Let's Talk: Safer Partying

January 29, 2019 , Written by Caitlin Doherty

This blog post has been tough for me to write. First I started off by trying to think of some tips that wouldn’t have students closing the tab and thinking, “thanks but I already know to drink water while drinking” but I got stuck shortly after coming up with tip #1: drink water. To tell the truth talking about safe(r) partying , it can be hard. I don’t want to be that person telling you not to drink too much because, well, I’ve been there and done that and I understand that that advice isn’t always what you want or need to hear.

I also don’t want to sound like I’m suggesting anyone go out and have a weekend that would put Leonardo DiCaprio in the Wolf of Wall Street to shame because A) I enjoy my job and B) that’s a truly terrible idea. And finally I don’t want to offer any blasé tips like “cover your drink and don’t go out alone” because it’s loaded with victim blaming and just isn’t helpful. But I do want SFU students to have tips and advice that might seem like common sense (drinking water is actually 10/10 advice so it’s staying in) but that are also based in harm reduction and anti-violence practices so that nights out can stay safe AND fun.

Practicing Harm Reduction

Harm reduction is a word that’s cropping up in the media quite a bit lately. It makes sense, considering BC and parts of North America are facing a severe opioid crisis and harm reduction is an excellent tool in reducing overdose deaths. But harm reduction can also be applied to general safety practices that university students can use when going out. After all, harm reduction is at it’s core about reducing potential negative outcomes that may be experienced. It involves meeting people where they are at and has an implicit understanding that folks will continue to do behaviours safely or unsafely (so you may as well make it as safe as possible!). So how can you practice harm reduction strategies at your next party?

  • Eating a carb heavy meal before drinking
  • Pacing drinks with water
  • Avoiding drinking games where large amounts of alcohol is consumed quickly. I know they’re fun but maybe next pong tourney you put water in the cups?
  • Carrying safer sex supplies for your friends and yourself and remember that practicing safer sex doesn’t just mean remembering to use a condom. You need to ask for consent and respect the answer.
  • Don’t let friends use alone/don’t use alone
  • Carry Naloxone and learn how to administer it
  • Know how to get home safely (cab numbers, designated driver etc).
  • Watch out for each other!

Being an Active Bystander

Even if you’re practicing harm reduction and being as safe as possible sometimes things still get out of hand (and it’s not your fault when they do). That’s where being an Active Bystander comes into play because it truly does take all of us to create safe(r) spaces and to foster a culture of care and consent within our communities. So what exactly is an Active Bystander An Active Bystander is someone who trusts their gut instincts when something is wrong and then acts on it. That person being harassed on the train? Maybe ask them for the time or pretend to have taken HSCI 160 with them until the harasser goes away. Is your drunk friend getting pressured into a cab by someone they just met at a party? Maybe you discretely inform security or cause a distraction so you can get them to a safe(r) place. Someone at the beer pong table cracks a joke about how first years are the easiest to get into bed? Shut it down by telling them that jokes about coercing someone into sexual activity promotes sexual violence, and that it isn’t funny or welcome at the party.

The point is, being an Active Bystander means that if you see something, you do something. Even if you’re not sure exactly what do, if it’s your place or don’t want to embarrass yourself. I get it, trust me I do, you don’t want to mess up and intervene in a situation that really isn’t a situation. But how do you know? And intervening can have life altering impacts for the people involved so it’s worth the 5 seconds of embarrassment if you did get it wrong and most folks will be grateful that you were thinking about their safety and taking it seriously.

One final point about being an Active Bystander. Your safety and the safety of others is the number one priority. You don’t need to be a super hero and directly intervene. There are lots of other ways to be an Active Bystander that are just as effective and will fit what feels right for you and for others. For example, it might be safe for me to call the police because I’m white, cis-gendered and middle class but that’s not the same reality for everyone around me. Similarly, I might not feel safe directly confronting an unknown man but I can go to the venue staff or ask one of my friends to intervene for me. Part of being an Active Bystander means being an active ally and using your privilege as well as thinking about the safety and intersecting identities of everyone involved. Which is what a good superhero should do anyways, you got this.


About the author : Caitlin is a 4th year International Studies major completing her final co-op term with the SVSPO. In her position as an Education Program Assistant, she has enjoyed providing sexual violence education training on campus and is proud to be part of creating a culture of care at SFU. Caitlin is a passionate feminist, volunteer and enjoys travelling when not in school.