By Juliet Den Oudendammer
Disclaimer: All names in this article have been altered to preserve anonymity.
At a party, they are usually the last ones standing. Dancing in front of the DJ booth, these are the people that keep the party going till the early hours. Faces glowing with happiness, crazy dance moves and the occasional “I love you” followed by a hug. Though some people can reach this state of mind on pure willpower, others reach out to a different kind of solution: party drugs.
The Exploited Label Night during this year’s Amsterdam Dance Event was the perfect opportunity to experience the campus hard drug culture in the flesh. When the lights turned on and the music died down around seven in the morning, most of the remaining “ravers” were UCU students. Sweaty but satisfied we made our way back to campus for the afterparty. Three weeks later, I get together with some of these ravers to get a more in-depth picture of the campus hard drug culture.
For a country known for its lenient attitude towards drugs, there are no exact numbers concerning the hard drug use under students. Most recent research done on the (hard) drug use under students comes from Vox, a student led magazine of the Radboud University in Nijmegen. According to their research, about 28 per cent of their students have used drugs in the past, and eight per cent of the students have used party drugs, such as MDMA and XTC, in the last year. Three per cent of the students have also used cocaine. Similar numbers should hold for UCU too.
Though UCU is praised for its hardworking and motivated students, they are not immune to the lure of hard drugs. For Lieke, a first year, the fact that there were people using party drugs on campus surprised her.
“I admit it is a bit stereotypical, but I always thought that people who are admitted to UCU would never do it. You put so much effort into getting into this school, and it seems wrong to waste this opportunity. My idea of a drug user does not correspond with the stereotypical hardworking UCU student.”
Lieke’s stereotype of UCU students: they go to class, study for their exams, hand in their papers before the deadline, and yes, occasionally go crazy during the weekend.
Sophie, a third year, says that the stereotype you might have of hard drug users is way more visible in other countries than in Holland: “In Germany for example, people who use hard drugs are a totally different type of people than they are here.”
According to most of the interviewees, roughly 40 people are a part of the campus party drug culture, though they admit that the group feels bigger to them because they are more aware of it. The group of users is not limited to the older years, but has already seen some first year additions.
Sadie, a second year, thinks the reason that this hard drug culture developed on campus might also have something to do with the music styles that are popular, such as techno and deephouse. Especially at some parties, it seems more normal to be on drugs than to be drinking. Using party drugs seems to be an integral part of the rave.
Louise: “I have been to raves with friends while I was not using, and while I was ready to go to bed around 4 a.m., they were still going strong. It is part of the lifestyle that goes with the type of music.”
Not everyone agrees with Sadie and Louise. “I would go to raves without using”, says Isabelle, second year. Tom adds that he does not do it for the different experience of music, but mainly because it is fun.
‘Fun’ seems to be the keyword concerning party drugs. “It is a feeling you can’t describe. When people first tried to explain how it felt to me I had no idea what they were talking about,” says Sophie. “You just feel so warm and happy and connected to everybody around you. Experiencing it together creates a bond”.
“If you are curious, UCU is the perfect place to try it out,” says second year Tom. “It is a safe environment, where you can count on your friends to take care of you and to guide you through your first time.”
Rose is one of the drug suppliers on campus. In a Facebook message she asks her regular customers if they want some “snoepjes”, so she can place an order with her dealer. They go for a drive, and she returns with a large bag of pills, to be further distributed on campus. “It is a pretty surreal experience”, she says.
After the call to the dealer, it can take as little as 20 minutes and the deal is done. “Because it is so easy and so many people do it, you sometimes forget that it is actually illegal,” says Rose.
When asked about UCU’s institutional perspective on the matter Mark Baldwin referred to the Student Handbook. It is clear that College Hall does not take this issue lightly, yet most people seem to willfully ignore UCU’s policy. For most non-users, this is where the danger lies. Because everybody is so open about it, people tend to forget the possible consequences. Reasons for not using are largely based on the horror stories that you hear.
On the other hand, many of the users point to the dangers of alcohol and smoking. According to rehab centre Jellinek in Amsterdam, the chances of getting addicted to alcohol and cigarettes are much higher than the chance of getting addicted to XTC, and the long-term social and physical dangers are much more severe as well. Put bluntly, a close proximity to a bar will in the long run be more dangerous than the occasional pill on the weekends.
“When you drink too much, you lose control over what you are doing. Your mind gets cloudy and you are more inclined to do something you might regret in the morning. When I use MDMA, my body feels weird, but my mind stays clear. You know exactly what you are doing and that feels safe,” says Rose.
Of course, there is always the danger of going too far and using more than you should, but most people agree that we have a pretty good safety net here at UCU, and that the community will be ready to help in case you really need it.
In the end, it all boils down to personal responsibility, both users and non-users agree on that. “You should only do it if you are really sure that you want to,” says Sophie. “UCU students are smart enough to make their own decisions. As long as you use responsibly and make sure that what you use is safe, people have the freedom to do what they want.”