet.
“They didn’t really handle it properly.”
On October 28, the Blackall Executives were called in for a formal meeting with MUN Housing and Residence Life to discuss the incident. The students say they were reprimanded and officials dismissed their accounts of their involvement in the event.
Shortly thereafter, the Blackall Exec members were invited to partake in an informal meeting with their residence coordinator. The Exec members say they were unaware that a senior representative from ResLife would be joining them for that meeting.
“I had never met him before, but Dwayne Taverner walks in and says, ‘sorry I’m late’,” said Van Vliet.
“We had no reason to believe that he would be present.”
Van Vliet said Taverner brought with him MUN Housing behaviour agreements and told the students that they would need to sign them by the end of the night. Van Vliet said the agreements contained troubling clauses that he and the other executive members didn’t agree with.
Section three of the original agreement had made the Blackall Executive members responsible for:
Any incidents involving dangerous behaviour that imperils the health, safety and security of students, or inappropriate behaviour, will result in your immediate eviction from residence.
The executive suggested some amendments, but said the revised draft wasn’t much better. The revised agreement left the executive responsible for only those events deemed dangerous which they planned or participated in, however, Van Vliet still feels as if the agreements were unreasonable.
“Impossible to uphold, absolutely impossible to fulfill them,” said Van Vliet.
“There are about a hundred people in this house […] it’s not reasonable to think that we can get around and make sure that every resident in this house is either not drinking or not doing something dangerous”.
The exec also did not agree with the section that said they must at all times support the staff and their decisions. This was not amended from the original draft, despite their request.
“The problem is we’re signing in agreeance to something that we have no idea what that could possible mean. That could mean anything from we do a presentation one weekend, to the entire house is on prohibition,” stated Van Vliet.
“We didn’t like the idea of signing something that wasn’t yet determined so we wanted to have that ironed out before we agreed or not to it”.
A behaviour agreement like the one given to the Blackall Executive is defined by the Housing Regulations as a sanction for residents who demonstrate a pattern of behaviour for repeatedly violating rules.
The members of the Blackall Executive however had received no disciplinary measures before being issued a behaviour agreement. Of the four members, only one had received a previous fine for a minor violation, where the other three all had clean records with Housing and ResLife. Van Vliet stated that he had no idea that these agreements even existed or were utilized by MUN Housing prior to receiving one.
Leah Robertson, MUN Student Union director of student advocacy, says that the agreements which were presented to the Blackall Exec Members were not only unfair, but also a threat to student societies.
“We felt that the agreements were disciplinary sanctions, when the executives played no role in this party. And for that reason, we also felt that this was challenging student union autonomy,” said Robertson.
“The executive are a society, a ratified and recognized society, under the MUN students union, and not under the control of Student Resident Assistants, and we felt that this was infringing on their rights as students.”
The house executive only learned of the possibility of their eviction when presented with the behaviour agreements, and had not been notified previously during the official October 28 meeting of the possibility of their removal from residence.
The first line of discipline used by Housing and ResLife is often a monetary fine of $30, which increases to $50 for the second offence, and then to $100 for a third. After the third offence, the guidelines state that a student will receive an automatic referral to the Residence Life Office, where they may then receive a further punishment of completing an educational program, or a loss of privileges.
“The university expects student leaders to conduct themselves in a respectful, responsible manner,” Housing director Bruce Belbin told the Muse.
“The incident in October indicated that behaviours of some members of the student executive were not at the level expected”.
The Blackall Executives were again invited to meet with housing officials including Bruce Belbin, LoriLynn Rowsell, and Dwayne Taverner on the 2nd of November to re-negotiate some of the terms of their agreement. Van Vliet stated that they made a point of re-stating their innocence, but that that all three officials refused to acknowledge the behavioural agreement as a punishment.
“They believed it to be a supportive document for us, to support us as student leaders,” said Van Vliet. “They didn’t really give any explanation on how it was meant to support us.”
On November 16th, after multiple meetings of the MUN student union, the behaviour agreements given to the Blackall Exec members were retracted by MUN Housing, and the Exec were told that the agreements had been “thrown out”.
Bruce Belbin, Director of MUN Housing says that the behavioral agreements given to the Blackall Exec members have not been “recalled”, rather, MUN Housing is exploring other restorative options in light of the October 17 event.
“Through positive discussions with the Blackall student executives and MUNSU’s executive, we have agreed to consider a progressive peer-organized proposal being developed by these student leaders” says Belbin.
Belbin hopes that this proposal will, “aim to achieve the same results the proposed behaviour contracts were intended to address”.
Robertson says there needs to be more support to help students when it comes to drinking.
“Drinking may result from stress from school, not being able to keep up studies, perhaps mental health issues, and we need to be proactive in supporting students rather than punishing them when something like this happens,” she said.
From January 1, 2011 to October 30, 2015, there have been 455 incident reports filed in regards to alcohol use by students in on-campus housing at Memorial.