Will Newcastle City Council's new scheme help prevent initiations?

Em Richardson and Eleasha Forster debate if more needs to be done in the efforts to stop initiations at Newcastle University.

multiple writers
14th October 2019
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In 2016, Newcastle Fresher Ed Farmer tragically died after a night of heaving drinking at an Agricultural Society initiation.

The city council has since promised to take measures to discourage venues from serving irresponsible amounts of alcohol.
Back in August, the Safe Newcastle Board approved plans to introduce stricter rules for late-night drinking venues. Under the new rules, venues could be inspected by the council on a regular basis, and their event promoters will be expected to have undergone health and safety training, teaching them about the dangers of encouraging excessive alcohol consumption. The City Council may receive the right to ‘grade’ bars, on factors like how safely they are managed, and how closely they comply to the terms of their alcohol license.

Obviously, this is a step in the right direction. However, it’s now almost three years since Farmer’s tragic death, and these measures are still only theoretical, meaning the shocking incident is yet to actually have a formal influence on Newcastle’s licensing laws. Moreover, it should be noted that the Safe Newcastle Board doesn’t intend to make the health and safety training for promoters a legal requirement- bars will simply be ‘encouraged’ to hire employees who have undergone it. The Board has failed to comment on whether bars who follow their recommendation will receive any kind of reward or incentive. As for the ‘grading system’, it goes without saying that drunk students are unlikely to even notice, or care, what grading their favourite bar has received.

It's been three years since Farmer's death and Newcastle's licencing laws are unchanged

Instead of blaming over-enthusiastic promoters for the tragic events of 2016, I’d suggest that the City Council ought to turn their attention to the bartenders who served the Agricultural Society that night. Surely, the biggest concern of this whole affair, is that there wasn’t a single piece of legislation stopping them from serving over 100 treble vodkas to a single group of students?

Em Richardson

Initiations are still happening, they are still dangerous and still pose risk for Freshers, even after the recent tragedy of Newcastle University student. More needs to be done; the university needs to take a more active role in mitigating the danger posed to students joining societies.
Newcastle City Council’s ‘Raise the Bar’ scheme is not going far enough to ensure the safety of Newcastle University students during initiation events. More needs to be done at Newcastle University.
Following the tragic death of Newcastle University Fresher Ed Farmer  in 2016, questions and criticism have risen over the lack of consequences and procedures put in place to look after students and deter such tragedy occurring in the future. The student was pressured into drinking excessive amounts of vodka at an Agricultural Society initiation event, resulting him into cardiac arrest and then death.
Indeed, the university cannot prohibit students from drinking nor the amount of consumption, therefore, zero tolerance has the potential to cause greater harm if secret meetings are arranged in environments with less safety measures.
However, more needs to be done by the university to educate and change the attitude of students organising such events, informing them of there role as a role model and caretaker in an environment where students’ vulneri is taken advantage of in order to be ‘accepted’ into a society.
A second year student raised concern that: ‘Society initiations [put pressure] on vulnerable students to complete initiation tasks in an uncomfortable environments and even neglect those who cannot gain control over themselves once the alcohol hits their system.’

Zero tolerance policies have the potential to cause greater harm

Thanks to media's representation of Newcastle as the best ‘Party City’ for students in 2018 (Student Hut), the drinking culture is one of Newcastle’s most attractive attributes for students coming to study. Banning initiations and drinking events cannot legally stop students from going out into unsafe private spaces. Education is the most effective tool for safeguarding students and preventing anything terrible from happening again.
Initiation organisers and society officials should have first-aid training, with particular focus on identifying the signs of alcohol poisoning, knowing when students have taken it too far, signposting individuals to people who can help them when intoxicated, making sure students can get home safely, as well as understanding how their role represents the university as well as a role model students in societies.
There should also be meetings with members of societies before freshers come to the university educate on the dangers of peer pressure and how to be a good role model to new freshers.
Other education measures could include inviting police, paramedics, and guest speakers to come in to talk about the dangers of peer pressure and excessive drinking during induction week to raise students' awareness of these issues. Wristbands could be distributed in the Students' Union with numbers of taxis or emergency contacts so that students always have information at hand at times of need.
With these safety measures and facilities put in place, the university can create a better environment for students to have fun and avoid tragedy from occurring again.

Eleasha Forster

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