St Andrews, Fife. When you think of the Bubble, what springs to mind? Beautiful sea views, picturesque cobbled streets, throngs of busy students, the smell of fish and chips, rolling hills in the distance, bustling cafes, historic buildings? True to this, our busy little town is a gorgeous space to live in – not only is everything within walking distance, but there is a seemingly endless stream of things to do for students and residents alike. From yoga to beer tasting to painting classes, St Andrews offers a largely positive and enriching academic experience. However, despite the University’s undeniably favorable reputation, it is hard for an institution, or area, to be perfect. Across the UK, and indeed the world, all universities have one thing in common: drugs.
Now, compared to larger and more urban universities such as Sheffield or Manchester, it is clear that St Andrews is fairly tame. Although a few students can be spotted on a Friday night sprawled in the arms of friends, or running down Market Street singing nonsense lyrics after one too many pablos, our student population is largely centralized around fun and respect. Drinking is encouraged among societies, clubs and friendship groups, but rarely to a dangerous extreme – even on events such as Raisin Weekend, the University tends to stay true to its name.
In my first few months at St Andrews, I expected the attitude to wards drug use to be the same. Like any university or student based environment, it is inevitable that people will use illegal drugs when engaging in social activities (such as going on a night out) or trying to relax during stressful study times. Unlike city based universities in which drug culture is booming and student drug use seems to be climbing, St Andrews posed a less threatening image to me – one of the contributing attributes as to why I decided to study here (bar the “let’s not talk about it” Cambridge situation).
Within my first month of being here, I thought I had proved myself correct. Not only had I barely seen any students take drugs, but any drugs I did see were soft. Nothing overly sinister blazed in the fore ground, and I was able to continue through my Freshers’ week (month) with ease. Sure, I witnessed people drop out of pres a little early due to dozing off on the sofa, but I certainly did not encounter anything that screamed “drug problem” to me.
However, as the years have gone on, I have been hit by reality like a truck. Although I live in a beautiful town, student behavior towards drugs doesn’t always reflect this – having seen minimal drug use in my first year, my second year proved to be a very different story. Instead of seeing people falling asleep during beer pong or mumbling away about how Plato was right to someone who is absolutely listening (she was defi nitely on Tinder at the time), I started to notice a darker side of student culture. In going to more events during my first semester and widening my social circles, I have come to the conclusion that although St Andrews might not have a drug “problem” there are some important things to highlight.
Firstly, not every kind of illegal drug at university is “harmless” – I have seen individuals taking dangerous and life threatening drugs, and then offer it to the person next to them to, “Just, like, try it!” While all kinds of drugs inevitably float about in any student environment – and there is practically nothing that can be done to stop it – it was the ease at which people received such a substance that bothered me. Taking it yourself is one issue, but offering it to a girl you became acquainted with five minutes ago is not responsible: no matter how interesting, intelligent, or alternative you think it may make you (when in reality it just made you dribble a bit and dance like an overly Red-Bulled six year old), you have no right to be putting that into some one else’s body. Yes, everyone has a choice, and yes if someone agrees to take such a substance it is ultimately their personal choice to risk their health – but why actively encourage it, simply to make it a “good night”?
Moreover, the drug use I have witnessed has a horrid foundation to it: money mixed with competition. Almost like watching a David Attenborough documentary, students semi aggressively chat among them selves about X, Y, and Z substances they have bought or plan to buy soon – verbally flashing their wallets, drugs are used almost as a strange currency to highlight value and influence. While I understand the human need to impress those around you in order to gain a sense of security (not that a good friendship is necessarily built this way, but we all remember the Freshers’ scramble to make friends), doing it with dangerous drugs is irresponsible across all playing fields. Not only is it directly promoting the use of drugs, it is alluding to a series of stages to work through in order to gain “coolness” or status – like playing a computer game, some students seem to think it funny to jump from A to B to C and pull others in with them. Newsflash – it’s not.
In closing, drugs are inevitable at university but the once cosy image of St Andrews has been slightly tainted for me. While Pablo-market-street vocalists are the norm, seeing hard drugs being used in toilets or at festivals unnerves me – not only do individuals who are unable to walk or talk properly significantly dampen a night out, but they are putting them selves in life threatening situations. As an individual who is currently striving for health in all aspects of my life, I seem to have developed a new-found intolerance for toxic substances and erratic student behavior. Yes, universities will most likely never be drug free, but seeing them being sneaked into balls or fashion shows, used heavily before pres or taken before nights out is not a way to live while studying at one of the best universities in the world. While drugs may, at first, look like a way of injecting a bit of extra fun into student life, think carefully before you touch them – not only could they ruin your life, but they could ruin someone else’s.
In an addendum to this article, Viewpoint Editor Max Waller has written an article available HERE pointing out that drug use is not just bad for the reason expressed above, but also because it helps to facilitate crime and is also a serious crime in and of itself.
Illustration, Edward Emery