To LUMS, you’ve got it all wrong

To LUMS, you’ve got it all wrong

Dear LUMS,

It is after much pondering and deliberation that I have decided to write this public letter addressed to you. Though being an alumnus of the institution, I am still aware of campus happenings. And what has transpired over the past few weeks on campus has engendered a desire in me to address some grave issues that the student body faces. You may ask why I have decided to do this publicly. It is because the problems that affect the student body in LUMS also affect universities across Pakistan. Furthermore, these problems do not exist purely in educational institutions; they are a very real part of society at large. The other reason why I have sought to address this publicly is to bruise your ego in front of the public, and I hope that will force you to take action to ‘actually’ alleviate the problems at hand. Yet another reason is that you have never really paid heed to the views of the student body and have always done what you have thought is best for them, no matter how counterproductive. I could have made this a post on the LUMS group on Facebook, but that would have achieved nothing. The post would have garnered a few likes. Maybe someone from the student council would have taken notice of it and brought it to the administration’s attention, and most probably you would have engaged in your usual mantra of ‘we are looking into it’ but subsequently would have done absolutely nothing. Even if you did something, it would have been a half-hearted, superficial, or totally pointless solution. Maybe bringing what I have to say to the attention of a large number of people will make you spring into action. I sincerely hope this makes you address the issues that are glaringly obvious in front of you, and which you are shamelessly oblivious to. And while I write this, I also address the society at large. There is an issue. And there is an urgent need to talk about it.

Recently, a student of LUMS died due to cardiac arrest, allegedly from a drug overdose. To discuss the cause of his death is not the reason why I am writing this. What I want to talk about is your reaction to the incident. Overnight, you began a massive crackdown on drug usage. You started conducting raids in your dormitories to apprehend students involved in the consumption or storage of illegal substances. You brought in sniffer dogs to prevent the entry of drugs onto the campus. You also recently hired night wardens in the dormitories to keep a check on any illegal consumption at night. In the days following the unfortunate incident, dozens of disciplinary hearings were held. You have also implemented urine testing for students suspected of drug usage. You have now successfully transformed into a police state. You are probably under the impression that you have successfully cleaned the campus of drugs. Congratulations. Give yourselves a pat on the back and wait for the next overdose.

Now, I by no means advocate the legalization of drugs on universities. Legalization of drugs in general is entirely another debate. But one thing is a fact. Drug usage is common in LUMS. For the readers who have suddenly raised hands to cover their mouths in shock, it should then come as a surprise to you that drugs are consumed in educational institutions across Pakistan. I am not saying that LUMS should not take measures to prevent drug usage on its campus. But turning into the anti-narcotics force is not the solution. In all honesty, you have had numerous periods in the past when you have employed this strategy. These efforts of yours bear fruit only for the time you are in ‘raid-mode’. As the raids end, drug usage rises again. This time however, your efforts to prevent drug usage have been manifold of what they have been during the previous crackdowns. But this won’t solve the problem as those who want to consume drugs would just walk out of the campus and do so. Your measures are counter-productive. Never once has it penetrated the thick brains of the sages in your administration that these strategies are not working. Never has it occurred to you that you are looking at the problem the wrong way. The problem is not drug usage per se. The problem is not inadequate security measures. The real problem is the environment of this university that fosters amongst students a need to consume drugs.

Let me lay it out for you as clearly as I can. The reason why drug usage is increasing on campus is the stressful environment that the institute creates for its students. For many, the university’s intensive academic regime generates an immense amount of stress and anxiety for them. The inability to cope with the high level of stress leads people to resort to substances to ease their daily anxieties. In fact, this daily stress is just part of it. Continuous exposure to this demanding environment, usually four years for the lucky ones, leads to depression. Depression is an epidemic in LUMS. Mental health issues are rampant. Only a few express issues regarding their mental health. But you see it around you. I have personally witnessed the mental health of fellow students deteriorate while their pleas for help go unnoticed. I, and many others, have heard of numerous suicide attempts during our time in the university. Being helpless in such a hostile environment gets to people and they seek the easiest solution to the problem; substances. Someone has anxiety or depression, they will perhaps start using tobacco. If it doesn’t relieve their problems, they move to hashish or alcohol. Even if that does not alleviate their problems, they move to hard drugs. Overdoses and suicide attempts come next. Whenever the issue of this stressful environment has been raised, the standard response has been that if students were willing to come to an institution of such repute and were aware of the rigorous academic environment, then they must cope with it. True, everyone knew what they were signing up for. What they were not aware of was the fact that you give absolutely no regard to the mental health of your students. You should be very well aware that a high pressure environment would most definitely lead to mental health issues for the students. After all, your Dean of Student Affairs is a psychologist. Yet, you only had one counsellor to deal with a body of more than 3000 students until recently, who according to students was highly incompetent at the job. It is because of this very lack of regard towards the mental wellbeing of students that so many of them resort to drugs. And yes, there are people who consume drugs for recreational purposes. Recreation for the most part only manifests itself in the form of occasional consumption. But for many, consumption is regular. If consumption is regular, it is not recreation. It’s a need. It’s a cure. It becomes a medicine for mental ailments.

Can you really blame these depressed souls? For a second, put aside your religious sentiments and your biases. Are these people really at fault? You put them in a highly stressful environment. Continued exposure to this environment leads to degeneration of their mental health. They seek solutions and are unable to do so due to a lack of counselling facilities. And then they seek the easiest solution. They find their solace in drugs. And then you penalize them. Aren’t you at fault here? The reason why they used drugs in the first place was that you failed to provide them with the required mental health facilities. You think drug usage is a dangerous problem on campus. But isn’t all this your own doing? Haven’t you yourself created this problem? Isn’t the provision of proper counselling facilities your responsibility? Is that too much to ask for? Students pay exorbitant fees for their studies in LUMS. Every student in LUMS witnesses an increase in fees at least once during the course of their degree. And you always claim that these raises are justified as you provide a lot of facilities for students. But you fail to look after them. They don’t need your well-kept lawns and swimming pools. They need you to care for them.  It is highly unfair of you not to provide ways to deal with stress, anxiety and depression and then penalise students when they seek the easiest solutions. Instead of your current tactics, provide counselling facilities and hire more counselors. Make these professionals available at night, instead of the night wardens you have hired. A depressed soul, whose monsters rear their ugly heads at night, and whisper in his or her ear to just end it all, who does he go to? Who does he seek help from? The night wardens? Maybe you should have hired wardens who had some background in psychology and psychotherapy. Maybe, instead of making lists about rooms that need to be raided on suspicion of consumption of illegal substances, you should make lists of students who are on probation and go to their rooms to check up on them.

The point is. Your students need your help. They do not need this hostile attitude. By all means, carry on with the crackdown to stop the usage of drugs on campus. But I would reiterate what I have said before; drug usage would rise again when this period of heightened security and vigilance ends. Your current tactics will yield only short-term solutions. You need to address the root of the problem. Hire accomplished psychologists, psychiatrists and psychotherapists. Have them take initiative in engaging with students. It’s difficult for people with deteriorating mental health to admit that they have issues let alone reach out for help. Spread mental health awareness amongst your students instead of distributing those grim ‘say no to drugs’ pamphlets. Reach out to those defeated and dejected souls. Help them instead of demonizing them. I know that the effectiveness of these proposed measures might be difficult to understand for those in your administration whose military background seemingly makes them incapable of understanding this problem holistically. But, i sincerely hope that you change your perspective on the matter. As they say, better late than never. It is only when you start being considerate towards the mental health of your students, and initiate measures to elevate their mental well-being, only then will you see a fall in the consumption of drugs on campus.

An alumnus

PS, For the society at large: 
The problem doesn’t just exist in LUMS. It’s everywhere. What has been identified as the problem and what has been proposed as a solution here applies elsewhere too. Depression is widespread not only amongst students, it occurs across the youth of today. Generations of the past had the plague and the world wars to deal with. But the curse of the contemporary era is depression. What we need to do is remove the stigma associated with mental health and put a stop to the demonization of drug users. People need substances as they are the easiest solutions, and these substances would continue to be used as long as there is a lack of awareness and a dearth of facilities to deal with mental health problems.

The sole cause of drug consumption is not depression. There is only a correlation between depression and drug usage, albeit a very strong one. This correlation can be easily observed in our high-pressure education institutions. Having said that, people do use drugs just for recreation and there will always be some who indulge without having any mental health issues.