Two things struck me as strange when I started taking steps to set up a chapter of Students for Sensible Drug Policy this year. First, I was surprised that a chapter didn’t already exist, given how popular drug use is among the student body. I’ve since learned that someone had tried to set up a chapter in 2015 but had been denied Central Societies Committee (CSC) recognition and faded into non-existence soon after.
Second, I was concerned to find that Trinity had no explicit statement on drugs. How can an institution have a five-page alcohol policy, and a no-smoking policy that goes as far as having people patrol campus telling students to put out their rollies, but be completely silent on drugs?
In Trinity’s defence, the knee-jerk response of people who don’t consider harm reduction to be a priority is to say that the only drug policy we need is the law. The veil of legality adds legitimacy to this view, simplifying one of the most pressing social issues of our time with the same speciousness as Nancy Reagan’s “Just Say No”.
While this view is simple and straightforward, where does it leave the student who has just been caught with drugs and is wondering what the implications will be for their degree? What about the student battling addiction but fearful of seeking help from support services on campus for fear of what the implications might be? Saying the law is the only drug policy we need leaves these people and their struggles in the dark.
How can an institution have a five-page alcohol policy, and a no-smoking policy that goes as far as having people patrol campus telling students to put out their rollies, but be completely silent on drugs?
To its credit, Trinity College Dublin Students’ Union (TCDSU) has done its best to fill the gap left by the university administration on this issue. TCDSU has adopted a pro-harm reduction and decriminalisation stance since 2015, and recently mandated for a chapter of Students for Sensible Drug Policy to be established. TCDSU’s website has a useful “Drugs and the Law” piece, and a “Drug by Drug guide”, which has accurate summaries of popular drugs as well as some good first aid information on how to respond if people are overheating or unconscious.
However, it also has a peculiar segment on drugs in general. I’m sure it was written with the best intentions, and does its best to get down with the kids with its edgy references to “wacky baccy”, but it doesn’t have a lot of practical advice or factual information, apart from how you should always carry a condom and how you might nick an artery while injecting. There is no reference to any of the student support services and how they can be of assistance in relation to drug use, which is information that should be common knowledge.
There’s a real nervousness underlying the piece on TCDSU’s website. It leaves the impression that the author wanted to address drug use on campus but had a certain amount of anxiety about saying anything that could appear to be endorsing drug use rather than advising how to use drugs in a safer manner.
I thinks this falls far short of the standard of information the College community deserves, but I blame the silence of Trinity as an institution for attributing to this unease rather than the people who wrote these pieces. If our university doesn’t articulate a clear stance on drugs, all we can do is guess, reiterate general information pulled off Spunout and Drugs.ie, and hope we don’t get called out for addressing a health issue that to all outward appearances, doesn’t exist.
If our university doesn’t articulate a clear stance on drugs, all we can do is guess and reiterate general information pulled off Spunout and Drugs.ie
Above all, the most damaging thing about this wall of silence is that it paints attempts at harm reduction as subversive and not in line with the College’s mission or values. If Trinity wants to reflect the views of its students, then this needs to change.
Co-operation between students and the College on this issue has proven to be successful. Up until two or three years ago, Dublin City University’s (DCU) drug policy was a single paragraph stating that drugs are illegal, that the college has a zero-drugs policy, heavy penalties apply, and these may affect your travel prospects in the future. This paragraph isn’t great, but it’s a paragraph more than Trinity has, and at the very least, it included a number for a drug and alcohol helpline.
But the DCU chapter of Students for Sensible Drug Policy was able to work with its college administration to write a much more detailed drug policy that made the penalties of drug use on campus clear while also directing people to the existing support services, like the Health Service, the Student Counselling Service, and others.
Students need – and deserve – to know that support services still exist if they have issues relating to their drug use. Over the next year, developing a similar policy for Trinity is the top priority of our chapter of Students for Sensible Drug Policy.