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Join us in welcoming Giovanni “Gio” Serrapere ‘19, Xavier Bennett ‘19, Kaitlyn “Kate” Adams ‘19, Morgan Glasser ‘19, and the rest of the newly founded Indiana University at Pennsylvania Students for Sensible Drug Policy chapter! Gio, Kate, Xavier, and Morgan co-founded IUP SSDP earlier this month, and I had the privilege of interviewing the four of them to learn more about them and their vision for the group. I learned a lot during our conference call.

Gio likes to travel and cook on his down time. He served six years in the Military, and is now Majoring in Chemistry and minoring in Psychology. Morgan likes doing outdoor activities with her family. She’s majoring in Biology and minoring in Chemistry.  Kate is an artist and an organizer. She is majoring in Chemistry and minoring in Biomedical Science. Xavier is very into personal fitness. He is actively serving with the Pennsylvania National Guard and enrolled as an Economics pre-law major. They each had different motivations for co-founding the group.

Xavier comes from a small town, where the opioid overdose epidemic has unfortunately impacted many people he knows. When he learned about SSDP from Gio, he saw this as an opportunity to take meaningful steps toward improving conditions for Black and Brown communities. Gio, on the other hand, has faced discrimination from health care professionals for being a person who uses drugs. He has even been denied post-surgery pain medication for this reason and wants to do something about it. For Kate, the lack of drug education, resources, and support available to IUP students coupled with IUP being a “party school” creates a concerning reality for her and her peers. She would like to see more harm reduction information shared. Morgan shared a similar desire, after witnessing ER doctors insult and mistrust people who use drugs. They are all united in their desire for a community of people who are properly educated on drugs, drug use, and drug policies, and demonstrate an almost familial care for one another.

Organizing is not easy. We are faced with opposition, cynicism, and apathy. We are faced with stigma around drug use, and the assumptions made about what kind of people make up SSDP. For example, the biggest challenge that the club had at first was finding a professor that would sponsor their club. They insisted on an open-minded science professor backing the chapter because it would add credibility to their work. They knew plenty of professors, and set out to talk with all of them. However, professors consistently shut them down because they were not comfortable putting their names on things that had the word “drug” in the name. After several months of rejections, they found a senior professor who would be willing to be the advisor and got a second co-advisor to sign on shortly after that as well.

Our relationships will determine our impact. That is why it was a joy and a privilege to get to hear these four interact as they did. Their bond with each other is strong. They are comfortable and respectful with one another. When I asked them how they managed to find each other and build such a strong base, three of the four said ‘Gio.” Gio in turn told me that he approached people that wanted to talk about the War on Drugs, and stopped pushing when he saw they were disinterested. He believes that members must not stigmatize any drug users, and that they should be highly motivated to do this work. This is “a labor of love, not something you dread.”