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Dan McCallum: “University isn’t representing students in the integral aspects of student experience”

11 mins read

VP Communities candidate is running on ‘Help Not Harm’ platform to raise awareness and illustrate support for the decriminalisation of drugs on campus, and questions the notion of a student ‘community’

“Fundamentally, the point of this campaign is to end punitive drug policies, the point of running and the point of doing this is that Stirling, in all it’s accompanying and prospectus material refers to Stirling as a community, or something similarly along those lines. For students with or without drug problems, it certainly does not feel like a community with the way the student body is dealt with.”

Dan McCallum is running for the position of VP Communities with one manifesto point: support for the Help Not Harm campaign ongoing currently, concerning the usage of drugs.

Harm reduction refers to policies and practices that try to reduce the harm that people do to themselves or others from their drug use. It can be contrasted with primary prevention which tries to prevent people using drugs in the first place, or to stop them using once they’ve started.

Harm reduction first became a widely used term in the UK in the 1980s in response to the increasing number of cases of HIV among drug injectors and the development of syringe exchange schemes. Since then it has been developed in a number of ways including ‘safer dancing’ and drug testing.

Amidst new reports that Scotland has the highest drug-related deaths in the whole of Europe, the impetus for a Help Not Harm campaign was clear to Dan.

“It really brought home my awareness of the issue. I grew up in Glasgow so already witnesses the extent of the drug problems from that alone. It’s something I’ve cared about for a long time.”

Dan is not the only candidate running on the Help Not Harm platform across the available positions at the union elections, and there is a clear desire to send the university a message concerning the impact of the current drugs policy on students wellbeing across the student body, with a focus on the failings this produces regarding harm reduction.

When speaking to BRIG, Dan is clearly enthusiastic and passionate about taking the movement directly to campus: having witnessed friends going through drug disciplinaries he believes had no positive helpful impact on the students in question at all, and having dealt with these issues personally, it’s clear that like many students supporting the attempt.

Dan recognises that the punitive methods in place do nothing to tackle the root problems facing drug users, and rarely result in users making positive changes or receiving long-term help.

“We [students] aren’t being treated as a proper body, as a community of people. People who face hardships aren’t supported to the extent that they should be.”

Dan avoids other points in his manifesto, like other Help Not Harm candidates, choosing to focus on the chance to represent the campaign and raise awareness through running for positions, without necessarily anticipating a victory.

“We don’t want to distract from the primary concern, the most important issue.

“It’s less about winning obviously, and more about bringing attention to the issues we are trying to talk about. It’s imperative to let people know that there is something happening, and something students can do to push back against current policies, and get more student representation (for the issue) out there.”

While not explicitly on Dan’s manifesto submitted to the Union given limitations on size, he discussed the wider plans of the Help Not Harm movement in relation to the current student drug policy when asked about actions they aim to take and goals they aim to achieve.

“The campaign is very much focused on reforming the way that the university treats drugs.

“We’ve got pretty detailed proposals on what we would change within the university’s disciplinary code. With both regards to what we would add in and take out, or leave as it is.

“For example, leaving in the provisions surrounding GHB and rohypnol as dangerous drugs associated with date rape. We of course think it’s very important that is kept the same.

“We primarily want to ensure that while punishment is taken away, that the support measures are still in place, and improved on.

“For example, one thing we hope to achieve is the replacement of fines for possession with drug counselling or similar. We want to see the university offer proper support programmes for addiction, and improve greatly on the current mental health services available.

“We discussed the impact of the punitive policy measures, especially for vulnerable students and first year students potentially facing exclusion from clubs and societies, and even more serious still, eviction from accommodation or suspension, and how this effectively cuts students who may need help off from the wider community.

“In the Union’s disciplinary code, you can get expelled from societies. That’s the way many students create friend groups and meet people. I don’t think it makes sense to deprive someone of this, especially people who may be in a vulnerable position.

“The expulsion from accommodation can hit students hard. I’ve seen this in action. What if someone literally has nowhere else to go?

“You can also end up with up to a £250 fine which is obviously money that some people just don’t have.

“Regardless of these specific measures, even just going through a disciplinary process can cause a huge amount of stress to students, and can seriously negatively impact someone’s studies.

“Worst case scenario it can effectively ruin someone’s university career and experience.”

Dan wants to see a broad spectrum approach to drug usage, acknowledging that all students with problem drug use should be given help and support without necessarily identifying as someone with an addiction.

“Addiction is very difficult to define. A lot of people who may have problem drug usage aren’t necessarily addicts- that doesn’t mean they don’t need or deserve help either.”

When discussing the drug disciplinary statistics from Stirling university available to view online, we touch on the issue of the low numbers of students that actually face a disciplinary and how that fits into the wider calls for reform.

“Some people have asked me this yeah. I get questions concerning the low numbers. ‘There’s not that many’ and is this something that really matters to students? The response that I give to that is, if it even helps one person with drug addiction or dependence, then it’s worth it.

“I think it’s a very serious problem that has a much bigger impact on students lives at university than some of the other areas the university focuses on. If it helps one person. I think it is absolutely worth it.

“I’ve friends at international universities who have Help Not Harm policies implemented, and they have experienced hugely positive changes with student health and wellbeing.

“I want that for Stirling university. It’s a university that I care about, it’s my university.

“I’ve made loads of friends here and have so many memories, and I’d like to see it become a proper community, where the student body is treated as a community.”

When asked about his support for the recent SSP Help Not Harm petition that is circulating, Dan firmly encourages students to sign, but stresses the importance of taking the movement much further than that, with continued efforts to raise awareness like selecting candidates running on the platform, in this instance.

“We won’t be going anyway after the union election; the issues is much larger than that, and it’s important to show students that this is an ongoing effort.”

The multifaceted approach will transcend this election and Dan hopes to be involved with future efforts to keep the momentum going for the Help Not Harm movement.

“Regardless of the result, we will push this until it happens [the change in policy]. “

When asked lastly what his favourite experience with clubs and societies was from his time at the university, the 3rd year student said:

“I’ve been involved with the drama society since the start of 3rd year, and it’s been very fulfilling. I hadn’t been too involved with societies previously, and the best part has been actually being in these pieces that students have created together as a group.”

Featured Image Credit: Dan McCallum/Stirling Student Union

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