On November 14, 2015, an event held at Shots nightclub hosted by the Trent African and Caribbean Student Association (TACSU) was shut down before it finished. This was an Afrobana after party.
For both TACSU members and Shots staff, this was a distressing incident that caused tension and anger. Representatives from both sides met in early December for a mediated discussion in order to work on resolving the issues.
Both sides shared their concerns. TACSU felt they were being treated differently from other patrons, and perceived that this could be due to racism, while Shots staff members said they were dealing with liquor license violations and some incidents of aggression. There was confusion over why there was a separate TACSU event line, for example.
It was intended to expedite entry into the event, but it wasn’t effective as most people arrived at the peak entry time. Furthermore, there wasn’t clear communication between Shots staff members and event organizers, so it wasn’t clear what the issues were or why the event was being shut down.
TACSU acknowledged there were some individuals who caused problems, but they would also like to emphasize that they were just individuals, not the whole community.
TACSU had a concern about reinforcing stereotypes and how the behaviour some individuals were being projected onto the entire group. TACSU said they were now much more aware of the challenges in running a licensed establishment as well as concerns about liquor license violations and staff safety.
Shots managers acknowledged that they now better understand how their staff’s actions on the night of the event could be interpreted, regardless of intention, and that experiences are different for those who constantly face systemic racism.
They emphasized that they have many different student groups holding events at the bar, and that they are committed to successful student events as well as student safety and the well-being and safety of their staff members.
Both groups wanted to move forward and find solutions, particularly in terms of better communication between student groups and the nightclub, better and safer event planning, and better awareness of the impact of systemic racism and how, even if it is unintentional, staff members’ actions can be interpreted as discriminatory.
This event caused distress for both students and the bar staff, which both parties want to prevent in the future. The mediation came up with the following solutions: Shots has existing anti-oppression training, and sensitivity training for security. To supplement this, the manager will meet with Shots staff and ensure that they understand how their actions were interpreted, and that they have a better understanding of the effects of systemic racism.
In order to facilitate better planning and communication, Shots will amend their student event booking process to include a face-to-face meeting with organizers prior to the event. During this meeting, they will address any concerns the group has, and cover issues such as licensing laws, venue expectations, door procedures, and how any problems will be handled.
They will also ensure that the student group understands the consequences for the venue if the licensing laws are violated.
They and the student group will identify student executive members who will be key contacts, and they’ll work out a communications plan for the duration of the event (e.g. having executives’ cell numbers so they can be texted if needed, asking an executive member to help with a situation if there is a problem with an individual, etc.).
They will also conduct debriefs with student groups after events.
TACSU will ensure communication with their members about expectations for attending an event and consequences for an establishment if licensing laws are violated. This will include ensuring that their members respect the space.
TACSU will also ensure that there is planning and communication done well in advance with the venue. They will look at ways to discourage pre-drinking, too, and will encourage coming to the venue earlier to help avoid long lineups or tension at the door. They will also work with venue staff to deal with any problems if they arise during the event.
Shots will liaise with the TCSA every year to help with planning clubs/groups event training, risk management including how to have safer events, understanding of working with licensed establishments, and understanding the needs of students.
It’s hoped that this will in fact show leadership among off-campus venues for better event planning with student groups.
This mediation developed productive ideas moving forward. Better understanding of both sides on the one hand of the impact of systemic discrimination, and on the other of the challenges in managing a licensed establishment, helped create awareness between the two parties.
Everyone involved was thanked for their hard work in building these solutions together, and both sides hope that implementing these initiatives will improve communication, help create safer events for both students and venue staff, increase understanding of the challenges faced by licensed venues, and heighten awareness of systemic racism that many students face.