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Drinking: Safety Among Students

On Thursday 31st of January, two students, at two different universities went missing after a night out. Daniel Williams (19) was last seen by his friends leaving the university’s student’s union bar, and Libby Squire (21) was last seen by friends who put her in a taxi after she was refused entry from the Welly nightclub for reportedly being too drunk. Daniel was found 5 days later in a lake on Whiteknights campus at the University of Reading, where he studied; whilst Libby has not been seen since the early hours of the 1st February. Fear has hit students around the country surrounding nights out and student safety. The events have raised many hard-hitting questions of exactly who is responsible for keeping students safe on nights and how and this can be done?

Clubs and Bouncers:

It is within the rights of clubs and bars to refuse entry to anyone that is too intoxicated to be on the premises, and many nightclubs take this very seriously. However, it often feels that this practise does more harm than good, as unfortunately many will be left on their own whilst highly intoxicated as their friends continue on with their nights. However, in light of the tragic events in January, simply putting an intoxicated person in a taxi does not ensure their safety.

“Could clubs introduce ‘safe rooms’, for those that will be left on their own?”

Perhaps implementing a new procedure for caring for those who have been refused entry would prevent them being exploited when left alone in such states. Could clubs introduce ‘safe rooms’, for those that will be left on their own to sober up in, keeping them protected and safe before being sent home when they regain enough of a cognitive ability to care for themselves? Although it is not the club’s responsibility to care for those who have not drank responsibly, arguably their protocol can put students in more vulnerable states.

Community support:

In 2017 the Cheltenham Guardians introduced the India Protocol in memory of India Chipchase. In 2016, India was refused entry from NBs nightclub in Northampton, and though she was put in a taxi by a doorman from the club she unfortunately got out. India was then approached by a man who offered to help her home, but India was tragically raped and killed by the opportunist who exploited her vulnerability. Whilst the staff at NBs nightclub have undergone further training, the club still maintains the mindset that “people need to realise how much they’re drinking and, at the end of the day, we’re not babysitters” – Marc Sawer, company director, Nb’s Bar.

“The India Protocol works on an ‘approach, ascertain and assist’ method”

The India Protocol works on an ‘approach, ascertain and assist’ method, and if something does not look right they will challenge it, whether it be ‘on the streets, outside of clubs or even in the back of a taxi’. Whilst other communities have general volunteers, there is clearly still a need for more schemes such as the India Protocol to be implemented around the country. Perhaps the challenge of protecting the vulnerable is too large for charities to take on. Maybe there is a need for a more a more professional service.

But exactly who should be responsible for employing these protectors is up for debate. In some respects, the responsibility could fall on Student’s Unions, who are usually affiliated with the clubs who put on student nights and have a large amount of responsibility when it comes to student welfare. Whilst on the other hand, city councils do retain some responsibility to ensure the safety of citizens within their jurisdiction, particularly in light of the reported lack of availability from community protection officers when it comes to drunk and vulnerable students. However, implementing a procedure such as this runs the risk of increasing the issue already at hand. If students are aware that in the event that they do drink irresponsibly that it is literally someone’s job to help them, it may increase the incentive amongst students to regularly drink beyond what it is deemed as responsible.

Universities:

It’s fair to say that a large part of student life is the night life, which is encouraged and promoted from as early as open days, but most predominantly within ‘freshers week’. In September 2017, the student housing company Campus Living Village was heavily criticised in the press for including wristbands with student’s new addresses on them in their welcome week packs, as many viewed this as encouraging students to go beyond the point of responsible drinking and lulling them in to a false sense of security that someone will help them home.

“76% of students view drinking as the largest part of university culture outside of their studies”

It’s no surprise that drinking to excess has become such a large part of student culture, with many socials and student societies promoting drinking as the most common means of socialising at university, and many sports teams have found themselves in hot water due to drinking-based ‘hazing’ of freshers during initiations getting out of hand. Though some universities have made efforts to de-normalise binge drinking within student culture, such as St Andrews whom made headlines in 2015 for being one of the first universities to offer non-drinking accommodation to its students, 76% of students view drinking as the largest part of university culture outside of their studies.

“A more coordinated partnership between universities and their cities could be set up”

Should universities be being do more to discourage students from excessive drinking and re-think the way they promote nights out? Whilst implementation of specific safeguarding for intoxicated students would help to decrease the risk of harm coming to those who are vulnerable, a balance between intervention and a change in student mentality towards responsible drinking might be what is needed in order to increase the safety of students on nights out. Perhaps a more coordinated partnership between universities and their cities could be set up in order to support the safety of their students.

Our love and support go to the families of Daniel, Libby and India, and we pray for the safe return of Libby. In light of such devastating events we can hope for a call to action to increase the safety of other students around the country, but as it’s not exactly clear cut as to where such a responsibility lies.

Beth O’Neill

Featured image courtesy of Sarah McDevitt via Flickr. Image license found here.

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