Documents The Gateway obtained through a freedom of information act request have revealed serious health and safety concerns in Lister Residence at the University of Alberta.
The university imposed a number of changes in Lister over the summer, changing three of the four halls to first-year residences for 2013, making changes to the staffing structure and changing their alcohol policy to eliminate drinking in public spaces.
The university gave the Students’ Union a list of documents pertaining to the health and safety concerns leading to these changes. One document contained a list of video descriptions ranging from “seemingly fun but harmless social activities” to “high-risk and dangerous acts.”
Some of the acts laid out in the descriptions, ranging from the mid ‘00s to last year, include a Floor Coordinator and a student vomiting on each other, collecting it in a pitcher, and having a third student drink it.
One act describes a student having his pelvic area lit on fire. Others include residents publicly urinating on each other, a Floor Coordinator having his anal region waxed with duct tape; a student drinking a mixture of urine, beer and toilet water; drinking cups of urine; stripping and also a false arrest — which led to an eviction and 100 hours of community service.
Reports often stemmed from tower competitions, which also include events where residents sit outside on an ice rink during winter nights.
“(The university) really stretched what happened in a lot of the activities. So for one thing, (they’re saying) students will have to go sit outside on the ice and are forced to sit there overnight and freeze — but actually the hours are pretty reasonable that they do it, and no one’s forced to be out there,” Students’ Union President Colten Yamagishi said. “I’m sure if these things were things that people didn’t enjoy they wouldn’t do them.”
Yamagishi added that in a residence as large as Lister, which houses 1,800 students, issues are going to arise.
“We don’t necessarily deny that there’s things that could be improved in Lister, but definitely we haven’t seen anything that should give (the university) the right to break their own bylaws … There’s nothing happening now that hasn’t been happening for the last 50 years,” he said. “I just don’t understand where this concern is coming from.”
The Students’ Union received the package of documents from the university in July.
“It’s like a pile of documents … and it’s basically just a whole bunch of very empty information that talks about the current situation for Residence Services, the residence staff and the students, but there’s nothing in there that constitutes a state of emergency or urgency,” Yamagishi said.
“I’m not going to say the whole package is bogus, because that’s not true — but a lot of it is outdated information … and a lot of it is inaccurate.”
Dean of Students Frank Robinson confirmed that administration had based its concerns on what happened in the past two years. He added that they had shared their information with the SU as early as July 23.
“On July 23, (the SU) saw a list of troublesome events that we saw in Lister — not last year, but in the previous year,” he explained.
“In the days later, they received a very, very detailed list of incident reports. And the incident reports were primarily this last year. Yamagishi responded to it on the 31st, so he must have got it before then. He said he didn’t see anything problematic in it.”
Last year, there were more than 100 judicial incidents reported in Lister regarding things from vandalism and smoking to alcohol misuse and abuse to staff. Of these, 22 involved EMS, UAPS or EPS — compared to two such incidents requiring emergency help across other residences.
The report also notes that student staff told supervisors that there were many incidents they did not report.
Robinson said that the information that administration shared with the SU included YouTube videos and issues found on social media.
“When I say incident reports, I don’t just mean formal reports, I mean several incidents that cause risk to health and safety,” he clarified. “Some reports were from the past couple years, and some were before that. Some were this year, and some were in the past academic year.”
Robinson added that the university approves of many things Lister does, including its philanthropic endeavours and community-building events such as dodgeball.
“I don’t want to come down slamming all parts of Lister culture. There are some really good things happening in Lister hall and we don’t want to destroy that,” Robinson said. “However, the documents that we prepared this summer, when I looked at those and when other people in Central Administration looked at those, they said things have to change.”
Robinson said that he wasn’t made aware of the videos until June of this year.
“Even though we’ve been doing all this stuff, it wasn’t having the effect we needed to have, so we needed to do something like this,” he said.
“The things that deal with urgent health and safety things, we will make those changes, period. We’re not going to sit back … the way I look at it, if we wait to make changes, and something happens in that year, no one wants to be in that situation, so we are going to make the changes. We have no intention of going back on them.”
Despite these concerns, the SU is maintaining its hard-line position on the Lister changes. In an August 14 meeting of Students’ Council, the SU voted, in camera — which means only members of council are privy to details and are unable to discuss them — to approve $50,000 of unbudgeted money.
Of these funds $40,000 is for unexplained “professional fees,” and $10,000 for “student association training fees.”
Four members of council have confirmed with The Gateway that the $40,000 is for legal fees, with the $10,000 for LHSA training.
Shortly after the fees were approved, tweets on the hashtag #thenewLHSAtraining revealed the Lister Hall Students’ Association’s staff members went to the mountains for a weekend camping trip with a company named Hela Ventures. The trip included hiking, mountain climbing and white water rafting.
“Blew a knee rafting, gonna walk it off on the mountain #fruitvaleinstincts #thenewLHSAtraining #naturewalk,” tweeted @VPschaffer.
Although Yamagishi agrees that the $10,000 went to the LHSA training fees, he denies that they funded the trip.
“We certainly have not paid for their camp or for any food. All of the costs that went towards them went for materials, speakers and basically any training stuff they needed,” he said.
“The reason we helped them out with that … is just because those were costs that they normally wouldn’t have to incur unless this whole thing had gone crazy like this.”
Yamagishi declined to comment on the $40,000, citing in camera rules.
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