By Poppy Askham
The upsurge in spiking reports in Durham at the start of this term and the University’s handling of the issue has provoked student uproar of an intensity that has rarely been seen in recent years.
In a university city not known for its student activism, an anti-spiking movement has risen up that has pulled support from all quarters, uniting students from sports teams and feminist societies alike. Indeed, in a remarkable moment for the University, Durham students have emerged amongst the frontrunners in a national campaign to improve clubgoers’ safety and tackle what some have described as an “epidemic”.
The rise in spiking cases comes just over six months after the abduction and murder of Sarah Everard, a Durham alumna, put the limits of women’s safety in the UK into sharp focus. Durham was one of the first of more than 60 UK universities to organise a nightclub boycott.
Not only that, but the energetic social media campaigning of groups like Durham Night In and the recent publication of a student compiled report into suspected spiking incidents at the beginning of term, have attracted international media attention and cemented the Durham student body’s place as a leading voice in the campaign.
The decision of more than 90 teams and societies to back the nightclub boycott and the dominance of the topic in student conversations over the past week are testament to the extent to which the Durham students have engaged with this issue. Murmurs of unease first began to simmer in Freshers’ Week as cases of suspected spiking in the city started to soar, but it was not until several weeks later that student anger truly boiled over.
The inciting incident? A now-deleted tweet from Durham University’s Student Wellbeing team that told students #dontgetspiked. Scores of students took to their keyboards to lampoon the University for its victim-blaming message. Scorn came from all sides: Durham Students’ Union President Seun Twins and City of Durham MP Mary Foy to name but two critics.
By the time it was deleted, the post had received more than 900 comments, the majority of which voiced harsh criticism of the University. Although the University removed the message and issued a statement saying that it had noted feedback on the post and that it took the issue of spiking “very seriously”, the damage had been done.
This misstep from the University had a galvanising effect on the student body. The following day the Durham Night In boycott was launched and the protest movement surrounding the issue has continued to snowball ever since. As talk turns to the movement’s next steps, there are even those considering extending the boycott to span over the weekend of Halloween.
In the seeming absence of sensitive leadership from the University, students have taken matters into their own hands with palpable results: three clubs and bars closed their doors on Tuesday night and a raft of new safety measures have been introduced in venues across the city.
Image: Thomas Tomlinson