Join me in welcoming Atlas Trogdon ‘19 and the University of North Georgia Oconee SSDP chapter! Atlas wasted no time between getting in touch with their Movement Building Fellow and getting meetings going. I had the opportunity to ask Atlas a few questions about their experience getting this SSDP chapter going. Atlas learned about the group from a friend at the University of Georgia a long time ago, and recently met Zane Bader ‘16 who solidified their interest in getting a chapter going! They’ve witnessed plenty of people on their campus using drugs without meaningful drug education. There aren’t any thoughtful conversations on drugs and drug use, and Atlas is passionate about provoking purposeful conversations about taboo subjects that are valuable to the community, particularly people impacted by the War on Drugs.
I asked what the reception has been like so far, and the response was “far better than I could have expected.” They were scared that people would outright dismiss them, but found that people are receptive. Atlas suspects that the positive reception had to do with the energy that they brought to those conversations. They approached professors first, saw that the conversations went better than expected, and that helped them talk to their peers about it. So far, the people they’ve talked to don’t think the War on Drugs is working.
I asked what has been the most challenging part of starting and running a chapter so far, and Atlas shared that having the courage and confidence to talk to people about this is the hardest part. It’s not the act of talking to them, but fears that they are being judged on the things they care about.Then they share this: “I know that if I feel strongly enough about drug policy and education that I’m starting a chapter and I myself am scared to talk about these topics, then my peers are definitely scared to talk about them, and that’s why I have to do this.”
I asked Atlas what the most rewarding piece around this has been, and they responded “smiles? Seeing people light up with enthusiasm about this shared interest, and hearing new things from people around them.” Atlas enjoys the sense of community that’s beginning to form, especially because drug use can be isolating and shared experiences are very validating.
Atlas has plans to co-host events with University of North Georgia Gainesville and University of Georgia SSDP chapters, because a lot of UNG Oconee students eventually transfer to either campus. They want to invite a public representative or individual with a strong public service background to speak at an event, and they would also like to organize a drugs and drug policy related trivia game. At this point we ran out of time on our call, and Atlas finished the interview over email.
What are you most excited about for your chapter/school/state/region/ssdp/drug policy right now?
“I am excited about creating a comfortable place for people to talk about taboo subjects, culture, policy–things that we avoid on a general basis in pursuit of avoiding conflict or feeling like we are risking our livelihood–because that is ultimately why we refuse to associate ourselves with the taboo. We fear being ostracized, rejected, and being left at the mercy of institutional policies that do not serve the people whom they are representing. By opening the environment, we create space for progress to take place.”
What is your vision for your chapter? Where do you see your chapter in a year? in 4 or 5 years?
“I would like to see our chapter fostering a community of knowledgeable people who feel safe asking questions and participating in respectful discussions about taboo topics. I hope that people would feel motivated and inclined to impact policy on various levels: protesting, organizing, engaging policy makers, and creating platforms for people to express their experiences. I see this chapter being innovative and seeking new ways to make positive, lasting change regarding the War on Drugs.”