04 Oct Rallying those with no cause: higher education’s role in stimulating social change

Andre Gomes is a politics and economics student at the University of Bath and is currently undertaking an internship with CLEAR

Being a higher educational institution focused on consolidating its academically excellent record, the University of Bath encourages its best students to go down certain career paths, to bring about prestige to both the university and the student. Many organisations and businesses establish partnerships to ensure the crème de la crèmeare coerced and recruited at the earliest moment. Networking events are set up, introductory chats are had about potential pathways and pamphlets are constantly handed out, piling up on students’ desks to remind them of the constant race between peers to fill up those prime internships that will unlock so many future doors in so many aspects of society.

So, as a Politics with Economics student, I was always motivated to take financial modules for a potential career in the banking sector, or to focus on international development modules to work abroad in developing nations, or even aspire to become a politician and (allegedly) represent the nation. Work in areas that will bring about social change, as unconventional as it may be, is not encouraged at all. Universities benefit with students in prestigious enterprises: their ranking and reputation soars, well-off students give back and the networking possibilities are endless. A high employment after graduating percentage figure is a major statistic that is scrutinised by future students and national rankings, as the recession has drilled into students’ heads that employment, no matter where, is above happiness in the workplace and job suitability. But, paraphrasing the social entrepreneur Mary Gordon, any real social change will cause discomfort for many. It is not our role to reject it, nor feel insulted, but to embrace it, and lose our prejudices to move forward.

Drug policy is a burgeoning area of study and career pathway that would highly benefit from the academically outstanding students that are typically whisked up at the first opportunity. The growing market of recently legalised substances such as cannabis has created a huge demand for experts in a plethora of areas. There is a need to fully regulate the market, protect producers and consumers and assure a consistently high quality of consumed substances. Legal reform will require hundreds of advisors, policy-makers and lawyers. High-end research facilities and researchers are needed to appraise substances’ benefits and consequences. The budding drug industry should be promoted not only for their potential advantages, but also for the employment opportunity it can offer worldwide.

University of Bath

University of Bath

Finding organisations that work in reforming drugs politics proved to be difficult and led to many dead ends. But going through that struggle and finally being able to work with Clear Cannabis Law Reform has indeed paid off, as I can now see how a grassroots organisation is helping mobilise the general community for a shared purpose. Directly contacting members and participating in discussions has allowed me to encounter several like-minded individuals who will surely provide entertaining moments and essential lessons. The up-hill nature of the issue means the community rallies together easily, as it’s clearly understood by all that only working in unison can bring about change.
I believe that there are other students throughout the UK and the world that would be delighted to be involved in this area. But the social stigma with cannabis still remains, and it is our job to ensure that everyone has an equal opportunity in their life choices; that desiring to work with drugs shouldn’t be dissuaded with anecdotal stories of drug related accidents. The amount of times I’ve had serious discussions about drug addiction and how easily I would become addicted if I kept working in drug policy is ridiculous!

Vested interest laid at the origin of the war on drugs, and it is our generation’s purpose to amend past racist and elitist mistakes. We all realise how past policy-makers have misled us, perpetuating poverty cycles and fuelling inequalities that will unfortunately remain for many years to come. Yet there is no reason to continue to avoid this issue. Today’s globally interconnected generation is not content with following the norm, but instead establish a new status quo, one that reflects their concerns for global peace and equal opportunity. Prohibition relies on outdated research and perceptions. Now, we must look at new alternatives that were only brought forward by those that were not afraid to stand up to others. It is our civic duty to encourage those that remain quiet, as those that speak the loudest have the least to say.

Andre Gomes