As part of our special focus for this magazine on the theme of alcohol and drugs awareness, Wessex Scene initiated a survey into University of Southampton students’ attitudes to, and experiences of, alcohol and other drugs. This article details the trends illustrated by the survey’s initial results, from the survey’s launch on the evening of 11th October to the 19th October at 5:12pm, with 467 respondents answering questions.
How the survey was put together:
The idea came at the beginning of the university year from Wessex Scene editor Ivan Morris Poxton. While the investigation’s framework and most of the questions were devised by Wessex Scene‘s Head of Investigations, Katja Stout, and the editor, some of the questions were amended or added in via consultation with relevant SUSU members of staff and sabbatical officers. It should also be stressed that the survey’s creation and most of its methods of distribution wouldn’t have been possible without the fantastic support of relevant SUSU members of staff and sabbatical officers.
One early decision made when setting up the survey was to not require respondents to provide their university email. While any required entering of emails would have been handled with complete confidentiality, it was felt that in view of the sensitive nature of many of the questions removing any possible worry for respondents of their anonymity being compromised was necessary.
One question looked into the correlation between students being ‘under the influence of alcohol or drugs’ and experiencing criminal, or theoretically just distressing in the case of ‘Losing valuables’, actions, such as ‘Drink spiked’. It should be made clear that this sought to identify the extent to which students had been exploited by others while ‘under the influence of alcohol or drugs’, not how they had somehow made themselves vulnerable – victim blaming is repugnant and emphatically rejected by Wessex Scene & SUSU. If the initial results are anything to go by, the survey’s full results will underline again the high prevalence of criminal actions like sexual assault within the student community.
Clear trends identified:
With students answering a minimum 30 questions and a wait of 2-3 weeks at the time of writing for more responses to come in, what follows is a highlights reel of the most notable trends in these early results. A full online version containing all the quantitative survey results will be published within 3 weeks of this magazine’s distribution.
The initial survey results, however, indicate that an overwhelming majority of the University of Southampton student population are opposed to cannabis being completely illegal. Combined, responses in favour of complete legalisation of cannabis (233 respondents) and those in favour of legalisation purely for medicinal purposes (162), make up 85%* of all answers to our cannabis legalisation question, while only 9% of respondents said cannabis shouldn’t be legalised at all.
Intriguingly, our first data set shows a positive correlation between the number of alcohol units a week a student estimates to drink on average and likelihood to favour the complete legalisation of cannabis. While less than 35% of those who said they drank no units of alcohol on average each week agreed with the statement in relation to cannabis, ‘Yes – it should be legalised’, any respondent who said they consumed 11 or more units of alcohol a week on average was more likely (50%+) than not to favour cannabis legalisation.
Cannabis also topped our poll of which drugs individuals had taken, far exceeding the ‘None of these’ total (27%, or 127), with 58% (268) of respondents saying they had taken cannabis at some point. However, of these, 46% (124) said they had taken it only ‘Once’ or ‘Rarely’. The other drugs which more than one fifth of the 467 respondents said they had taken were, in descending order, Painkillers, Ecstasy (MDMA), Cocaine and Ketamine. Meanwhile, 12% (56) of all respondents said they had taken study drugs ‘at University or before’. Of these, 68% (38) said they had taken the drug Modafinil, which tallies with NHS advice pages and BBC media reporting on its greater prevalence than all other study drugs.
Arguably, the clearest trend of all was how little students place high importance on ‘Punishing the user’ of drugs, when it comes to how we as a society manage drug consumption. With our ‘most important outcome to you’ question which required respondents to choose their most important out of 5 different policy priorities regarding drug use, including ‘Removing drugs from the streets’, ‘Punishing the user’ received a grand total of 3 votes (1%) of all responses. ‘Protecting the user’s health’ topped the same question with 46% (215 votes).
Finally, our initial data saw an overwhelming majority of respondents (81%, or 376) answer ‘Yes’ to the question ‘Do you feel that there is a culture of reckless/excessive drinking at university?’ [parts italicised as in survey]. The answers to this question are particularly interesting to consider, given that ‘reckless/excessive’ are subjective terms – in other words, open to individual interpretation of what is ‘reckless/excessive’.
*All percentage figures rounded to nearest whole number.