Carceral control through a university student lens at homecoming

Emma Dann is an undergraduate student at Queen’s University, Canada. She is in her second year studying human geography, and her interests are in the field of urban and regional planning.

I am enrolled in a course at Queen’s University, called GPHY299 Place, Space, Culture and Social Life which was the first time I learned about carceral geography. A discussion in class allowed me to discover that dozens of other Queens University students and I had experienced a form of carceral immobilisation concerning homecoming incarcerations that have overlapped between university spaces and students’ functional and post-functional lives.

Queen’s University celebrated homecoming (HOCO) on Oct. 16 and 23, 2021. Hoco is celebrated annually in ways such as football games, students displaying Queen’s tricolour pride, and attending social events which tend to fall immediately before or after the peak of the midterm season as a way to release stress from academic deadlines. However, this year HOCO was unlike any other. Just days before the event, news broke to students that Queen’s would be making a $350,000 donation to the City of Kingston to compensate for increased costs as a result of increased police to enforce COVID-19 restrictions in the University District during homecoming (Semple, 2021). The donation raised significant concern as the University administration is aiding the city of Kingston in spending money specifically on increased policing. Regardless of the news about the donation, Queen’s students gathered in the streets of the student district for homecoming celebrations. The aftermath of the financial donation resulted in a police presence more extensive and more intense than the University and its students had experienced before. The police presence included a mounted unit from the Toronto Police Force, Ontario Provincial Police Officers in riot gear, Greater Toronto Area and Gananoque Police, and Kingston Police Officers (Semple, 2021). It was evident that the idea of confinement has seeped out of “carceral” spaces into Queen’s student’s everyday, domestic, street, and institutional spaces (Prouse, 2022). Confinement seeped out of carceral spaces on multiple accounts where students were arrested and taken into custody for participating in celebrations on their property. Students were treated like criminals by the police force, which was used to express surveillance, abolishment, and banishment to the Main Street, Aberdeen, where students gather to celebrate.

The result of the HOCO events has left students and parents of Queen’s University disturbed at how the donation to increase police control was handled. Students like myself feel that not only was this excessive, but it was ineffective, and the effects of increased policing are even more significant for Queen’s marginalised students. It is clear that students’ mobility is ’embedded in institutions’ through economic funding (Brown, 2017). Queens, like any university, has a vulnerable population of students, including students of colour and LGBTQ2S+ individuals, who are among those disproportionately targeted by police. It is apparent that we as individuals continue to live in a society where police involvement can be detrimental to student safety. Shockingly, students who are simply celebrating HOCO are adding to the increasing numbers of people whose lives are penetrated by the criminal justice system. This past HOCO celebration is a clear example that techniques and technologies of confinement seep out of ‘carceral’ spaces into the everyday, domestic, street, and institutional spaces, including spaces that are typically associated with ‘care’ but which often transmute into sites of coercive control (Carceral Geography Working Group, 2022).

I stand with Queen’s University in agreement that a small minority of students during Queen’s HOCO, who are a risk to themselves, others, or the environment around them deserve no excuse for their actions, regardless of the celebration. However, I felt the increased presence of police around the university district made me feel intimidated and not protected after learning that coercive control by police forces is embedded in broader structures and social relations of capitalism. I am perplexed that my University stands by the actions of their donation and continues to lead to a new range of strategies of social control and coercion over a vulnerable population using technologies of surveillance and control that enabled a carceral ‘fix’ to operate beyond conventional carceral spaces (Carceral Geography Working Group, 2022). As a student, I am beyond grateful that there are publications such as Carceral Crossings that help educate students such as myself in aiding knowledge of carceral geography approaches that allow researchers and educators to describe how the confinement of prisons can exit the walls of detention and enter people’s daily lives.


BROWN, E. 2017. Mobilising carceral reformation: Mobility, the will to change, and the urban history of the juvenile court. In: TURNER, J. & PETERS, K. (eds.) Carceral Mobilities: Interrogating Movement in Incarceration. Routledge.

CARCERAL GEOGRAPHY WORKING GROUP. 2022. What is carceral geography? Carceral Geography Working Group. Retrieved from

PROUSE, C. 2022. Module 4. Queen’s University GPHY 229.

SEMPLE, J. 2021, October 25. Police presence heavy during second Queen’s homecoming weekend. Global News. Retrieved April 15, 2022 from