Community Chapters: What are they and how do I start one?

SSDP staff, board, students and alumni (about 30 people standing in rows, smiling) during the 2019 SSDP Strategy Summit - roughly 30 people smiling, standing in rows in front of trees
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Students for Sensible Drug Policy membership is not limited to students. All who are interested in bringing the youth voice to drug policy reform are welcome! Because of this, our chapters have begun to take on a few different styles: we have campus-based chapters (our traditional chapter structure based in one school), national chapters (a chapter which consists of a network of sub-chapters throughout one country) and community-based chapters (chapters which can involve both non-students and students). This post will delve into community chapters and how they work!


What is a community chapter?

In short, a community chapter is any chapter that involves non-student members, but students can still be part of a community chapter.


How are they different from campus-based chapters?

Community chapters work a bit differently than campus-based chapters. On-campus clubs and societies have easy access to space, people, finances and time due to the structures that exist in most schools. Community chapters generally don’t have these resources available to them. But it’s not the end of the world, community chapters often function the same way as local groups, like book clubs. They meet in community spaces, cafes or their homes, they recruit members through local social media groups and advertising on local notice boards. Community chapters tend to be on the smaller side and meet less regularly, their work also often tends to be focused on holding public education/harm reduction events and collaborating with other organizations (e.g. drug users unions and nightlife harm reduction groups).

It is important to note that if you are in a campus-based chapter, becoming a community-based chapter may not mean you have to give up your school recognition and access to all the resources that come along with that. Take a look into your school’s rules surrounding this. Campus-based chapters are also able to incorporate community-building efforts into their chapters. Ask your primary SSDP staff contact for more information on how!


Why become a community chapter?

Many of those disproportionately affected by the War on Drugs face barriers to accessing education. Becoming a community-based chapter and making an effort to reach out to these people can bring their valuable perspectives to your work. People also choose not to or can’t access education for many reasons, and that should not limit their ability to contribute to our organization.

On-campus chapters are encouraged to build relationships with community members and are free to invite them to their chapter meetings. Learning how to find and connect with community advocates is a fundamental skill for your future activism!


How do I become a community chapter?

First, get in touch with your primary SSDP staff contact (Rob, Luis or Róisín). They will walk you through the process and either coach you on a transition or offer recommendations on how to connect with community members.

Second, recruit new members. You might already know some people who want to join or you might want to recruit completely new people. Here are a few ways you can do this: you can join local community groups on social media and advertise there, put flyers up on local notice boards or get in contact with local drug-related groups (e.g. psychedelic societies, drug user unions, harm reduction and treatment volunteers).

Third, Hold your first meeting! Gather your members together and start making plans. Afterwards, send an update and a roster to your staff contact.