Raff Marioni, President of Newcastle University Students Union attended the Ed Farmer inquest last week after which Marioni gave a statement to press on behalf of the Union. At the inquest it was ruled that the Newcastle University student died due to the toxic effects of alcohol while attending an initiation event with the Agricultural Society.
Louise Hall, Editor of the Courier, who also attended the inquest, speaks to Raff in more detail about some of the issues surrounding Ed’s death and what this tragic event means for Newcastle students and Newcastle University Students Union alike.
So Raff, you attended the inquest for two of the four days last week, how was your experience of the inquest itself?
There was two aspects of my experience. As a 21 year old who was, and is still, a student it was a very difficult thing to listen to because you’re hearing about someone who was only one year younger than you at the time and how they died through binge drinking. While in this case it’s obvious that the Agrics drunk an extortionate amount, many of us go out as students and drink so it was really harrowing to hear first-hand from the witnesses what actually went on. And not in the sense that there was shocking things like pig’s heads involved, but hearing the story of how a young man the same age of us goes to university and in one night tragically dies. As a 21 year old that is not something that was easy to listen to.
[pullquote]It’s definitely a national problem but I think its very important that Newcastle Uni, in light of Ed’s death, should be taking a lead on it[/pullquote]
And then in terms of as the President of the Students Union it was tough because, you know, we obviously like to think we do everything we can, but it’s a harsh reminder that there’s always something more that we can do, and that as an organisation the Students Union should be doing the upmost to care for its students. So from my president standpoint it was very much, provoking in the sense that it made me really want to make positive change and stop this from ever happening again.
After the inquest you gave a Statement to the Media and the General Public, but what do you think students of Newcastle University can take away from this statement?
To students I would address that you’re not the public who may not completely understand the concept of initiations, drinking culture and dressing up culture. You understand that these things may actually happen. But we want to do everything we can to make sure that you are safe, and can take care of your friends, act responsibly and drink responsibly, while having fun. The case of Ed Farmer really brought to light that even though initiations are banned more needs to happen on both sides, from the Union and among the students to actually tackle this culture to ensure that this doesn’t happen again.
What next steps will the Union be taking to help combat this issue?
I mean it’s about getting across in society and club training that if initiations take place they will have big consequences. Whether that’s on the one hand disciplinary or on the other hand the more important thing which is they will pose a risk to your safety. So there are plans for next year for the CCTV to be used in officer training to really hammer home that message. Also raising awareness to make sure that committee members are aware of the responsibility they are signing up for during training, that when they sign those training documents they actually read them and take into consideration the risks of socials.
We can also implement the new knowledge we’ve gained from this inquest in our own training. One of the big things that was discussed during the inquest was how Ed’s snoring was an indicator of respiratory depression, and most of the witnesses didn’t recognise this as a warning sign of Ed’s deterioration. So I think as a union we will take this on board to make sure we fill these gaps in knowledge at our training.
In light of the inquest it became obvious that students are aware these events are banned, but still do them, so we would like to hold some kind of amnesty initiation forum. Something that was said in the inquest by Ms Ballard was how can deal with a problem if you don’t know the extent of the problem. So reflecting on this we just want to know from students why they still do initiations, what does it mean to you as a club, what happens on these initiations, without them facing any repercussions, so that we can actually get a picture the frequency and content of these events. So then we can start to put in place measures that will actually increase safety. We don’t want to limit fun or opportunities but actually ensure that these people aren’t being coerced or demeaned when they’re trying to make friends, and that everyone involved is safe. That’s something I’d really encourage clubs and societies to engage with, and students as a whole.
In the Coroner’s report it was stated that this was not just an issue confined to Newcastle, it’s a nationwide problem that we’re facing at Universities, do you agree with this? And if so how should we be working together to tackle this nationwide?
I do think this is a national issue. I think the level of drinking and the activities that were undertaken on the night of Ed’s death happen elsewhere, one hundred percent. This is a problem that is part of a culture that transcends into university, in the way that many of the witnesses described it as a ‘tradition.’
For us it’s about students knowing the risks and the ramifications. It’s definitely a national problem but I think its very important that Newcastle Uni, in light of Ed’s death, should be taking a lead on it. This happened to one of our students and in memory of him we have a duty to be leading a campaign that not only effects out students at Newcastle, but also has a national impact.
So to finish, what do you think Newcastle University students should be taking away in light of this tragedy, to make sure that Ed’s death was not in vain?
Ed farmer was one of our students, the same as any other, at the same university in the same city trying to leave with a good degree and get a good job, and that opportunity for him was cut short tragically. It could have been anyone. And to stop this from being anyone ever again we need to remember that this was one of our own students who passed away so needlessly, and realise how this happened, so that we can keep Ed in our memory at Newcastle and at least have this awful event help be a catalyst for real change surrounding the issue of binge drinking and initiations.