I am so excited to announce the formation of our newest official chapter: Kansas State University! I spoke with Derek Varchulik, chapter founder and leader, and Staff Sergeant in the U.S. Army Reserves, about his experience building the chapter and his plans for moving forward;
How did you hear about SSDP?
I was doing some research for a paper and I just happened to find the SSDP website.
Why did you want to get involved/what made you decide to start a chapter?
I got involved because I like what SSDP represents. I like that SSDP addresses the need to reform our current drug policy in its entirety. I decided to start a chapter because I wanted to be involved in this social movement that restores justice in the Justice System. When I lived in Ohio, I experienced many negative effects of the “War on Drugs” both directly and indirectly. Many of my friends and family members were not so fortunate and have suffered unnecessarily because of our current laws towards drugs deemed illicit. I almost became a victim of the nonsensical drug war policies myself. Years later I found myself in Kansas as a college student and one day while conducting research for school projects, I discovered that Kansas has some of the most punitive drug laws in America. As a non-traditional student residing in a Kansas college town, I wondered how many young people’s lives have been negatively impacted by the drug laws here. Upon further research I identified a great need for an organization like SSDP in Kansas. This led me to apply at the SSDP website and begin a chapter so I could contribute to the reformation of our devastating drug laws.
What has the reception been like so far?
Kansas is a conservative state and the reception on campus has been mixed. Obtaining student involvement has been challenging. I think some students’ interest drops when they hear the primary mission of SSDP is about changing policy and education. I believe many students see it as a daunting task and the stigma of drugs makes it a less than favorable position to be advocating for. The faculty I have spoken to have welcomed the idea of SSDP. I have found it essential to use harm reduction as the theme of conversation in attempting to gain acceptance and support on and around campus.
What are some of the things you have planned or want to plan for next semester?
I hope to recruit as many members as possible and provide educational and awareness campaigns on campus with lecturers or movie premiers. I aim to advocate for the implementation of a 911 Good Samaritan Policy on campus and hope to restore the drug diversion program to the Riley County Police Department.
What was the most challenging part of your experience starting/running the chapter so far?
The most challenging part has been finding people to join the group and organizing the current members into committees according to our needs. The second most challenging aspect is trying to find a time, day and place convenient for member meetings. Ensuring complete communication of information among the current group members has proved more difficult than expected.
What is the most rewarding part?
Official chapter recognition because it has been a challenging process to get this group established. Meeting people that feel the same way about our drug laws and recognizing we can make a difference by challenging them.
What are you most excited about right now?
I am excited about educating people about the harmful consequences of our drug laws. Awareness of these negative effects will hopefully allow for acceptance and support of policies aimed at harm reduction.
What is your vision for SSDP? Where do you see your chapter in a year? In 4 or 5 years?
My vision for K-State SSDP is for it to be an unrelenting organization committed to changing the ineffective and harmful drug policies that reduce people’s life chances. A year from now I see this chapter being fully established and partnering with other like-minded organizations or individuals in the Manhattan community to advocate for change. In 4-5 years I envision K-State SSDP as a major organization involved in amending harmful drug policies and involved in creating new policies to address the issues of their time. In a few years I see SSDP as a vital organization in educating the public and raising awareness about the negative effects of bad drug policies in the Manhattan community.