Dealing with unwanted party guests

Western and police check up on student party habits

Tuesday, April 7th, 2009

Facebook

I WONDER IF PUTTING "SECRET ILLEGAL PARTY" IN THE EVENT NAME WAS A MISTAKE. A copy of the email Western sends to students hosting an event advertised through Facebook it considers has the potential for trouble.

The University of Western Ontario not only provides a quality education these days, it also advises students on how to throw a party.

Western administration and the Campus Community Police Service have both said they routinely check Facebook for events with the potential to create problems.

“I am writing to you at this time regarding your posting on Facebook about a party for this Saturday,” an email sent to a group of Western students said.

“The University is very concerned about events that get posted on Facebook as the potential for things to become out-of-control for the hosts is significantly increased when an invitation is placed in such a highly visible place,” the email continued.

The email is sent out by Glenn Matthews, housing mediation officer for Western and Fanshawe College.

“Part of the mandate of my office is to keep people aware of potential issues [with parties],” Matthews said. He adds he checks into Facebook whenever an event is brought to his attention or during special times of year such as Homecoming.

“For Homecoming weekend we look and see what’s there, we don’t want to see students charged,” Matthews said.

“We don’t go looking for issues, [a Facebook posting] is no different than if someone put up a poster in their residence. We would know about it,” said Susan Grindrod, associate vice-president of housing and ancillary services.

“It’s public information. If you don’t want someone to know what you are doing, don’t put it up on Facebook,” Grindrod advises.

“I’m surprised they are monitoring Facebook for student parties,” said Steve Postma, a fourth-year health sciences student who attended a party that received an email from housing.

“It makes me wonder, is there someone delegated to Facebook event creeping?” Postma added.

Matthews pointed out the majority of his tips come from the police.

“We do pay attention to these things,” Elgin Austen, director of CCPS, said.

“On Facebook the possibility of getting people at that party that you wouldn’t really invite otherwise is greater,” Austen said.

“One of the problems when a number of people have access to an invite, it ceases to be a private party and becomes known to the population at large.

“The incidents we’ve had at Fanshawe involved non-students at student parties; they found out about the party and showed up and tried to crash it,” Matthews said, referring to large disturbances involving numerous charges near Fanshawe College earlier this year.

Facebook

“My office has always tried to get information into students’ hands, not to say don’t party, but to say party responsibly,” Matthews explained.

“Years ago, things would come to my attention because of a poster in the [University Community Centre], and I would call [the hosts] or email or visit them.”

Matthews said responses to his emails are normally positive.

“Students don’t always know the issues involved; I think they are sometimes quite fine with the contact,” Grindrod said.

“If you are going to post something on Facebook, which is a very public space, you need to be careful,’ said Tom Stevenson, president of the University Students’ Council. He added the surveillance of Facebook seems precautionary.

“If a party has a negative impact on the university, I could see how that is something [Western] is concerned about,” Stevenson said.

“Anytime something happens off-campus that gets in the press, that can be a potential issue,” Matthews explained. “You look at the two recent incidents at Fanshawe: even though the incidents didn’t involve Fanshawe students committing the acts, Fanshawe’s name got put in the press and connected.”

“The funny thing was, our party that the university was so worried about turned out to be four friends drinking beer and watching the hockey game,” Postma said.

Alex Chorley, a third-year science student, also said he was surprised to receive an email from the university for an event he attended.

“I think it goes beyond the university’s duties to investigate what students are doing on their own time off-campus.”

Austen said there is a slim possibility the Code of Student Conduct could come into play if a student advertises a party through Facebook and the party became massive and things got out of hand.

The Code has been applied in relation to Facebook already, with regard to harassment.

In one incident, Facebook was used to harass a member of the university staff.

“It all comes down to how deliberate and how intense the comments were; if it’s deliberately threatening, we have had offenses,” Austen said.

“In this particular case there was a systematic series of activities, not only including the use of Facebook,’ Roma Harris, Western’s vice-provost, said.

She added the response to the harassment would have been the same had the employee been harassed using other methods.

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