Thursday, November 22, 2007

More ACF Post-Mortem

Maayan keeps nagging me to post. I never do. Quite frankly, there's little UBC-related stuff that can raise my ire and I'm able to comment on in a public forum. This is one such issue.

There are two universal UBC experiences. Imagine UBC, and Arts County Fair. Seriously. Think about it - is there any event, beyond those two, that impacts essentially every student at UBC (well, the Vancouver campus)? Even if you've never gone to ACF, you've still gone to a res breakfast, or hung out with friends, or taken a day off because everybody else was partying. It's campus-wide party, on a campus with a dearth of campus-wide cohesion.

That's why its demise is sad. Very, very sad. Sure it's a drunken booze-up, but this one was special. It's as essential a part of the UBC year as literally anything else.

So, who's to blame? First, not the AUS. They've been soldiering on for years, swimming upstream. It's to their credit that they created a campus-wide institution, and kept it going so long and so successfully. I place blame in three areas:

  • The University Neighbourhood Association. All those condos around T-Bird stadium, along Wesbrook Mall? Those are filled with people who complain loudly every time there's a loud concert at T-Bird, and every time there are drunk students stumbling around. Their constant pressure has resulted in massively inflated police and security costs, and additional planning headaches. Sure, nobody wants loud, drunken people around their property, but you moved to a university campus - what were you expecting?
  • UBC Administration. Several reasons. For putting up roadblocks to the event, rather than helping to remove them. For translating the UNA concerns into pressure brought to bear on the organizers. For shoddy financial aid and admission policies (see below).
  • Students. It's a great event. Go to it.

There has been much said about the demise of the drinking culture. I don't believe that, per se. But I've long had a beer garden theory of social engagement. Beer gardens weren't about the drinking - they were about the community. Just happened to involve sweet, delicious beer. There used to be 6-7 on any given Friday. No longer. Their demise coincides with the tuition hike, and corresponding (relative) decline in need-based financial aid. People need to work more, maybe are more likely to need a part-time job that takes away their Fridays. Maintaining your scholarship becomes more important, so people are less likely to go out and party, more likely to spend Friday working on the essay. And you're more likely to stay at home to save money, meaning you spend your Fridays with high school friends, not on campus.

I also reserve a special bitterness for the housing lottery. Peoples' social networks moved off-campus when housing became lottery-based and people and their friends got kicked out of housing. People were less in tune with the campus social culture, and less likely to come out. By contrast, res was filled with 18 year-olds who couldn't even get in to (the good parts of) ACF.

What's the solution? There are two. First, the University administration can step up. Recognize the value of ACF to the campus and help support it. I'm sure the AUS could provide a fulsome list of ways the University could help. Second, perhaps other undergrad societies could step up to the plate. AUS will have some institutional memory, other campus groups could help absorb the financial risk, and, hell, maybe the event could even be bigger and better.

My big fear is that once this event is gone, it'll be impossible, in today's climate, to bring it (or anything similar) back.