By Charlotte King
As Cardiff University enters yet another new term, Gair Rhydd sat down with Cardiff University Students’ Union’s President, Jackie Yip, to discuss Yip’s first full term as President and specifically how the Union is working to protect students from the dangers related to drugs given the increase in allegations of drinks spiking on Union club nights.
“Full on”. That was the way Yip summarised her first term as President of the Students’ Union. Rather than hitting the ground running, she described it as “hitting the ground sprinting”, and when speaking about the successes her and her Sabbatical Officer team achieved last term, she expressed she could go on and on forever.
From recycling crisp packets and improving environmental policy to record-high levels of participation in the Union’s alcohol-free events, and from increased sexual health awareness to improving student housing experiences, the President was ecstatic about the policies the Sabbatical team introduced last term.
However, Yip was most proud of the engagement at last year’s Annual General Meeting (AGM), stating how “the engagement, the debate, the insight, and the passion expressed by students is more than we could ever ask for. I think it’s amazing that students are facilitating these kinds of conversations. It’s everything a union can ask for.”
As the conversation moved forward, Gair Rhydd wanted to delve deeper in the policies the President is currently working on surrounding the dangers of drug use on campus and if the Union plans to provide more protection and support to students given the perceived rise in drinks spiking.
Firstly, Yip discussed a project she is currently working on to introduce free drug testing kits for students to allow them to “privately and discreetly test the safety of substances”, but this policy will not be intended for students to test drinks to search for traces of substances but rather for individuals to test substances they plan to take.
When asked what prompted this policy, the President explained that “safe practice is better than blanket bans” and with the drug culture which exists in a lot of higher education institutions, a blanket ban on drugs can never be truly enforced.
The majority of students are at an experimental age, Yip argued, and believes that the Union would waste its time and resources working on blanket bans and instead hopes to open up a conversation with Cardiff University students about safe and unsafe drug use with a focus on reducing harm to students.
When asked whether introducing self-testing kits puts the onus on the individual to make sure they are safe and if the Students’ Union should be doing more themselves to protect students from the dangers of drug use and specifically spiking within the Union, she replied: “Oh, there’s so much more the Union could be doing!” but emphasised that opening up dialogue with students is the first step to break the taboo surrounding drugs and asking for help, leading to a culture wherein people feel more comfortable learning about the dangers of drugs, the symptoms of spiking, and how to stay safe around substances.
As part of the Union’s drug safety and awareness initiative, the Students’ Union also plans to introduce amnesty bins on Union club nights. Speaking about the initiative, Yip stated that currently, the Union immediately bans individuals who are found carrying drugs on nighttime premises. However, a new initiative being pursued by the Students’ Union aims to introduce bins which would allow those queuing up to get into club nights to hand over drugs “with no questions asked” by dumping substances in the bins before entering the nightclub, which will then be “ethically disposed of”.
Expanding upon the idea, the President believes it will give people options; a “second-chance to decide whether they want to enjoy their night without a risk of being caught”. Gair Rhydd then asked Yip whether she thinks there is a risk this could unintentionally glorify drug use on campus by encouraging people to simply take substances before arriving at the Students’ Union to which she responded that there are always checks and balances, people will take substances regardless of the policies in place, and the Union is instead trying to create a culture wherein students can “empower themselves to make positive decisions” by opening up conservations, educating them, and giving them options.
At present, it does not appear that the Students’ Union is pursuing any particular policy to tackle the perceived upsurge in incidences of drinks spiking on the premises, however it seems that Yip hopes by creating more open dialogue surrounding the dangerous nature of drug use on campus, harmful incidences will subside as students adopt a safer approach to substance use.