Written by Maria Bobbit-Chertock, Middlebury College SSDP Chapter Leader
How did you hear about SSDP?
At the beginning of the semester, I spoke with my Sociology professor, Rebecca Tiger, about how I wanted to start a harm reduction interest group on campus. She directed me to the SSDP website.
Why did you want to get involved/what made you decide to start a chapter?
I wanted to start an SSDP chapter because my friends have been punished for drug use, or have had nowhere to go for treatment and counseling. We need to challenge the prevailing ideas about drugs and addiction on our campus. We need to empower people who use drugs to participate in drug policy making, develop empathetic services and resources for people who use drugs, and educate students about safety without preaching abstinence. Right now, the University’s conception of community “safety” is defined primarily by surveillance and criminal prevention. Furthermore, given Middlebury’s spatial and economic context, I believe we need an SSDP chapter to recognize that, as the Harm Reduction Coalition writes, ‘the realities of poverty, class, racism, social isolation, past trauma, sex-based discrimination and other social inequalities affect both people’s vulnerability to and capacity for effectively dealing with drug-related harm.’
What has the reception been like on campus? From students, teachers, administration, etc.
Many professors have been very supportive and have offered invaluable advice. We have some allies in the administration as well too, but there has definitely been some resistance, especially when we pushed for a student Narcan training.
What are some of the things you have planned or want to plan for next semester?
Right now, we’re working to recruit some younger members to carry the torch. We’re hoping to volunteer at an expungement clinic in January and to support a bill that would legalize buprenorphine. Things are slow-going, though—the chapter is still in its infancy.
What is the most challenging part of your experience starting/running the chapter so far?
The most challenging part for me, personally, is that I’ve never held a leadership position like this. I’m not a great manager or a particularly assertive speaker, but I’m learning, I think. My chapter members are extremely supportive. We’re collectively figuring out how we can balance organizing, school work, and all our other activities. This means developing language in which we can communicate efficiently.
What is the most rewarding part?
Peer enthusiasm has been invigorating. Our conversations have been so fruitful; our org’s collective knowledge framework has evolved dramatically in a short period of time. It’s great to realize how much we have to learn from each other.
What are you most excited about for your chapter/school/state/region right now?
I’m really excited for our winter campaigns, which will potentially take us off campus. With every meeting, we get a little better at strategizing, so I’m excited to see our chapter move along in both a literal/spatial sense and a figurative/formal sense.
What is your vision for your SSDP? Where do you see your chapter in a year? in 4 or 5 years?
I hope next year the chapter will have a consistent, official meeting space, since right now we’re effectively underground! That’s the short term goal: a more sustainable structure after I graduate. As for the long term? I hope the chapter gets bigger without drifting center. Maybe in a couple years students will have the resources to take on larger campaigns, bus to protests, attend a Drug Policy Alliance conference, organize a retreat with other chapters. I’d like to see solidarity on- and off-campus, to see students putting their bodies out into the world.