Author: Iulia Vatau ‘20, Chapter Leader
Tell me a bit about yourself: what do you study, what are your interests and why have you decided to start a chapter?
My name’s Iulia and I am a second-year student at University College London, pursuing a bachelor’s degree in History and Politics of the Americas. My courses introduced me and gradually sparked my advocacy commitment to drug policy and criminal justice at large. I was inspired by the works of Donna Murch and Michelle Alexander’s 2010 book on mass incarceration, which analyses the ways systemic racism has underpinned the development of US penal policy and how the domestic War on Drugs disproportionately affected minorities, leading to an exacerbation rather than alleviation of illicit trafficking. Concomitantly, being extremely passionate about the Latin American aspect of my degree from an anthropological perspective, I had the unique opportunity to look at the international War on Drugs and the development problems it has generated by promoting violent intervention and crop eradication.t has been clear to me that The War on Drugs is failing to accomplish sustainable results, producing countless casualties on the way, and that policy change is necessary in order to help the communities that are most vulnerable to drug trafficking and the violence that it ensues. I am beyond excited to commence my advocacy journey with SSDP and to offer to the students from my university the chance of taking action and making an impact in our community, at the national and international level.
Tell me a bit about the war on drugs in London, on campus and what needs to change.
In London, people from lower-class communities and neighbourhoods are the most susceptible to discrimination from police forces and often receive harsher sentences than more privileged people caught doing the same criminal act. There are numerous vulnerable communities across London, many concentrated in the south, that are deprived of the drug education opportunities others may have easier access to. Simultaneously facing economic and developmental challenges, these communities, especially the youth, are often forced by external factors to either engage in small drug trafficking as a way of making ends meet or consumption as a coping mechanism. Therefore, the priority in this regard is access to opportunities, better help services and high-quality education, something we wish to facilitate through a student-led community project based on the Just Say Know programme.
At campus level, we are lucky to be part of a reasonably progressive academic institution that aims to foster diversity, inclusivity and tolerance, providing students with decent avenues to play a proactive part in policymaking at campus level. Drug consumption and distribution on campus are currently taken very seriously in terms of punitive actions, however, UCL’s position is somehow confusing. Despite its commitment to applying sanctions, the university declaratively displays awareness of the intertwinement between mental health, difficult financial situations and drug use. The information available to students on this is rather vague, showing that UCL is somewhat torn between taking harsh measures against drugs and ensuring the long-term wellbeing of students. We believe that the vagueness/lack of substantive information may discourage many people to seek help from the university, compromising the prevention of many issues associated with drugs. We wish to orientate our campus campaign towards more concrete and more transparent policies, looking at improving rehabilitation and harm reduction prospects.
What are your goals, what actions do you hope to achieve, what will be your focus?
Our chapter is quite small at the moment, with 9 members filling the core positions, but we have big plans and we can’t wait to open our doors to passionate new members. I am confident we will be able to become a large chapter with multiple projects running, tight connections and partnerships. We are already a dedicated and tightly-knit team that has the ability and desire to think outside the box and proactively engage with the SSDP mission. At the moment, we engage proactively with the work of the SSDP UK Committee, being part of the chapter organisers involved in planning the events for the Support. Don’t Punish Global Day of Action. We are simultaneously working towards building long-lasting collaborations and joint projects with other student societies at UCL, seeking to gain Student Union affiliation this September.
As mentioned before, in order to better address the needs of London communities, we are developing a student-led Just Say Know volunteering project that is currently waiting for approval from the Student Union. Through this initiative, we aim to spread awareness on harm reduction techniques, self-disclosure, and stigma, as well as provide our partner schools with the resources to continue this work afterwards. Our student volunteer will be concurrently equipped with the skills and the knowledge of an SSDP Peer Educator, and will have the opportunity after completing the curriculum and the community project to coordinate their own sessions at campus level. We hope that, by doing this, we will be able to make a double impact.
In parallel, we are working on putting together a series of diverse advocacy and lobbying trainings and opportunities to cater for the multiple interests of our current and future members: whether one prefers to be more active in UN bodies, at UK legislative level or primarily focused on campus and local reform, we strive to give the best opportunities of professional and personal growth we can.
Is there anything else that you think adds to your identity as a chapter?
We are very much a group with a global, multicultural outlook, and with this in mind, we are open to transnational inter-chapter collaborations and wider involvement not only as part of the SSDP UK committee but also with the International Organising Committee(IOC) and the Intersectionality Committee. We aim to provide a conducive environment for our SSDPers to, later on, be able to adapt and make impactful contributions in a myriad of contexts and situations.