Written by Jacob Chagnon ’17
Jacob: For this week’s Member Highlight, we’re highlighting Aravind ‘Arvy’ Kumar ‘18, former chapter leader at NYU Abu Dhabi and contributing member to the International Organizing Committee.
Arvy, my immediate successor at the NYU Abu Dhabi chapter and a dear friend, now lives and works full time in Abu Dhabi since his graduation. Given the cultural considerations, the Emirates can be an interesting and sensitive place to perform drug policy reform advocacy, and we hoped to capture some of his insight from his experience with SSDP in Abu Dhabi.
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Jacob: What was your biggest challenge advocating for drug policy reform in the UAE?
Arvy: I think the biggest challenge would definitely be in finding the appropriate presentation for your advocacy. Finding a case to work upon. Whether it was highlighting how providing nutritional labels constitutes harm reduction or advocating for statutory warnings on the campus cafe whereby caffeine potency could be regulated, advocacy in the region always works on case-specific terms. There’s surely a lot of room for tolerance and empathetic problem solving. It’s just a matter of advocating through ideas that you’re passionate about but also have the potential to tap into overarching issues that may be otherwise difficult to talk/work upon considering the cultural and political sensitivities of our community
Jacob: What was your biggest achievement?
Arvy: I think my biggest personal achievement would be trying to advocate a lifestyle of harm reduction. As an editor for the Gazelle, an independent publication at our school, I used that position to write feature pieces about restorative justice, educated dining, and peer education. The position gave me the opportunity to interview staff faculty and admin, both gaining the leverage of having them speak on the record but also opening channels of legitimate, formal discussion which made my SSDP related efforts more legitimate. Furthermore, it adds up nicely to the narrative of both of our (you and me [Jacob, the author]) practices of doing bystander intervention, working with Reach [a student wellness advocacy group] and HPO [NYU Abu Dhabi’s Health Promotion Office], and overall leading by example. I think when we were around, the SSDP chapter was very much a solitary venture, and it was key to walk the talk, so yeah.
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Jacob: Arvy’s words ring true both personally and for the network at large. We can’t always advocate directly for what we want, how we want–whether it’s because of cultural considerations, like in the UAE, or potential legal consequences, or lack of manpower–but we certainly can recognize the arenas where we do have influence and start from there. For Arvy’s work at NYU Abu Dhabi, that took the form of talking about coffee and caffeine, to open a larger conversation about harm reduction.