“Weird” St Patty’s Escorted Walk Raises Eyebrows

“Weird” St Patty’s Escorted Walk Raises Eyebrows

The event has since been cancelled

Last week, Students for Sensible Drug Policy (SSDP) had planned to host an escorted walking tour of North Dunedin on St Paddy’s Day for attendees of an alcohol and drug harm hui they’re co-hosting. On Thursday, SSDP’s executive announced its cancellation, stating they’d “discussed this tour at length, and in light of some reflection decided unanimously we were not comfortable going ahead with this.”

Critic Te Ārohi was invited to the ‘St Patrick’s Day escorted tour of North Dunedin’ as part of the Deep South alcohol and drug harm hui. The email read: “The Hui dates have been chosen to be immediately after St Patrick’s Day, which is the day of greatest alcohol and drug harm experienced by students and young people in Dunedin.” Attendees were encouraged to “wear green and closed top shoes” on the tour.

Its original intentions were to encourage support for harm reduction measures for students, however questions were raised at its appropriateness with SSDP stating to attendees that “the harm can be seen with your own eyes.” One Castle St resident told Critic, “I honestly think it’s a bit weird. Like they’re in a way kind of treating students like zoo animals. I guess they’re trying to get students at their worst on St Patty’s Day where everyone’s fucked [...] As well, like, who are these people?”

Defending the event to Critic Te Ārohi when concerns were initially raised, SSDP member Scott argued that it was important to “see the 'carnage' (and yes, I stand by my description of that - it is carnage).” He said that the tour was “primarily for the national NGOs and funding bodies who provide support and money for student harm reduction, safety, and welfare. This includes the Te Whatu Ora representatives who just approved nearly $20,000 to continue funding the Good-One register [...] Dunedin, Otago, and Southland get nearly no funding to support community harm reduction efforts. The reason why we're doing the tour is to show them just how much more help and support we need.”

St Paddy’s Day is notorious among students in Dunedin and as a consequence attracts mega media attention — including from yours truly, Critic Te Ārohi. Speaking from his experience, former Critic editor Fox Meyer said that “as editor, in my two years, my role was to cover what is genuinely a societal harm in the drinking culture in Dunedin that is genuinely bad and unhealthy and should be criticised, but do it in a way that doesn’t make a spectacle of it.”

As someone who was a student at Otago and reported extensively on student affairs, Fox continued to say that he thought that “the realities of drinking harm in Dunedin are often a lot more boring and sad than they are newsworthy [...] 99% of the time the drinking harm that we should be worried about is depressing and sad things like dudes sitting in their room for six months out of a year just getting drunk on their own at night because that’s what this culture has led them to do. And we don’t report on that because it’s not exciting, but that’s the actual harm here.”

Fox continued that, “If we’re going to be serious about tackling drinking harm in Dunedin, we need to stop treating these big public events [like zoos] and we need to start treating them for what they are, which is an expression of a more consistent, underground theme — a flare up of what’s constantly there in the background. And I think that it’s highly inappropriate to go on a walking tour through the carnage of this area when really the real harms that we should be worried about are the long-term effects of this culture being normalised.”

In a separate letter from another SSDP member prior to the cancellation of the event, they said they “admit the language of the hui invite might have been a bit triggering, however it's important to remember the people coming from all over the country to attend this event hold positions of influence that could aid the minimization of harm caused by alcohol in not only Dunedin but the country at large. A good night in Dunners has some adverse effects.”

SSDP welcomes students to attend their ‘Let’s talk about drugs’ event from 6:30-8:30pm at Auahi Ora on Monday, March 18, and “ask direct and candid questions about anything to do with alcohol and drug use, harm reduction, regulation and laws or reform.” SSDP affirmed to Critic Te Ārohi that “we believe such conversations are the foundation of effective harm reduction.

This article first appeared in Issue 4, 2024.
Posted 5:22pm Sunday 17th March 2024 by Nina Brown.