Introducing Heller School for Social Policy and Management SSDP

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This entry has been published on June 2, 2021 and may be out of date.

Written by Ali Carney ‘21, Heller School for Social Policy and Management SSDP Chapter Leader

How did you hear about SSDP? 

I heard about SSDP through volunteering with the organization Baystaters for Natural Medicine. Once I expressed the idea of starting some sort of drug policy working group at Heller, a colleague of mine brought SSDP to my attention once again, so I finally filled out an application!


Why did you want to get involved/what made you decide to start a chapter? 

I wanted to get involved because of my aforementioned volunteering with Baystaters. However, I became aware of the effects of the War on Drugs through my Master of Public Policy program as well as my own research. I focus on HIV decriminalization, economic equity, housing instability, and racial equity with a intersectional feminist lens. Once I learned about the disproportionate incarceration of BIPOC, specifically Black and Hispanic men, for nonviolent crimes, I realized a lot more needed to be decriminalized in addition to HIV (my research also shows a lot of intersection with drug use and trauma, drug use and LGBTQ+ folk, and more). 


What has the reception been like on campus? From students, teachers, administration, etc. 

Students are all for decriminalization (at least those who I have spoken to). I have actually written a paper on how psilocybin-assisted therapy should be legalized in MA due to the higher-than-average levels of mental health disorders among millennials. My professor I wrote the paper for was actually really excited and she wanted to learn more or help me any way possible. In terms of administration, Heller is known for its Behavioral Health research, but the conversation is mostly focused on the opioid epidemic, which tends to overlook disenfranchised communities as well as the War on Drugs. 


What are some of the things you have planned or want to plan for next semester?

I want to try to conjoin those interested in the SSDP group at Heller with the work I’m doing for Baystaters. We ultimately want to decriminalize the city of Waltham (where Brandeis resides).


What is the most challenging part of your experience starting/running the chapter so far? 

So far the most challenging part has been to have students understand that this is something I would like them to do whenever they have the time to help. It’s not supposed to be a burden or an additional class; I want it to feel like fulfilling activism where we can use our academic and subjective knowledge to create change. 


What is the most rewarding part?

Since the chapter is still in the early stages, so far the most rewarding part has been to see that more than 5 colleagues at Heller are committed. I really cannot wait to see what these people can contribute since we all have different focuses at school. I also am more than excited to be a part of the SSDP network – it seems like a great community that has also helped give me resources, providing clarity for my own ideal career path. 


What are you most excited about for your chapter/school/state/region right now?

Surrounding areas have decriminalized possession of controlled substances; however, Waltham is really conservative in terms of city council, etc. I am really excited for students to use their ‘Heller privilege’ to put pressure on Waltham politics to be more progressive and team up with activists. 


What is your vision for your SSDP? Where do you see your chapter in a year? In 4 or 5 years?

I hope this chapter can be continued even after my time at Heller. I plan to try my best to make it applicable to the whole school and not just my Public Policy concentration at Heller. I see decriminalization and safe injection sites in the future, and as I said before, this will be due to the work of local organizations working with Heller students to help residents in Waltham.