How did you hear about SSDP?
Rosalind: I first heard about SSDP on MAPS’ website. It immediately drew my attention, and I was astonished when I found out Northwestern did not have a chapter. I believe organizations like SSDP would contribute a lot to my school.
Shareef: I actually first heard about SSDP through my friend Rosalind! I was aware that Northwestern did not have any organization that focused specifically on harm reduction as well as policy issues surrounding the War on Drugs. It was for this reason that I was drawn to SSDP when I first saw Rosalind advertising the idea of restarting SSDP at Northwestern. Shortly after, I learned a lot about SSDP and was drawn to every aspect of it.
Why did you want to get involved/what made you decide to start a chapter?
Rosalind: At first, I was trying to find student organizations in my school that focused on drug education, psychoactive substances research, etc., but I failed. Naturally, I came up with the idea of starting a club around these topics. But I would not have the courage to actually take action if I hadn’t met Shareef. Because of him, I knew I was not the only one concerned with these topics.
Shareef: I thought I was a strange person as I would tell my peers and college advisors that I want to research psychoactive substances in the future. This naturally led me to shy away from approaching the topic, which was very internally conflicting as I knew that I had a passion for this. However, when I met Rosalind, I was shocked because there was someone else at Northwestern who actually shared this passion. Knowing that I was not alone motivated me to pursue this further. At first, I did not know if I was ready to make the commitment to SSDP. However, eventually I realized that this is where my passion could truly be cultivated which is why I decided to focus my efforts on helping Rosalind establish this chapter.
What has the reception been like on campus? From students, teachers, administration, etc.
Rosalind: Actually, our advisor is a great person and solidified my determination to start a chapter. She was my first year seminar’s instructor (some kind of writing course) and she talked about Ayahuasca, Psilocybin, and the medicalization of these substances. In our conversation, she mentioned that the attitude of our students toward drugs was actually not that “open” compared to some other schools, and a space to have open discussions is what the school really needs.
Shareef: In terms of connecting with the community, I knew that a lot of students would be interested in SSDP. This assumption is purely based on my own interactions with the Northwestern community when discussing SSDP related issues such as drug education or the War on Drugs. As we are still in our initial phases of restarting the chapter, we have not been very engaged within the community. We are hopeful that when we are back on campus, we will be able to hit the ground running and really engage with the issues that SSDP addresses.
What are some of the things you have planned or want to plan for next semester?
Shareef: There are a lot of things we have discussed in terms of what we want to do once we are established as a chapter. These range from presentations to possibly introducing the idea of drug testing kits to Northwestern’s campus. However, all of these are ideas and a lot of our efforts during the first quarter will be focused on establishing the chapter itself, as well as spreading our name around campus so that we can find everyone who shares interest in the topics SSDP addresses.
What is the most challenging part of your experience starting/running the chapter so far?
Rosalind: The most desperate moment was that two members suddenly, and consecutively quitted. At that time we only had five people in total. There was a lot of paperwork to do, and a lot of departments and officials to contact. Nevertheless, we now went through all these, and I am quite excited for everything we can do in the coming academic year.
Shareef: I do not think I have personally encountered any extreme barriers. My own personal conflicting dilemma was, “Should I dedicate my time to a bunch of extracurriculars that I can monetarily capitalize on in the future, or should I pursue a deep passion?” – the present moment answers that question. I also have to acknowledge and credit Rosalind for her hard work and perseverance in actually restarting SSDP. Without her, I do not think I would be in a position where I can do what I enjoy. She gave me the tools to be able to comfortably work with her and she continuously reached out to me in SSDP’s initial phases. Surprisingly, Rosalind and I have never met in person but we’ve spent a considerable amount of time chatting over Facebook and Zoom about all the logistical stuff. I am very excited to work closely with her and grow the chapter past our own expectations.
What is the most rewarding part?
Rosalind: I was able to re-examine my life goal. I came from China, where drugs are highly stigmatized. I couldn’t talk to anyone about my passion in psychoactive substances because I was afraid of (absolutely bad) consequences. Though I thought “just say no” was not a good approach to educating people, and many substances had great value in the medical field, I still thought I was interested in something “bad,” and I often felt guilty about it. But now–after I got to know SSDP in-depth and met friends that share the same faith with me–I understand what I want to do is not bad at all. It is time to make more sensible policy and way to educate the next generation.
Shareef: The most rewarding part for me is meeting people who actually share the passions I share. I came to Northwestern thinking that because I have gotten into some ‘elite prestigious blah blah blah’ school, that I need to focus all my efforts on making sure that I study the hardest subject and do the most challenging activities that will make me the most money. That mentality was toxic and Northwestern’s academic “arena” only made it worse. However, after meeting and interacting with Rosalind as well as Sydney (another executive in our chapter), I knew that I was not abnormal. Actually, maybe a better way to put it is that I began to truly feel comfortable with the fact that my interests existed in a field infested with stigma. This comfort was derived from the fact that my fellow SSDPers, despite being at Northwestern, did not shy away from their interests and openeley explored every aspect of them. Whether it be discussing the next breakthrough of psychedelic medicines or diving deep into how the war on drugs has caused so much harm to society, these conversations empowered me. Hence, the most rewarding part is interacting with these abnormally normal people.
What are you most excited about for your chapter/school/state/region right now?
Shareef: In all honesty, we have only just begun so there is so much that I can say I am excited about. However, what truly thrills me is the fact that I will be able to engage with our campus with issues that I am passionate about. I will not have to invest energy into doing things I consider tireless or boring. SSDP’s vision exhilarates me and their goals reflect my own inner passions. So put simply, I’m excited to get out there and engage. I’m excited to preach and share my vision and passion with everybody else at Northwestern.
What is your vision for your SSDP? Where do you see your chapter in a year? in 4 or 5 years?
Rosalind: I am currently a rising sophomore and my program is five-year long, thus, I still have a lot of time to see our chapter grow and thrive. I hope our chapter will become a well-known student organization that is recognized by not only students but also faculty and staff. I hope we will bring real changes to the local drug policies and our community’s views towards drugs.
Shareef: Rosalind and I are [currently rising sophomores] which is actually pretty major. Specifically, I do not see either of us leaving SSDP as that would imply a massive change in our own core interests which doesn’t just happen. The fact that we will be able to stick with this organization for another three years means that we have a lot of time to grow it. I see SSDP engaging with every aspect of Northwestern as the issues SSDP is concerned with are already present at Northwestern. It is no secret that drugs are inevitably prevalent on every campus and it is for this reason that we will always be relevant and needed at our university. Godspeed to us.