A united front: is student action effectual enough?

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C/W: this article contains themes of drink spiking which some readers may find distressing. Reader discretion is advised.

In the last two years, both locally and nationally, we have seen the overwhelming power that collective grassroots action can hold with respect to raising issues and inspiring change. In a wide range of areas, whether that be the wave of #BlackLivesMatter protests in the wake of the murder of George Floyd, or vocal supporter opposition to the failed European Super League, young people in particular have begun to voice themselves on issues that hold a profound importance for them. Youth action and anger can no longer be ignored, or swept to the periphery of what is seen as important. 

The recent response from the Durham University student body to the rise in spiking cases is another pleasing manifestation of this trend. On the last count, compiled by Joe Anson, JCR Vice President for St. Chad’s College, over 160 suspected spiking cases had been reported to college JCRs and welfare teams during Freshers’ week, the week before it and the weekend after. There have since been horrifying reports of spiking via injection. 

Durham, which traditionally is not known for student-led action, was one of the forerunners

The response from the Durham student body was overwhelming – Durham, which traditionally is not known for student-led action, was one of the forerunners in the response to the rise in spiking incidents both locally and nationally. Durham Night In, held on Tuesday 26th October, saw over 1,400 students of the University, pledging to boycott nightclubs that night, with many of their peers joining in solidarity.

The response from nightclubs across Durham has, in my view, been swift and reassuring, a further indicator of the strength that mass solidarity and coherent action brings. Jimmy Allen’s, as an example, have introduced more searches on entry, whilst also encouraging customers to put lids on open drinks in what are just two of a number of new measures introduced. Babylon, another popular club with students, are introducing free drug-testing kits for students, plus introducing the use of metal detectors on arrival.

These measures are very welcome and will hopefully have a tangible impact on spiking levels. However, they will not completely eradicate the threat of spiking within Durham’s nightclubs and bars. There is only one long-term solution to this problem – education – and since a number of the perpetrators of spiking are suspected to be Durham students themselves, the responsibility for this ultimately rests on the University.

The University needs to educate its students, providing comprehensive teaching

Unfortunately, Durham University has hardly covered itself in glory with regards to the staggering growth in cases of spiking, with the now infamous #dontgetspiked tweet as the most explicit example of their ineffective response. Instead of perpetuating the notion of victim blaming, the University needs to educate its students, providing comprehensive teaching on the morality and consequences of spiking and nuances of consent. This is the only long-term solution which, coupled with the recent changes implemented by nightclubs, will deter attackers and make Durham’s nightlife a safer space for all. 

Despite the aforementioned inertia of the University body, there is a basis for inspiring change through education. Talks about topics such as white privilege now form an important part of Freshers’ Week, whilst there has been a steady push towards decolonising the curriculum. Evidently the foundations for this change exist – the only question that remains is whether the central University body is willing to push for that change. 

It’s time for Durham University itself to fulfil its role in the fight against spiking

The success of the student-led anti-spiking protest has perhaps hidden the inefficacy of the University’s response. Nevertheless, it should remain a source of immense pride for everyone involved, whether you played a leadership role within the Durham Night In movement, or simply stayed in that night.

However, the fight is far from being won. It’s time for Durham University itself to fulfil its role in the fight against spiking. Our student body must now hand over the baton to the University to bring about the institutional change required to encourage a culture from which perpetrators are excluded, allowing Durham to be a city with a nightlife to be enjoyed, not feared, where students can focus their energies on having a good time rather than being inundated with anxieties surrounding their safety.

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