The University of Manitoba has banned buses, rented for events involving alcohol, from entering the Fort Garry Campus as a response to safety concerns. However, many students feel that the new regulations will encourage risky behavior.
On Jan. 12, a memo was sent to student groups across campus asking them to stop using bus convoys to transport students to and from the bar, stating that the university is in the midst of revising its alcohol policy “in light of recent incidents that have been the direct result of bus trips organized by local nightclubs.” The memo was also sent out to local Winnipeg bars and bus companies.
As an interim step, the university will charge such buses that come onto campus property with trespassing.
Vice-president (administration) Deborah McCallum said that the apparent increase in the prevalence of bus trips organized “for the sole purpose of alcohol consumption” gave the university administration cause for concern.
“Buses can come onto campus for other types of activities, but not if it’s specifically for the purpose of drinking or going from bar to bar,” she said.
“That’s the kind of activity we’re trying to discourage.”
She said that the university believes that the buses that transport students to bars pose a risk of harm to the students. “I think the students get the false sense of security and safety so they drink to excess, but there are many other risks that students can face,” she explained.
McCallum said that on the other hand, if students had to make their own arrangements for transportation, then they are presumably going to have to be more responsible.
The administration was concerned that by condoning the buses on campus, they were giving the impression that they too believed them to be safe. In addition, by accepting the buses from bars onto campus, the university would be held liable for any incidents.
McCallum said that the buses will remain banned from campus until the alcohol policy is reviewed.
“[ . . . ] We’re also hoping that we’ll eventually have a bar on campus that will be responsibly run and will be an alternative for students to going off campus,” she said.
President of the University of Manitoba Students’ Union (UMSU), Heather Laube, said that when UMSU learned about a potential draft of the policy they were quick to point out many concerns with it.
“This shift in university policy seems to be contrary to the objective of ensuring student safety,” said Laube.
Laube mentioned various concerns that many students on campus have with the new policy, including the fear that it will result in increased rates of students driving to and from events under the influence of alcohol.
“We want to ensure the university is considering all aspects and due diligence in ensuring that students receive safe rides home and educating students on responsible drinking and awareness on driving under the influence,” said Laube.
Laube said that the new policy ultimately removes the university out of decisions for mitigating risks and considering safety measures, which could be more harmful for students by forcing them to work around the policy.
“We also have questions and concerns that the university may be opening itself up to an expensive legal liability by banning a safe form of transportation for students,” said Laube.
Other concerns include those raised by student groups who feel they are being deterred from organizing social events, or that they are going to be faced with excessive costs to do so, as buses prove to be the most economical option of transportation.
Rochelle Viray, president of the Science Students’ Association (SSA), said the group received the notice just days before a longtime-planned pub crawl.
“It was a hassle for us because at the last minute, just when we had confirmed everything for the buses, they dropped this bombshell on us, so it was definitely hard to find an alternative,” said Viray.
Viray said she was “shocked” when she read the notice and thought the ban was ridiculous and unnecessary.
“If anything, we’re being more responsible by not having any students drive,” she said.
When the students called the bus company, they found that the company had already been informed and thus refused to go through with the event, according to Viray.
“ [ . . . ] It seems like they’re basically trying to make university all about studying,” she said.
Katelyn Graye, a fourth-year agribusiness student at the U of M, said that although the new policy hasn’t yet affected her personally, she knows that if something isn’t done to reverse it, it will inevitably affect her and other U of M students, especially those living in residence.
“It really is a safety hazard to students as student groups can more or less no longer organize a night out on the town with guaranteed transportation,” she said.
“I can understand why administration might want this campus to be a dry one, but why wasn’t it put to a vote with the students before a policy like this one was put in place?”
Laube said that students concerns have been articulated in a letter to the administration with hopes of having a meeting to discuss the matter.