What do University of Waterloo students think about Ezra Avenue street parties?

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photo by Harleen Kaur Dhillon

When Mar. 17, 2020 rolls around, students from around KW and throughout Ontario will be attending this year’s St. Patrick’s Day event on Ezra Avenue. Students told Imprint they believe UW and the Region of Waterloo are overreacting to the perceived dangers of the annual event.

The five students Imprint spoke with remained mindful of the things that could go wrong.

The annual St. Patrick’s Day street party reached a record breaking 33,000 attendees in 2019. The City of Waterloo’s Public Gatherings Task Force has released a report including 40 action items and 12 recommendations for this event that aimed to decrease the chances of street parties on Ezra Avenue from happening.

It is hard to anticipate how many people will be attending this year’s Ezra Avenue festivities considering St. Patrick’s Day falls on a Tuesday this year, as opposed to a weekend like the past three years, but a few students who spoke with Imprint confirmed their interest in going. 

Manouk Van Den Ham, a third year psychology student who arrived in Canada this school year, is already planning on attending. When asked if she believes that the party would be as unsafe as the municipal government and the university have been implying, Van Den Ham said  “I know loads of parties that go on outside. I think it’s more fun cause you will talk to other people way more. It’s more of a community thing than a club would be.” 

Some students did have some concerns about the event. 

“I mean, I think it can be very dangerous if you’re not smart about it. I think you have to keep in mind that it’s a huge crowd and position yourself accordingly I guess,” Jack Durette, a second year honours science student said. 

“One of my friends injured herself last year, but she’s 4 ‘11 and she was in the thick of it. There were also people climbing trees and going down mudslides. You’re getting what you bargained for.” 

Despite warnings from universities, student unions, and governments who repeatedly claim there is a risk for anyone that goes to a large unsanctioned street party, students continue to attend these events.    

The City of Waterloo’s Task Force report said they found Ezra Avenue street parties to be a rite of passage for the university lifestyle, but UW students told Imprint that wasn’t the case.

“I think most people say it’s a right of passage, but I think it’s just another reason to party. Which, all other holidays like that are just people using it as an excuse to get drunk,” Brittany Steele, second year biomedical student said.

Another student had the same opinion in mind. “I think it’s probably just another reason to party. I don’t think it’s an important part of being a university student,” Ibrahim Abdulrehman, a second year kinesiology student said. “It’s not that if you don’t go to the party that you’re not experiencing life as a student to the fullest extent. It’s not a big loss I feel like.”

The Waterloo Undergraduate Student Association (WUSA) mentioned their involvement with this report in a public statement on their website. 

“WUSA has been a part of combined advocacy efforts with Conestoga College and Laurier Students’ Union to promote student safety as the chief concern in the report,” WUSA said.

UW has been taking safety precautions as well. “While we haven’t seen an increase in issues on our campus in previous years, we do typically take precautions such as hiring increased security on campus,” said Matthew Grant, director of media relations at UW.  

UW administration said they aren’t a big fan of Ezra Ave. street parties. 

“Our perspective on these kinds of gatherings is that they put a major strain within the region and we don’t condone them,” said Grant. “We prefer that our students actually don’t attend the event, but if they choose to, we would just ask that they conduct themselves respectfully and responsibly.”

WUSA didn’t condemn the party, but warned about safety anyway. “As St. Patrick’s Day draws near, we will continue our support of students’ right to legally congregate, while also informing them of the potential risks associated with the festivities on Ezra,” WUSA in a statement on their website, said.

Only time will tell which other actions will be enforced to make this year’s celebration a safer one.

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