Colette Sheridan: Not all students are bad-ass drug-taking subsidised brats...

As they begin their academic life in universities and colleges across Cork, Colette Sheridan has some advice for students
Colette Sheridan: Not all students are bad-ass drug-taking subsidised brats...

ADVENTURES NEW: “Last week was Freshers’ Week... an excuse for being wheeled around in shopping trolleys and getting tanked up on cheap alcohol,“ says Colette Sheridan. Picture: Stock

IN UCC’s Aula Maxima last week, an event, attended by a large crowd, must surely have helped to restore people’s faith in students.

It was a showcase of talent from the School of Film, Music and Theatre as well as the UCC School of English. And the university’s various artists-in-residence also took to the podium, reading from their work, talking about their practice as well as performing music.

Last week was Freshers’ Week for students which is an excuse for being wheeled around in shopping trolleys and getting tanked up on cheap alcohol. Not to mention illegal drugs.

You would think that students, during their initiation week, would be heading to the library to see how it works and attending lectures to kick start the academic year.

‘You must be joking,’ I hear you say.

It was party central at UCC last week. High spirited young ones roamed the campus and the nearby streets as they celebrated their new found freedom.

Most under graduates go straight from school to college — a mistake as far as I’m concerned. It would serve eighteen year olds well to take a gap year, travelling and working, to broaden their life experience and do a bit of growing up, embracing independence before signing up for several years of study.

Years and years ago, one of Cork’s Lord Mayors, bemoaning the carnage (if that’s not too strong a word) of Freshers’ Week, described students as ‘subsidised brats.’ He had a point. Throwing flour and eggs at people and generally being obnoxious, all in the name of ‘fun’, gives students a bad name.

This year’s cohort of first year students received free condoms as part of their induction to UCC, provided by the Sexual Health Centre in Cork city. Nothing wrong with that but it must strike terror in the hearts of their parents who still see their young adult children as being in need of rules and discipline — certainly not recreational sex.

And as for drugs, a group called UCC Students for Sensible Drug Policy group, planned to hand drug testing kits to fellow students during freshers’ week but were refused permission by the college authorities.

Using the word ‘sensible’ in the same sentence as ‘drugs’ may seem like quite a stretch but the group’s aim is harm reduction. Students take drugs. In an ideal world, they should be happy with the stimulus provided from their studies and from meeting and socialising (soberly) with new people. Again, I hear you scoff. Students don’t do sobriety. That’s part of the point of being a free-wheeling scholar for a few years before settling down to gainful employment.

Given that drugs are inevitable in students’ lives, they need to know what they’re taking. This summer, a Tipperary teenager died at CUH after taking a substance at the Indiependence Music Festival in Mitchelstown. Drug-taking is dangerous. The sensible thing to do is to keep away from drugs but since when were students burdened with the sensible gene?

However, as was clear from last week’s showcase of artistic activity, some students have really cracked university life, realising that it’s a time for developing a passion for an area of study. It should also be an opportunity for independent thinking. Not forgetting the fun to be had from putting on plays or performing music with one’s peers.

The artists-in-residence that spoke at the Aula Maxima included film and documentary maker, Alan Gilsenan who is sponsored by UCC and the Arts Council. He read from an essay by the late American novelist and short story writer, James Salter. In it, James wrote that he became a writer “for a succession of reasons. In the beginning... I wrote to be admired, even if not known. Once I decided I had decided to be a writer, I wrote hoping for acceptance, approval.

“Gertrude Stein, when asked why she wrote, replied, ‘For praise.’ Lorca said he wrote to be loved. Faulkner said a writer wrote for glory. I may at times have written for those reasons, it’s hard to know. Overall, I write because I see the world in a certain way that no dialogue or series of them can begin to describe, that no book can fully render, though the greatest books thrill in their attempt.”

Being a student is glorious. Aim high, study for the love of it (but don’t take your eye off the ball of eventual employment). Try not to fall prey to what is perceived as cool. By that, I mean taking drugs. Let your ‘sensible drug policy’ be avoidance. Don’t abuse alcohol. Make friends, have romantic relationships, keep the noise level at parties tolerable, learn how to budget on a limited income. Oh, and don’t forget to study. In the end, that’s what students are meant to do.

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