Disclaimer: The views expressed within this article are entirely the author’s own and are not attributable to Wessex Scene as a whole.
Editor’s Note: An earlier version of the article attributed SUSU to be in charge of determining the ads which appear on all the ad screens in Building 42. We are happy to clarify that this is not strictly the case and an external company, Redbus, pays for ad space on the screens. The advertisements in question have been raised by another student and SUSU are seeking to take them down having not been aware of their existence originally. The advertisements are consequently not SUSU approved or affiliated.
With the summer exam period in full swing, it’s probably no surprise that many students are currently suffering from stress and anxiety. There are many ways of coping with crunch time, some better than others. Over the past few years, SUSU has been a champion of the “good”, putting a strong emphasis on maintaining a healthy study-life balance, keeping stress levels low and focusing on long-term well-being over a momentary performance boost. With that in mind, I was very surprised to learn that caffeine pill ads were displayed prominently in our Student Unions’ main building, seemingly contradicting their usual message.
The ads appear to be featured on at least one of the screens in SUSU’s main building, immediately past the entrance, a prominent spot with lots of exposure. The message is well-marketed: Uni like a PRO, conquer hundreds of “late ones”, feel more awake! It sounds too good to be true. Targeting students, especially at this time of year, is ethically questionable to say the least.
The negative impact of caffeine is easy to downplay – it’s supposedly difficult to seriously overdose on and the immediately observable side effects are rather mild. Combined with coffee’s prevalence in society, the much-hyped health benefits of moderate consumption, and the immediate promise of being able to pull just one more all-nighter, the drug can certainly be helpful to the right student.
So, what’s the problem?
Caffeine, especially in highly concentrated forms, has its dark sides. An above-average consumption (just over 3 cups of coffee for most people) often leads to feelings of anxiety, heightened irritability, and insomnia. All of these are unwelcome additions to exam stress, but, more worryingly, it’s not always easy to identify caffeine as the cause. Am I just panicking over tomorrow’s exam, or is the stress amplified by caffeine? Am I struggling to fall asleep because of stress, or could it have something to do with the two caffeine pills I took this afternoon?
This can start a vicious circle. We’re tired, we’re over-worked, but there’s still a lot of cramming to be done. More caffeine sounds like an appealing solution. Oftentimes, this backfires: we find ourselves burning out or losing focus, harming not just our health and well-being, but also the exam results we originally set out to improve.
As a Students’ Union, we should be offering students impartial and professional advice on how to best deal with different aspects of uni life (and, I’d like to stress this again: we usually do a fantastic job of this). This shouldn’t be compromised by financial interests or any other motivations. I’d like to urge for the relevant authorities to stop broadcasting these ads as soon as practically possible, and to a review of the ad screen approval policies moving forward. Standing by our mission statement, we should put student welfare above all else.
If you agree (or, indeed, if you don’t!), please consider dropping by at my You Make Change submission and leaving a comment.
(Finally, a disclaimer: It is not my intention to suggest that no one should ever consider using caffeine pills to boost their performance – it would be hypocritical of me given how much caffeine I’ve had prior to writing this article. Much like other caffeine products, they have a place in society. I’m just not convinced that it should be placed on screens throughout the Students’ Union, which normally focuses on much healthier alternatives!)