On Wednesday 27 October, the University of St Andrews saw a Town Hall held in 601 surrounding the recent wave of reported spiking incidents across the UK. The meeting started at 8 pm, and 601 was filled with hundreds of students seeking answers from university, local, and political representatives. The panel included representatives of the Students’ Association, Willie Rennie MSP, Proctor Professor Clare Peddie, Andrew Thomson, operations manager of The Scotsman Group, Dr Lara Meischke, director of student services, and Wendy Chamberlain MP. The discussion was chaired by Sophia Brousset, co-president of Fem- Soc, and in their opening remarks the representatives stressed what they wanted to see from the discussion. This was led by Rennie, who said he was there to “stand with students when there was great anxiety” and to “take back ideas to the Scottish government”. This sentiment was shared by Professor Peddie who said, “We want to be with you, and work with you.”
The conversation continued as the speakers were asked about how we can shift the conversation and social attitudes around spiking away from victims and towards perpetrators.
The head of Union security staff, Iain Cupples, immediately responded by saying, “You guys shouldn’t need to change, it’s now for all of us to act.”
This sentiment was shared across the panel with all the panellists agreeing with Chamberlain who, citing her experiences as a police officer, underlined the fact that conversations must be centred around male behaviour.
Another key point of discussion was raised by Thomson, who introduced ideas about increasing physical security checks at venues. Audience members however challenged this, asking how this would affect minorities and others who had a history of negative interactions with security personnel or the police.
Beyond taking action at a local level, many audience members wanted more societal change and education on attitudes towards women. Although panel members agreed that progress was being made, including anecdotes about the panellists’ children’s experiences in schools, all acknowledged that more could always be done. As the event drew to a close, shorter questions began to be posed to the panel. Concerns were raised about ambulance waiting times for those who had been spiked and difficulties in getting unconscious people to the hospital. The Proctor pledged to examine this; however transporting unconscious people is difficult due to both medical advice and policies of taxi companies. Rennie was challenged after exhorting the need for more women in positions of power, and was asked if he merely wanted women in those positions so that “he could parcel off responsibility to them”. He vigorously denied this and spoke candidly about his desire to change the attitudes of the entirety of society, starting from his team. At the end of the sit-in, Chamberlain and Rennie pledged to take the concerns and new information they had heard back to their respective parliaments. Students hoped that the dialogue and progressive will they had heard would translate to substantive action.